It’s been a while since the nail industry had something truly new to capture our imagination. But over the course of the last several years, several professional manufacturers have been fine-tuning gel technologies and the product developments are truly something to get excited about.

First, it was the resurgence of gel systems in the American nail market about seven years ago. Before then we’d seen the popularity of gels (with techs and clients alike) waver due to less-than-glowing reviews. When gels first appeared on the market back in the early ’80s, there was little education, unfamiliar application techniques, allergic reactions, inefficient curing lamps, and inferior results. Many nail techs tried, and then abandoned, the so-called alternative to acrylic enhancements.

But in the early 2000s, new gel systems were introduced with a much more favorable response from the industry. The formulations were much improved, the lamps worked more consistently and accurately, and the overall chemical quality was better (leading to fewer allergic reactions and an absence of the dreaded heat spike). During the last decade, manufacturers have continued to tweak and improve formulations and technologies and gels are now clearly seen as a viable alternative to acrylics.

With this new generation of gels, nail techs could create perfect sculptured pink-and-whites with gel, flexible gel overlays on natural nails, and you could even apply long-lasting gel color. One thing still plaguing the industry through this new gel boom was the difficulty in removing them. Until more recently soaking gels in acetone did not work the same as it did with acrylics. But all that changed with the introduction of soak-off gels. Now we’ve got a gel product that is natural-looking but also can be removed without the intense filing old gels required.

And this year has seen the soak-off gel craze take off even further with the introduction of several new “gel polish” systems (I can count three on the market currently, with several more on their way). Unlike traditional and soak-off gels, these are applied from a polish-like bottle and then cured in a UV lamp. They are also designed to soak off in as little as 10 minutes.

These systems are new and the jury is still out on whether clients are going to respond to the idea of a longer-lasting “manicure” that has to be UV-cured and then subsequently removed with acetone. But one thing is for sure: This is the most animated I’ve seen the industry in some time. The message boards, the forums, Facebook, and Twitter are all abuzz about this new hybrid of gel and polish. The consumer media has caught wind of it, and print and television stories abound on the technique. And I think that’s exciting. Because for once, I’m getting calls from The New York Times, NBC, and so many more for comments on a positive nail story instead of another nail salon horror story. And that’s just good for the industry.

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