Everybody is telling everybody about soak-off gels. This new innovation is safer on natural nails than acrylics or traditional gels because it applies and removes like regular polish; no harsh filing is needed to prep or remove it. This essentially means you can grow longer, stronger nails. Perhaps even better, these manicures last an average of two weeks, resist chipping or breaking, and keep their glossy shine. There are several brands, the front-runners including CND’s Shellac and Hand and Nail Harmony’s Gelish. While brands such as CalGel and OPI Axxium retain the professional appearance of pots and separate brushes, Shellac and Gelish, along with NSI’s Illusion and IBD’s Gelac, come in polish bottles, a more user-friendly option which most likely sparked the do-it-yourself at home trend.
As I’ve received many questions regarding at-home application of soak off gels, I wanted to provide an in-depth tutorial using the Gelish system. If you’re paying about $30-$35 for a Gelish manicure (not to mention the added expense of pedicure and tip), by buying the products yourself, you can recoup the costs after only 4 trips to the salon! This makes doing-it-yourself an enticing choice. I scoured the internet to find the best deals, and have linked to the products that I recommend. I suggest purchasing materials at one time to save on shipping and handling costs. Here are the products you should procure as well as some troubleshooting tips to achieve professional salon results at home!
What You’ll Need:
1.) Lint-Free Nail Wipes
Sure you have paper towels, tissues, cotton balls or even terry cloths around the house, but once you start swiping these across your nails, you risk fuzzy, threaded residue that can stick to and smudge wet polish. Lint-free wipes are a great investment in order to eliminate the frustrating discovery of a little white fiber swimming in the middle of your freshly painted digits.
Recommended buy: IBD Nail Wipes- Lint Free 80ct
2.) Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol
For prepping nails, the Gelish pH Bond can be substituted with isopropyl alcohol (its main ingredient), as its purpose is to dehydrate the nail bed. By drying the nail’s natural oils, the polish will better bond. You can find a decent-sized bottle of 70%-99% isopropyl alcohol in any pharmacy for a few dollars.
3.) Gelish Foundation Base Gel
Using a base coat is a necessary step in any manicure. Not only do base coats protect against polish colors staining your natural nails, they contain nourishing proteins for the nail bed, and create a smooth, tacky layer to which the polish will adhere. You can interchange the Shellac base coat with the Gelish, but I recommend using the brand of products that work together as a system. Emerging TEAM Shellac and TEAM Gelish proponents argue over the ‘best’ product, but as a DIYer, I personally prefer the lower cost and double volume (0.5 oz. bottles) of the Gelish line. It’s worth investing in the full-sized bottle.
Recommended buy: Harmony Gelish FOUNDATION / Base Gel
4.) Gelish Soak-off Polish in the color of your choice.
What’s made Gelish a competitor with renowned CND Shellac is its color variety. Gelish offers 72 colors, beyond the muted neutrals, reds and pinks of Shellac. Gelish also boasts glitter polishes for a sparkly finish. To view all of the Gelish color swatches, click here. A note of caution, however: the swatches are not very accurate to the actual color results. Try to find images of someone wearing the polish or read reviews to gauge the true hue. Mini bottles (0.3 oz) allow you can sample more colors at less cost ($9 in comparison to $13-$16 for full-size 0.5 oz bottles). Need some color guidance? My favorites are Starburst, Tiger Blossom and Passion.
Recommended buy: Gelish Mini Soak-Off Gel Polish
5.) Gelish Top it Off Sealer
Like a regular top coat, Top It Off adds protection and shine. This coat seals in the color, and can be re-applied after a few days for added protection, although too much extra application could make the nails look unnaturally thick. Like the Foundation Base Coat, you will use more, so I suggest buying the full-sized bottle.
Recommended buy: Gelish soak off sealer gel top it off
6.) Gelish Gel Cleanser
As a sanitizer, the cleanser can be used during nail preparation, but it’s really the crucial, final step in the Gelish application process to smooth the tacky surface layer, enhancing shine. Although like the pH bond isopropyl alcohol is the main ingredient, the Gelish Cleanser contains moisturizers in addition to the solvents which break down unwanted residue on the nails. For this reason, I recommend this product over its household counterpart; the cleanser has a silkier feel. Its formula is especially designed to work with Gelish Top It Off, but it also works in conjunction with various other soak-off gel products, making it an overall versatile product. I suggest the 120 ml, but if you are a professional nail technician looking to stock up, the larger 16 oz. refillis a better value.
7.) LED or UV lamp
LED lamps, like UV lamps, can only be used with gel products with the correct photo-initiators for the type of light. Although these seem to be the wave of the future, LED lamps are not yet universally popular. They are much more expensive ($200-$400), but will cure nails in half the time–approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute. They use substantially less electricity than UV lamps (I’ve read approximately 60%) and the bulbs last longer. In addition, they do not contain mercury or emit UV rays.
