New formulations of familiar nail products are utilizing the power of UV lights and regular tabletop light bulbs to cure everything from gels and top coats to liquid and powder systems. Their appeal is based on the ease and speed they bring to extension services. Read on to find out more about the different types of light-cured systems available and why nail technicians are using them.

Light-cured gels have been around for a while, but most manufacturers say they’ve improved from the first generation of products. Light-cured gels are different in form and are applied differently than conventional liquid and powder systems. The word gel refers to the form of the product, not the product itself. Light- activated gels are usually acrylic-based and they cure when exposed to a particular form of light, depending on their formulation.

There is no odor associated with light-cured gels; there is little filing; hence, little dust. In addition, some gels don’t require priming or light filing of the nail plate prior to application. Finally, the clarity of the finished nail extension appears very natural-looking. Many nail technicians say the gel nail feels lighter than an acrylic nail.

A more practical benefit of gel nails is that they allow clients to go longer between salon visits. They’re durable and generally considered more flexible than acrylics. Just as a wooden house will flex during an earthquake and be less likely to crack, gel nails flex with trauma, such as banging, and are said to be less likely to shatter. Instead of having to come in for nail maintenance every two weeks, clients can go three, or as long as four, weeks between fills.

Janice Gonzales, a nail technician at Complimentary Hair Design in Carson, Calif., likes the fact that her gel clients can go longer between salon visits because it increases her client base. She says, “I was so booked before I switched to gels that I had to turn away clients; now that clients don’t have to come in as often, I can add clients.”

The fact that light-cured gels are low-odor is one of their chief benefits, say nail technicians who prefer them. Since many gel systems don’t use primer to prepare the nail plate, you don’t have to deal with the odor of primer either. Instead, primer-less gels generally use a base coat of gel that helps the subsequent layers of gel bond to the nail. Subsequent coats of gels may have different consistencies and qualities, depending on whether they will be used to sculpt or to finish the nail.

Many gel companies offer a three- or four-gel system. Each gel layer must be cured before subsequent layers are applied. For example, OPI Products’ (N. Hollywood, Calif.) MicroBond Gel Nail Bonding system involves three gels (no primer): a base gel, a sculpting gel, and a sealing gel. The natural nails are prepared by cleaning them with antiseptic wipes and buffing them to remove surface oils.

The different types of gels may be used in a variety of ways for a variety of client needs. NSI’s (W. Conshohocken, Pa.) Light Fantastic gel system uses Adhesive Promoter and Base Coat Gel for a “bonded foundation.” You then sculpt with the Clear Sculpture Gel and Multi-purpose Gel, and finish the nail with the Top Coat Gel.

Gels maybe used in conjunction with other nail overlay services. For example, International Beauty Design (Gardena, Calif.) makes UV-light-cured finishing seals for application over acrylics and wraps. Or, the seals may be used in place of a fill, after buffing the new growth area, fill it in with the seal instead of product. The company says the seals help acrylic and wraps adhere to the natural nails longer and increase the strength of the finished nail Since the seals leave a smooth, shiny surface, they also may be used to eliminate the buffing stage in an acrylic service. Salon Essentials is the company’s salon-exclusive line of products focused on light-activated nail care services. Salon Essentials products include gels, acrylic and wrap seals, Light & Dry light-activated top coat, and instructional and educational tools.

One gel line can offer versatility for different client needs. Light Concept Nails (E. Hartford, Conn.) says you can mix and match its gel line for each and every client. Linda Ellmore, director of education and product manager for the company, says, “All of the pieces of our products fit together. You can use the gels for free-form sculpting, on natural nails, on tips, or with forms. The nails can be short or long. We also have a thinner gel that you can use over and between layers of wraps, instead of adhesive, and it makes the wrap transparent.”

Star Nail Products (Valencia, Calif.) makes Starlight Gel, a fight- cured gel system for sculpting extensions, and Natural Nail Kapping, a thin gel overlay for natural nails. Natural Nail Kapping gel is applied in a very thin layer on the nail. “Kapping” is recommended for clients who are coming off of extensions and who need a strengthened natural nail, for acrylic-shy clients, for clients who have long natural nails but want reinforcement, for clients who want their polish to stay on longer, or for nail technicians who simply aren’t comfortable using a traditional liquid and powder system.


