I wanted to dedicate a post to gel polishes. I've talked to people who have some serious horror stories from having bad gel polish manicures, which has led me to want to research how gel polish systems are different, or even not so different, from each other. Please bear with me, because this is going to be LONG.
CND Shellac versus OPI GelColor, Gelish, and SensatioNail
I’ve seen that as Shellac gained popularity with clients, other companies came out with a gel polish that is available directly to consumers. I would actually caution against the use of gel polishes, especially after comparing the application and removal processes to that of Shellac. I don’t doubt that there are polish enthusiasts who know the structure of the nail and take every precaution to ensure the health of their nails, but for every five of them, there are countless consumers who over-buff their nails, resulting in a weakened nail plate. Gelish offers VitaGel, which is a “protective layer” and “offers flexibility” for the nail. The issue here is the “protective layer”; it’s applied to the nail and cures under the UV light. Why is this an issue? Like most nail products, VitaGel is NOT designed to penetrate the natural nail plate. It’s putting a bandage over a wound that needs care. The best thing to do for over-buffed and weakened nails is to use a good cuticle oil (I HIGHLY recommend Bliss Kiss by Simple Nail Art Tips) that contains jojoba oil. Jojoba oil molecules are small enough to penetrate into the nail plate, hydrating the nail, increasing flexibility, and even repairing damage.
I have seen the damage done by nail techs who have incorrectly removed gel polish on clients; damage that had taken a year or more to repair. Not only that, but it seems that ALL gel polishes are being called “Shellac”. This is incorrect; Shellac was created exclusively by Creative Nail Designs, who has the patent on this gel polish formula.
In my experience, the use of Shellac is very easy in application and removal. With OPI GelColor and SensatioNail gel polishes, the application process is the same as with Shellac. The nail is shaped, buffed to remove shine, and a nail plate cleanser is used to remove oil and debris. This is necessary in two ways: oil and debris can prevent the product from fully adhering to the nail plate, and any debris (such as lint) can get onto the polish brush and then into the polish itself, effectively ruining the product.
With Gelish, there’s an added step: the application of a pH primer. Beware of primers; these are used primarily for acrylic and gel nail enhancements. These primers are acidic and will burn the skin if not used properly. This has me questioning the ability of Gelish polish to adhere to the nail plate on its own without the assistance of the primer.
The removal processes for GelColor, Gelish, and SensatioNail differ greatly from Shellac. With Shellac, foil wraps with a lint-free cotton pad are used. The pad is soaked with acetone, placed over the nail, and the foil is wrapped tightly around the finger. Soaking for 7-8 minutes, Shellac can be lightly taken off with the edges of the foil wraps, then LIGHTLY buffed off without causing damage to the nail plate. SensatioNail sells what looks like a very large metal cuticle pusher that is used to remove the remainder of the gel polish. All three of the above-mentioned gel systems require that a buffer be used to break the seal of the top coat, then the nails be soaked in acetone (in the case of Gelish, it's their Artificial Nail Remover) for 10-15 minutes, depending on the gel polish system used. That’s a full three to seven minutes longer than the average Shellac soak-off! I’m certain that we are all well-acquainted with the oil-sapping ways of acetone, but it can begin to burn if in contact with skin for longer than 10 minutes. After soaking, these polishes are removed with a cuticle stick.
Can you see the difference already? Not just that, but there’s the risk of over-buffing to remove any of the gel polish or base that is left, which as I mentioned before, leads to weakening of the natural nail plate. Gelish recommends the use of their nail plate cleanser, which is very similar to CND's Scrub Fresh. I'm not quite sure how that would effectively remove the remnants of gel polish left over on the nail if the polish has to be removed with acetone.
I admit that I’m biased towards Shellac because it’s easy to apply and just as easy to remove. I’ve done quite a few Shellac manicures and removals. It takes about an hour for a manicure to be done that includes the removal of the former Shellac polish and the application of a new color, and about 45 minutes for a Shellac manicure without the removal of a former Shellac polish.
I wrote this because of a meeting in Sally Beauty Supply where I saw a lady looking at the Gelish VitaGel. I asked about her nails (because it’s become a habit to observe the nails on everyone I meet; it’s what I look at first), and she told me that she had been using Gelish and her nails were over-buffed. I told her what I have written in the first paragraph; that VitaGel will not help restore her nails, due to it being only a protective layer. Products like that may protect the nail, but they don’t repair it. What is needed, even when using Shellac, is a break from using gel polishes so that the nails can rest; the same goes for gel and acrylic nail enhancements. The nails need to recover and repair from any damage done, and as I wrote before, a good cuticle oil regimen will do this.
I encourage you to research this for yourselves. If you do enjoy getting a manicure done, it’s best to go to a spa. The corner nail shops, to be honest, are not good for your nails. Why is this? Here in Virginia, there are nail techs in what we call chop-shops that were not educated in nail structure, care, diseases and disorders. They are trained by the shop owners and will use methods and implements that are harmful to the nails and skin, (some implements have been deemed illegal for nail techs to use because of the risk of infection they pose). This is not true for all the nail techs working out here, but it is for the majority of them. Do your research and be sure that you are going to a nail tech who will handle your digits with care and will be willing to answer any questions you have, who will ensure your physical comfort during your manicure, and who will ensure you get the best service she or he has to offer.
I hope you found this post helpful!