Snob Essentials

What’s the Deal with In-Salon vs. DIY Gel Manicures?


Let’s get one thing out of the way – all those polish brands that promise “gel effect” without the use of an actual light are BS. “Gel effect” is just the new marketing term for “long-lasting” or “high shine,” and from my experience, the result tend to be a clunky mess. In Bag Snob Tina’s words, “If you want your polish to feel like glue for a few hours before finally drying, try it. Once gel effect dries, it takes all of 24 hours before peeling off in giant pieces. Granted, it doesn’t chip like regular formulas and will last longer if it doesn’t come off first, but with polish, there’s still nothing like the real thing.”

What’s the Deal with In-Salon vs. DIY Gel Manicures

You can, however, recreate the long-lasting effect at home using a light and specially-formulated polishes (ones that will not dry unless you have a light) from a brand like Gelish. I spoke with Gelish lead educator, Danielle Candido, because the brand is a leader in the at-home gel space and the only polish used for gel at many luxury salons like Paintbox (pictured above is a recent gel mani I got using Gelish at Paintbox).

“The real difference between the DIY versions of gel polish and in-salon gel polish is the person who is applying it,” says Candido. “The product itself is primarily the same. It is simply a smaller version with a lower wattage light, so the cure times might be longer than those used in a salon.” She continues by explaining that when deciding what kind of at-home system to invest in, it’s best to use a brand that professionals use. Many manufacturers produce at-home versions. Gelish Mini, she says, is an excellent choice for a DIYer because it offers professional quality in a size that makes sense.

I asked Candido for her top tips to keep in mind with at-home gel polish. Below is what she had to say but you can read more tips here.

• Don’t be fooled by the term “gel polish;” if it doesn’t require UV or LED light to cure it (make it “dry”), it isn’t gel. It’s nail polish with extra ingredients to make it last longer or make it shinier; this is known as a power polish. True gel needs exposure to UV light. It will last longer and won’t stain the nail, and when removed properly, is kinder and gentler to the natural nail than power polish.

• Just like regular nail polish, gel becomes unusable after a period of time. It varies by brand, but a good general time frame is 18 months from purchase. It’s best to store your gel polish upright inside a container or cabinet avoiding natural daylight (UV light). This will help extend its life.

• Never ever, ever, EVER peel your gel polish off. Because of the way it bonds to the natural nail, you will strip the top layers of your nail if you force the polish off by peeling.

• Choose a brand that has its own remover rather than one that requires straight acetone to remove it. Remover by Gelish is a buffered acetone that is designed specifically to remove Gelish gel polish while protecting the surrounding tissue from the dehydrating effects of acetone.

What to Look for from a Salon
• Ask if the salon uses the manufacturer-recommended complete system for their gel manicure. If they do, they are happy to tell you; if they mix and match, they will tell you it doesn’t matter…IT DOES! This is a chemical process, and each piece of the system serves a specific function and is chemically-designed to work with the other pieces in the line for the best results in shine, durability, length of wear, and the healthiest application for the natural nail.

• As with the at-home version, do not peel your polish off!

• Look for a salon that uses the foil and cotton method of removal rather than one that has you place your fingertips in a bowl of remover.

Photo Credit: The Wall Street Journal


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