The Science of Gels

What’s really going on when your client puts her hand in the nail lamp? We explain what gel is made of and why it works so well.

All in the Family

Acrylics are a special family of monomers and/or oligomers and/or polymers used to create nail enhancement products, including UV gel nails and acrylic (liquid-and-powder) nails. (Wraps and tip adhesives are in the acrylics family too, in the cyanoacrylates category.)



Cure with a free radical reaction (when the peroxide in the powder is exposed to the reactive monomer in the liquid)

Cure with a free radical reaction (when the photoinitiator in the resin reacts with the wavelengths emmited by the lamp)

Strong odor, caused by the volatile
compounds in the liquid and powder

Very faint odor, generally caused by either low vapor pressure or lack of VOCs (volatile organic compounds)


Innovations in Gels

Hybrid brush-on gel polishes are the trendiest innovation in the nail industry in recent memory. Hybrids incorporate the same types of solvents as nail polish, which allows them to soak off faster than the current group of soak-off gels in potted jars, plus the hybrids have other ingredients to lower the viscosity so that application is more similar to that of a polish, explains industry scientist Doug Schoon. Brush-on gel polishes pull ingredients from both polish and gel formulas, making them true hybrids.

Jim McConnell, president of Light Elegance, also offers his insight: “Nail polish is mostly comprised of nitrocellulose resins and solvent. Nitrocellulose resins are not known for scratch resistance while urethanes [gels] have excellent scratch resistance. You can think of UV gel polishes as nail polish taken to the next degree.”

Regarding traditional gels versus soak-off potted gels, McConnell explains that traditional gels are more cross-linked, which gives them more resistance to acetone. Soak-off gels have been altered so they can be attacked by acetone.

Next page: Gels -- The Basics

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