How to etch the nail plate prior to product application, how to prevent the product from lifting, and how to remove product from the skin are handled differently with gels than with other nail services. Though some gels require no primer, you still must buff the nail bed to remove any oil and rough up the tip if tips are used. This helps prevent the gel from peeling. Ellmore says, “To prepare the nails, take a buffer that is at least 200-grit and remove the shine and push back the cuticle. Then buff the nail from the cuticle to the free edge in one direction. Then wipe the nails with a cleanser to make sure all oil is off the nails.”

Sealing involves pulling the product over the free edge in order to seal it. This keeps it from shrinking and popping off, says Ellmore.

Nadine Galli, Southern California educator for OPI Products, says you don’t need to coat the underside of the free edge, just the tip. Advise the client not to file her nails herself; if she does, she may break the seal. Only the nail technician should break the seal on maintenance visits if she wants to freshen the nail, because then she can reseal the gel.

Be sure to never allow gel to touch your or your client’s skin. If you get gel on the skin, wipe it off with gel wipe. Galli says there is no problem with gel on the skin before curing; it’s after it hardens that problems can occur. “If the gel flows onto the skin, simply wipe it off with wipe solution or the solution you use to remove the tacky layer from the cured nails. If it cures, you have to soak the gel off or file it off,” Galli says. Since gels are not water- soluble, if the gel remains on the client’s skin she can carry the chemicals around for a long time and develop a reaction.

To remove gel nails, clip the nails short. File the surface down with a medium-grit file. Soak them in remover and gently scrape away the layers of gel with an orange- wood stick.


Lights are now also being used to dry polish faster or to cure finishing coats, top coats, and polish seals to a hard finish. Some of these products work with UV lights; others are cured with the heat emitted by a table lamp.

NSIs Thermoshield is a heat- cured polish sealant. The company says the sealant has a different chemical formulation than a clear polish or a top coat. The heat emitted from a light bulb volatilizes (causes to pass off as vapor) the solvents at a faster speed than would occur with air drying, says the company. The polish seal can dry without heat, but it would take longer.

Pro Finish USA, Ltd. (Scottsdale, Ariz.) also makes a heat-cured top coat and a UV-cured top coat Its UV Top Coat is a patented UV-cured top coat that cures all layers of polish dry. To use, you apply the top coat liberally and wait for it to penetrate into the layers of polish (about three minutes). You then expose it to a UV light for three minutes. Nancy Waspi, national director of national sales for the company, says, “Once the top coat cures, you are ready to go. After a manicure with UV Top Coat, I can rub my nails on my jacket and my polish will be fine. For pedicures without this top coat, it can take an hour and a half before clients can put on their shoes and socks, because even if the top coat is dry, the layers underneath will smudge. But with the UV Top Coat, 15 or 20 minutes after getting their pedicure, clients can put their shoes and socks on.”

The UV Top Coat may be used on nail overlays or on natural nails with polish; Pro Finish advises using its Adhere base coat to help the polish and top coat adhere to natural nails longer.

Waspi says the UV Top Coat gives even better results than the company’s heat-cured top coat, Heat Coat. She says, “The Heat Coat is second only to the UV system. It’s a step down, but it’s a convenient way to dry polish fast if you don’t have a UV light. The UV light system is more service-oriented and you can charge more for it. The nails are slightly more durable with the UV Top Coat, and the nails dry a fraction faster.”


NAILS’ 1994 survey respondents were asked what new product they would create if they could; many readers wrote “an acrylic that requires no filing or buffing.” Another reader wrote, “odorless acrylic that had workability.” Another respondent answered, “An acrylic that is as smooth as a gel.”

Star Nail Products recently introduced an “odor-free” liquid and powder system called Ultimate Lyte. The company says Ultimate Lyte is superior to odorless acrylics because it results in a stronger finished acrylic nail with the flexibility and clarity of a gel.

Because the acrylic won’t harden until it is cured in the UV light, nail technicians can take as long as they need to perfect the nail shape. The nails are hard as soon as they are finished curing in the UV light.

If your “wish list” includes a quick-drying top coat, an extension system that applies like polish, an odor-free artificial nail service, a thin and light nail overlay, quicker fills, a longer-lasting extension, or a dust-free product, today’s light- cured products fit the bill.

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