UV curing lamps are the more popular budgetary option. Their price ranges between $30-$80. Hand and Nail Harmony advertises a 36-watt UV lamp for Gelish, but I have used a 9-watt successfully, although it necessitates more curing time–up to 10 minutes. From reviews and personal experience, I recommend the 45-watt Thermal Spa 49135 Professional U/V Gel Light Nail Dryer. It is large enough to place both hands (or feet), which is a huge time-saver. It also has automatic timers, and removable tray for easy cleaning.
Many concerns have recently emerged regarding this exposure to UV light, but most sources indicate the process is safe. UV light is characterized into three categories–UVA, UVB and UVC–according to strength. UVC light is the most damaging, with the shortest wavelength. Earth’s atmosphere luckily is impenetrable to UVC light. Both UVB and UVA rays cause damaging effects to the skin, ranging from melanoma cancer to aging. Nail curing lamps produce UVA light, with far less intensity than the sun or tanning beds. With the long-lasting results of UV cured gels, you won’t be needing to expose your hands daily or even weekly. If you still have worries, you can apply a “broad-spectrum” sunblock (meaning it deflects both UVB and UVA rays) beforehand. You will still need to clean the nail bed well to eliminate the oils in the sunblock, but your surrounding skin will be safer.
Recommended buy: Thermal Spa 49135 Professional U/V Gel Light Nail Dryer (less expensive option)
Recommended buy: NOVA LED Nail Light Lamp (fastest curing time, more energy-efficient, but more expensive option)
8.) Pure Acetone
Instead of purchasing the Gelish Soak Off Artificial Gel Remover, pure acetone substitutes just fine. The Gelish brand remover may take slightly less time (10 minutes rather than 15), but you can buy larger bottles of acetone for cheaper than any specialty gel-remover product.
Recommended buy: Beauty Secrets Pure Acetone Manicurist Solvent 8 oz.
1.) Prep your nails by shaping, pushing back cuticles and buffing. The Hand and Nail Harmony website instructs removing the shine from the nail with a 100/180-grit buffer for proper adhesion of Gelish.
2.) Using a lint-free cloth or wipe, apply Gelish Gel Cleanser.
3.) Dehydrate the nail by applying rubbing alcohol. Note that dehydrating the nail bed can simultaneously dry surrounding skin – so use a small brush to apply the rubbing alcohol only to your nails.
4.) Apply one coat of Foundation Base Gel. Paint the edges of nail tips for longer-lasting results. Before curing, use a damp cloth over an orange stick or other bluntly pointed object to wipe off any excess polish while it is wet. Wiping all excess off of your fingers and cuticles is crucial because once it cures, not only will it be difficult to remove, but it may lead to lifting or peeling of the polish. Since the excess is most likely an overflow from your nail onto your finger, peeling off excess from the base or sides of your nail can lift the polish on the nail as well.
Once the base coat is applied properly, cure for 2 minutes.* To test if the curing is finished, you should be able to lightly tap your nail without imprinting the polish. IT IS NORMAL THAT NAILS WILL STILL FEEL TACKY TO THE TOUCH. Why?
Well, as I am a teacher after all, let me take a moment for some scientific explanation. Oxygen hinders the polish’s molecules from bonding into a hard polymer. Since the top layer of polish is exposed to more air than the bottom, the surface of the polish will remain tacky.
*Curing time is based on the previously recommended Thermal Spa UV lamp. Proper curing times do differ depending on the lamp’s wattage, bulb intensity, and gel consistency. A great article from Professional Beauty which gives some tips is: 7 Secrets to Curing.
5.) Apply one coat of color, again painting the tips of the nails and making sure to wipe off any excess, and then cure for 2-3 minutes. UV light needs to penetrate through the polish, so as the top layer absorbs the majority of the rays, it can impede the light from reaching the base layers. The more colorful, opaque polishes may require more curing time for this reason. Painting the polish too thickly can also result in wrinkling during the curing process. Therefore, you should apply the polish in thin layers with ample exposure time.
Once the first coat of color has cured, apply a second and cure.
6.) Apply one coat of Top It Off, following the same application guidelines as above. Cure for 2 minutes.
7.) Using another lint-free wipe or cloth, wipe each nail with the Gel Cleanser, which will break down the sticky surface layer. Make sure to wait until after the top coat is cured to apply the Gel Cleanser, or you will just be wasting it – subsequent applications of polish will re-establish the tacky layer. After the cleanser, your nails should be free from the former tackiness, super-smooth and glossy.
For you visual learners, here’s my video tutorial of the process:
After Care and Removal:
It’s always a good idea to replenish moisture after a manicure, so apply cuticle oil or a good hand cream to nails after you’ve finished.
Gelish should last 12-14 days. By then, you’ll notice nail growth and probably be ready for another application or color change.
I hope this inspires you to do-it-yourself, saves you money and produces gorgeous, long-wear nails! Class dismissed!