Light-activated gel systems have been revamped for the healthy, odor-free environment of the 90s.
Finally, gels save the technician time. "There is no mixing, very little filing, and less maintenance," says Gonzales, who schedules most of her refills and backfills in three-to-four-week intervals. "My clients have very little breakage and lifting. Without repairs, the service time is much shorter," she says.
Although most gel manufacturers today offer training classes or video instruction, gel application is not always taught in school. But that is changing, says Komorowski. "Now that many states are requiring no-odor systems to be taught in school, you will see an increase in gel training. IBD has had so many requests lately from schools that we introduced the IBD Institute School Program."
Gel application is so much different than acrylic application, it was once. thought that only the most talented nail technicians could master sculpting gels. Margo Reed, director of education for IBD, says a good technician can learn to do both successfully. "Sculpting with acrylic is like working with clay. It begins to set up and hold its shape as you continue to work. Gels, don't do that. Sculpting with gels requires using a gel designed for that purpose: a gel that somewhat holds its shape while it self levels at the same time," says Reed.
Halpern, who teaches gel application, says the technique takes an enormous amount of education and practice. "You have to start from scratch and learn a whole new way of thinking. Some technicians find it too hard to break their old habits, and they give up," she says.
Acrylic application requires a more aggressive and heavier hand than gels.
"Shaping acrylic takes patting, pushing, and pulling the product into form," says Werner, "But while building the dome or apex over the stress point with gels, a technician needs to hover over the area with a brush. That's how the product moves."
Gonzales calls it "plumping," and says a builder gel doesn't move around until you manipulate it with a brush. "But gels are not as forgiving as acrylic in that a gel will torque more, and if you make the nail too flexible, it will give and pop off."
Nail technician Susan Hilker was skeptical after doing acrylics for more than 10 years, but recently decided to tackle gel application so she could offer her clients at Salon D.J. in Lomita, Calif., more options. "I think it was more difficult for me because it was so different and learning something new took a little more patience. It does take a while and 1 feel like I'm still learning," says Hilker, who now has four regular clients wearing gels.
One-component gels, such as Pro Finish's Easy On Easy Off Gel and The Supply Source's Euro Gel, are medium-viscosity UV gels that can be used to overlay on natural nails, wraps, or tips.
T3 Fiber-Gel from Star Nail Products is a patented UV gel made to work exclusively with fiberglass mesh. The system sandwiches the fiberglass between two layers of gel. The same medium-viscosity gel is used in three layers to j hold the fiber mesh in place while completely hiding it on the nail surface. The mesh offers durability without sculpting, making this system an alternative for technicians who find sculpting gels either too difficult or time-consuming.
Lightbox Gels from For Professional Use Only uses a non-acid primer with a three-gel system for use on natural nails or tips. Each of the three gels, Fusion Gel, Sculpting Gel, and Power Seal undergoes the photo-crosslinking process of polymerization. The nail coating, which the company says imparts durability and shine, is the result of the aggregate layers.
NSI's Light Fantastic Gel System uses a non-acid priming step with NSI Adhesive Promoter, which provides a chemical bond that allows the natural nail plate to accept the gel chemistry. Each layer of the three-gel system performs its own function and with accurate placement of the first, base gel, successive layers apply perfectly.
MicroBond Nail Gel Bonding System from OPI Products uses Bond-Aid for extra adhesion, three gels for bonding, building, and sealing, and MicroBond Lamp for curing. The lamp has three nine-watt UV bulbs, nearly three times more wattage than most other UV lights.
IBD recently reformulated its Salon Essentials Gel System, using a method called "Fused Matrix Technology," a chemical process that prevents the burning that is a common complaint with gels. What the company calls "crystal monomers" give the finished nail its shine. The system includes five gels, including Clear Gel for natural nail or tip overlays and Color Gel for long-lasting color.
En Vogue and Light Concept Nails offer more expensive light-activated gel systems that are acrylate resin products and used without primer.
Today, gel manufacturers offer their own product-specific UV lamps that range anywhere from $50 to $279, and the systems themselves are available from $59 to $379. Some companies offer a free lamp with the purchase of a full system, and most offer starter kits at a discount All manufacturers recommend coupling that starter kit with a product specific education class to learn the ins-and-outs of the particular system. As a technician, you should always know your product and understand how and why it works. After you have done your homework, maybe you will find that gels are the wave of the future for you.
Gels in Europe
If gels are so popular in Europe, why didn't they catch on here initially?
Nails are just now becoming big business in Europe, and because the focus from European manufacturers has been on gels since the onset of nail services, nail technicians were originally trained in gel application, Many European salons and technicians are just now being introduced to acrylic nails,
Unlike the United States with its many nails-only salons, nail services in Europe traditionally have been offered in hair salons, increasing the importance of an odor-free product, "The clients also view going to the beauty salon as a luxury and as a pampering experience as opposed to the walk-in and walk-out in 40 minutes with a full set. Their mindset is more like that of the clients found in today's U.S. day spa," says Joan Komorowski of IBD.
Artificial nails have not been as accepted in Europe as they have been in the U.S., but because gels have such a natural look, some women feel less guilty about getting them done, says nail technician Natascha Mapp of Crazy Nails in Wiesbaden, Germany.
"German women don't want anything fake on them — it's been a real stigma, but I find that if I call nail enhancements "art" nails rather than "artificial" nails, it really helps," says Mapp.