Each time that I put up nail polish swatches on Instagram or Facebook, I get emails/fb messages asking me questions about gel nails; either someone is planning to get the extensions done for a wedding or they want to know if just the gel manicure without extensions damages the nails or how much harm would the UV rays do etc. I never had an answer to those since I had never opted for a gel manicure but last week, in the name of research for the blog, I decided to take the plunge and get myself a gel manicure with extensions!
Several of the fellow mommies at the boys’ schools have got gel manis done and it was at their recommendation that I decided to go to the Juice salon. While taking the appointment, I mentioned that I wanted to speak in detail about gel manis to a senior person, they recommended that I go to the Khar salon instead of the Colaba one. So, let’s talk about gel nails; the procedure, the care required and the misconceptions about them….
Gel Nails – The Procedure
Prepping the nail / Buffing
The first step to applying gel nails is prepping the natural nail. After the basic manicure, a thin layer of the natural nail is buffed off to remove the natural oils so that the gel can adhere properly to the nails. I had read about some salons using an electronic file to buff the nails or buffing the cuticles and nails too hard. At Juice, however, the nails were buffed very gently just as they are during a manicure. Also, if you want to get extensions done, then your nails will be cut totally short.
Applying the pH Balancer
Once the nails are buffed, a thin layer of pH balancer is applied to the nails before the gel to prevent a chemical reaction. Several salons do not apply a pH balancer but I was told that it is really important to apply this before the gel/acrylic.
Fixing the Artificial Tip
If you have short nails or your have trouble growing out your nails, you can opt for extensions. Though my nails grow pretty decently, I decided to get extensions done (though quite short) since some of the questions I was asked were about maintaining those. The artificial tips are fixed to the nails and the length cut according to individual preference.
Strengthening and Hardening of the Gel Nails
Next, the gel is applied to the nails and the tips. Two coats of the gel is applied and after each coat, the gel is cured under special lights to harden it. In most salons, UV light is used and each coat is cured for 2 minutes each. At Juice, however, they use the LED light which is safer and involves curing the nails for just 30 seconds for each coat.
Once that is done, the nails are filed into the desired shape, the surface again buffed and smoothened and finally it is the time to polish them. The polish on the gel mani is said to last for 15 days with perhaps a bit of tip wear so let’s see how long my mani lasts. They used LYN polish on my nails which doesn’t need to be cured separately under the lights. It’s been four days already and so far, so fabulous!
At the Juice salon, I also had a chance to speak to Shonshon who is the chief educator for LYN nails in India. She has had gel nails with extensions since the last 13 years and said that gel nails (with extensions or without) were absolutely safe as long as they were done at a good salon which had properly trained technicians and were maintained well post manicure as well.
Here are some snippets from our chat which debunk some of the myths surrounding gel nails:
Me: One of the biggest fear that people have about getting a gel manicure is that it will weaken the natural nail and make it very soft and prone to breakage. Some say that even the cuticles get damaged. Is this true?
Shonshon: It is true that the nails have to be buffed before a gel or acrylic manicure. However, a very thin layer is buffed manually and great care is taken that the cuticles don’t get scratched in the process. There are salons where an electronic file is used and the nails are buffed a lot and that does weaken the nails. Also, most people get used to the feel of gel nails, which are of course thicker than normal nails, so, when they finally remove the gels, the natural nail will of course feel thinner than the ones with the layers of gel on top. Moreover, at Juice, we always make sure that we leave a little hairline margin between the nail bed and the gel so that the nail can breath and that the cuticle doesn’t get damaged.
Just like you have to take care of your hair after you get them coloured or chemically treated, you also need to take care of your gel nails.
Me: So what sort of care should people take to maintain the gel nails?
Shonshon: Using a good hand cream/nail cream/cuticle oil is very important in keeping the hands and nails moisturised whether you have natural nails or gels. Also, most people make the mistake of using the nails as tools; opening cans and tightly shut boxes, typing on the keyboard with the nails instead of the fingers, and this puts a lot of pressure on the nails.
Me: Some people say that gel nails cause infections, is this true?
Shonshon: As the natural nails grow underneath the gels, the gap needs to be filled. Often, there are clients who will delay getting the fillings done. As the gap increases, it doesn’t give enough support to the gel nails which then start to “peel” a bit from the base creating a tiny space between the gel and natural nail. If any dirty water or other germs get into that little gap, it starts breeding more bacteria and that is how infections happen. Also, some clients, rather than coming to the salon to have the nails removed, try to remove them themselves either by pulling them off peeling them off. This causes a lot of damage to the natural nail as well as the cuticle and can also cause infection. Some salons don’t use a pH balancer and that could also cause an acidic reaction.
Me: What is the right procedure to remove gel nails then? What care should be taken after they are removed?
Shonshon: Unlike acrylic nails, which have to be soaked in acetone to remove them, gel nails are removed by buffing away each layer. This is done very gently and skilfully in the salon so that the natural nail is unharmed. If the client wants, they can opt to have fresh gels done. If they want a break from gels, then the ideal thing to do is apply nail hardener everyday for four days (one coat a day). This will protect the and help strengthen the natural nails.
Me: What if I get bored with this polish colour after a few days? Do I have to come to the salon to get the polish changed or can I do it myself at home?
Shonshon: Since we have used the LYN polish, you can change the colour at home if you like. Simply remove the polish with an acetone-free remover and apply the colour of your choice. You can’t change a gel polish at home but this one you can. But you do have to come to the salon after a fortnight to get the refills done.
Me: What about the UV rays? How damaging are they?
Shonshon: All salons used UV lights before the recent switch to LED. Some still use UV. However, the total amount of time that the hands are exposed to the UV lights is maximum 10-12 minutes! Most people spend far more time than that in the sun. Now, some salons apply sunscreen on the hands before exposing them to UV light. We have, however, switched to LED.
So, I hope this post helped in clearing up some misconceptions regarding gel nails. I shall keep updating you on Instagram regarding the longevity of the polish or if I decide to change the colour and the refill as well. Do let me know if you have any other queries regarding gel nails that I have perhaps, forgotten to mention here.