Gels have their own lingo, their own tricks, their own innuendo. Here we tapped gel manufacturers, educators, and users for 21 bits of gel insider info. From terms like “capping,” “pillowing,” and “freezing” to why you can’t handle your product the same way you do acrylic, these techniques and tricks are good to know no matter how long you’ve been doing gels.
1 Some clients are sensitive to gel cleanser. If you encounter one of these creatures, ibd educator Wende McLelland suggests applying a coat of builder gel to clean nails and curing thoroughly. Next, without cleansing the nail, apply a coat of Intense Seal and cure for three minutes. Shape and file the nail with a 180-grit file, seal with another coat of ibd’s Intense Seal and cure for three minutes. Intense Seal does not leave a sticky layer, so cleanser is not required.
2 Smile real pretty. Aleta Erikson of Light Concept Nails advises that to get a crisp smile line when doing a French fill, put the pink sculpture gel on the nail bed first and well out the free edge of the nail. Apply the white gel on the free edge, right up against the pink gel. Then cure the entire nail.
3 Get killer curves. Star Nail has this time-saving tip for achieving the perfect C-curve: Boil water and remove it from the heat. Using tweezers, dip a tip in the hot water to soften it. Using your fingers or a C-curve shaping tool, pinch the tip to the desired shape. The tips will not lose their shape.
4 Capping cures peeling. Erikson recommends that when doing an overlay on natural nails techs should always place forms on the nails, even when not extending the length. “This helps the natural nail to be completely covered with gel, creating a lasting overlay application.”
5 Bubble, bubble — toil and trouble… well, not really. According to McLelland, removing bubbles from cured gel isn’t a feat. File and shape the nail. Brush a thin coat of Bonder Gel on the nail and cure for one minute. Apply a coat of Intense Seal, Ultra Seal, or Clear Gel and cure thoroughly.
,B>6 Make them shine. Make natural nails and all enhancements from acrylics to wraps super shiny by sealing them with a coat of gel sealant or a thin coat of gel.
7 Make a soft little pillow. Pillowing is a Young Nails term for a technique that “creates reinforcement around the parameter of the body of the nail.” To do it press a pearl of base gel up to the cuticle and then push the gel to the growth channel, or roll to the cuticle corner and then roll down onto the rest of the nail.
8 Dip it and flick it for a glittery free edge. Yvette Holt, an educator for Le Chat, describes the “dip and flick” thus: Brush base gel on the tip. Dip the tip into ordinary glitter and flick off the excess. Cure for one minute. Dab gel over the cured glitter and cure again. Continue with the rest of the service as normal, encasing the entire nail in gel.
9 Easy as 1, 2, 3. To reduce filing time and complete a set of gels quickly, Darlene Johnston, a nail tech in Ontario, Canada, suggests using a three-stroke method, like that used to paint polish on a nail. To do it, apply one coat of gel in three strokes and cure for two minutes. On the next coat, start with the same technique. Then, at the stress area, take a string of gel and place it along the stress line (see image). Cure and apply one last thin coat of gel. Cure and cleanse the nail. Any filing should be minimal.
10 Mind your mess. Run an orangewood stick along the entire cuticle and sidewall area to whisk away any excess product and prevent lifting.
11 I said freeze! Freezing is when a tech applies a coat of gel and then cures it for a few seconds — just long enough so that it won’t move so she can move on to the next step in the application. This stops the self-leveling properties of gel in its tracks and buys the tech some time. This technique is also called “flashing.”
12 String it along. Roxanne Valinoti, an educator for Creative Nail Design, has this tip for creating a perfect smile line: “Lay a string of white sculpting gel in the shape of the smile line first, like an outline. Then just fill in the rest of the free edge with white gel.”
13 Light as a feather, not stiff as a board. Acrylic users sometimes have a hard time softening their touch when dealing with gels. Valinoti suggests that visualizing the gel as “icing on a hot cake” might help. “The trick to easy, smooth gel application is to hover the gel brush over the nail — like you’re spreading icing on a hot cake.” Never press down with firm pressure or it will drag the gel off and look flat, she warns.
14 Good fences make good neighbors. To prevent blurring the smile line on a set of pink-and-whites, Valinoti locks the white smile line gel for 10 seconds in a UV light after every second or third nail — then cures for the recommended time.
15 Layers upon layers. Anna Lajourdie, a nail tech and educator in Ontario, Canada, layers white gel to create a beautiful, natural-looking free edge. First, apply bonder gel and freeze it. Apply forms and another thin coat of bonder gel. Using a thicker white or off-white gel, create extensions on all 10 nails, making sure the gel is even in thickness with the natural nail. Cure the nails thoroughly. Apply a layer of thin, bright white gel on top of the new extension and a little bit above the natural smile line. Cure and finish the enhancement as normal.
16 How refined. When working with tips and gel, it’s a good idea to refine the tip before you glue it to the nail. This will reduce the bulk of the tip and help achieve a better smile line. To do this quickly and easily, Loni Jensen Preato, an educator for Young Nails, recommends using an electric file to create a deep smile line on a tip, and then using a 150-grit file to perfect the smile line.
17 You sure can pick ‘em. Gel is sticky and picking up a bead of it can be tricky. Preato recommends this technique: Drag your brush across the gel and then tap the tail off the gel against the side of the pot. Make sure to keep the gel on one side of your brush only — don’t dip the brush straight down into the gel.
18 It’s a sculpt, it’s a tip — it’s a sculpted tip! Young Nails combines these two ideas with this technique: Prep the natural nail and apply forms. Apply base gel to the natural nail and pull it down on the form, creating an extension. Cure for 20 seconds and remove the form. This creates a thin extension for you to work on — much like a tip.
19 Are we clear? Clear forms on the market allow UV light to reach the gel from all angles. Preato offers this tip for giving forms more stability: Take the center circle off the form and apply it to the back of the form. Roll the form from side to side to create a C-curve and apply the form to the finger.
20 It keeps going and going. OPI has found that combining wraps and gels make for a strong, long-lasting enhancement. “It’s the best of both worlds in wraps and gels,” says Suzi Weiss Fischmann, executive V.P.
21 Slow and steady means no bubbles. Quick patting or jerky movements can force air bubbles into the gel and make it lumpy. Young Nails advises that techs use slow circular motions and keep the brush in contact with the gel.