Last July, I first shared my love of gel manis with Beauty Banter. In January, I wrote about a new DIY gel manicure kit from Sensationail that I was trying out. At the time, I did a pedicure and wasn’t sure if I’d ever use it for my own nails as gels take a bit of precision. Well, I feel a bit like I’ve been cheating on my manicurist, but here’s the thing: I love this line. I’m doing my own nails all the time now.
I love the convenience of being able to get great results in less than thirty minutes, that dry instantly and last almost two weeks, without the need to make an appointment. Anywhere. I picked up a number of polish colors ($12 each) and have become a big fan (as have my mother, sister and friends).
Sensationail emailed me to say they had a limited edition Summer Lovin’ Collection and sent me a few colors to check out. I always love corals for summer, and Tahiti Sunset is a fabulous shade even on fair skin like mine. (I can tan, I opt not to.) The Pink Bouquet is bright without verging on a trendy neon.
With LED instead of UV rays, I love that there’s no worry about skin damage. Also, my nails are as healthy as ever.
That said, DIY gels are not the same as a manicure. My manicurist is a magician who makes my hands look amazing without a cuticle clipper to be found (she has a no cuticle cutting rule). When skipping professional manicures and doing my own nails, I moisturize my cuticles and, as always, carry a travel-sized Weleda Skin Food in my purse.
I’ve heard people speak about the damage done by gels. I think it’s possible, but it hasn’t been my experience. After wearing them for almost two years, and as someone who was quite skeptical to begin with, I’m amazed by how healthy my nails are. In fact, I think they’re stronger than ever because they’re always taken care of.
My tips and tricks for gel manis and healthy nails begin with proper application:
- If you buff your nails at all before applying, do it as gently as possible. As you would with any normal manicure. These are not acrylics.
- Make sure you are applying the primer LIGHTLY and in a circle around the rim of the nail, not the whole nail. This helps adhere the gel to the base. A little goes a long way. A long way.
- Use thin coats of polish. Gel is not the same as regular nail polish. It’s a bit shape shifty. If you feel the need to add more to a coat, start by simply brushing over the same wet coat without adding much to the brush. The gel will move and settle on the nail. Sometimes less is more.
- Use a good polish corrector pen to keep gels off cuticle and skin. Clean up the edges before you slip your hand under the lights. Once under the lamp, the gel is set.
Proper maintenance helps extend the length of your manicure and keeps your hands looking, well, polished.
- No picking at gels. If an edge begins to lift, grab a nail file and gently smooth it down.
- Use a good cuticle oil, I like Solar Oil ($7.50) to keep skin hydrated.
- No picking at gels. It’s worth saying twice. Seriously.
Removing gels takes a bit of time, but with the right tools it’s easy.
- I find the best way to remove them is to either soak cotton balls in remover and then wrap them around each nail with aluminum foil (the foil activates the remover) or use the super easy SEPHORA by OPI gelshine Gel Colour Removal Kit ($18 for five sets) as they’re all in one and you put gloves on over the wrapped nails, meaning you can do something during the 20 minutes while you wait.
- I don’t use acetone, instead opting for OPI Expert Touch Lacquer Remover ($5.95) because it nourishes your nails while removing the gels. Win-win.
- I know they’re ready when they begin to lift and they flake off easily with the edge of an orange stick. I prefer a plastic one or a stainless steel one, though you must be careful to scrape away the gels without scraping your nail bed. Once removed there might feel like some residual base coat remains. Gently buff nails using the side of the buffer with the softest grain. Again, less is more.
From prepping with cleanser to the need to wipe away polish, never use cotton balls. Lint and gels are hardly a match made in manicure heaven. Stick with lint free pads, like the ones Sensationail includes with their kits. I buy the Sephora OPI ones ($3 for 200), too, and they’re great for regular manis, too.
Have you tried DIY gels? I’m curious to see what Sephora’s new OPI gel shine is like, and I’m also looking at the Gelish minis, too. I wear Gelish when I have my nails done professionally, so it will be interesting to see the difference. I’ll keep you updated! xo alex.
Alex Asher Sears is a writer, photographer, and fourth generation Angeleno. Since 2007, she’s been sharing her eco-beauty finds with BB readers. She writes at AlexandraWrote, and also, quite literally, at Type A Calligraphy. Find her on twitter at @AlexandraWrote.