Colored Gels May Be the ‘Cure’ to Slow Drying Polish

by Suzette Hill | January 1, 1991
Illustration/Elsbeth (1990)

Illustration/Elsbeth (1990)

Ask Terri Myers, a nail technician in Garden Grove, California, what her pet peeve is and her eyes light up, her hands start flying, and she excitedly recites anecdotes about clients who cannot get as far as their cars without smearing their nail polish. It seems like some clients will never leave, she says, because they ruin the polis once, twice, and sometimes even three times before she can close their car doors.

“I make sure they write their check and have their keys out before I even open the polish bottle,” she says. “But once I’m done polishing their nails, they brush their hands on their clothes, knock them on the table, or realize they want something out of their purse and reach in without thinking.

“I use products to speed drying time and electric nail dryers, and for the most part they work,” she says, “But some of my clients, no matter what I do, won’t wait until their polish has time to harden, and I end up re-polishing their nails. It’s very frustrating.”

The situation is just as frustrating from the client’s perspective. You never realize just how dependent you are on your hands until your motion is restricted for an hour or two.

You can’t change your clothes, get into your car, or reach into your purse. Most women cope with the situation and are happy to accept help from the technician; and the majority of clients at least get out of the salon without a polish catastrophe. Once home they read, watch TV, or pursue another low-risk activity until their polish fully dries.

Other clients, however, are women on the run. Their appointment is during lunch hour, after work and before a big night on the town, or crammed into an activity packed Saturday afternoon.

So what do you do, tie the client to a chair? Although you may have considered that option, there is another choice available.

Colored gels add strength and reinforce the natural nail. They can also be used over gel, acrylic, or wrap extensions. UV light-cured colored gels are applied much like polish and are cured under an ultraviolet light. After a thin top coat of clear gel, the client has dry, colored nails with a high-gloss shine that lasts for weeks. The process doesn’t require much more time than applying nail polish and can be maintained with a fill every two weeks. If the nail surface becomes dull or scratched, just reapply a clear coat of gel and the freshly manicured look returns.

Ana Noa Smith, a nail technician who recently moved to North Carolina, uses colored gels for pedicures. “I don’t have to deal with wet polish and they can put their shoes right back on. When I use regular polish they can’t wear shoes for quite awhile, which can be a problem.”

Colored gels, says Smith, don’t chip and pedicure clients only need a fill every month or so, depending on how fast the nails grow. The gel should, however, be inspected regularly for signs of lifting.

Only recommend colored gels to clients who don’t change polish colors often. Once gel cures, you have to rough the surface and soak the nail in acetone to remove the gel. You can, however, cover light colored gels with darker shades by buffing the surface to thin the existing overlay and applying a new coat of colored gel. The lighter color will not bleed through.

Clients can choose from a rainbow of colored gels, says Yvonne Nissen of A Perfect Ten in Boerne, Texas. And if they become bored with the color, or want to match a special outfit, they can apply nail polish over the gel surface. The client may return to the colored gel anytime by removing the polish with non-acetone polish remover. The gel will not absorb the polish’s pigment and the surface remains smooth and shiny.

The technicians we spoke to say they charge no more for colored gels than they do for clear gels because the products and technique are the same. And, as a bonus, they save time because they don’t have to polish the nails. Once the gel cures, the client washes her hands, digs out her own keys, and confidently leaves the salon.

What you charge gel clients for the service depends on your area. “You know what you’re worth and what your area will allow,” says Karen Davis of House of Beauty in Newport Richey, Florida. “You can’t price yourself out of the business, but you also can’t give it away.”


If you use clients’ nails as a miniature canvas to create artistic scenes and designs, gels won’t disappoint you. You can create an airbrushed look and myriad other designs the first time you use gels.


Handpainted designs are also possible, although they present more challenge, even to experienced nail artists, because gels are self-leveling. This is an advantage because it eliminates lumps and uneven surfaces. When creating detailed nail art, however, you must plan ahead and work quickly. Otherwise, the gel will level, causing images to blur and colors to run together.

Carmella Reeves, of Carl’s Hair Salon in Gretna, Louisiana, says the speed is worth it because, once cured, the design lasts for a long time. And, she says, you can experiment with designs. If you don’t like something you’ve done, or you make a mistake, just wipe off the gel with a tissue before you cure and start again.

Gel art increases service tickets anywhere from $1.50 to $5 for every nail with art. The price depends on your area and the complexity of the design. Although the price seems low, the profit margin is high when you consider that the simplest design takes one to two minutes from start to finish. And clients will appreciate the affordability of nail art – especially those who could never afford airbrushed or handpainted nails before now.

The technicians we spoke to say gel art sells well in the salon, and they promote it by wearing designs and displaying tips with different designs at their stations. Clients can choose a design they like and have it applied.

You can create the same art with gels that you can with polish and paints, says Nissen. Use stones, feathers, decals, striping whatever you want.


Gels are noted for their easy application, high shine, and durability. Following are general instructions for applying colored gels and creating gel art. The technique is for a UV light system, and you should consult the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular system.

  1. Prepare the nails. Buff, clean and prime the nails.
  2. Apply clear gel. Apply a thin coat of clear gel to cover the entire nail and nail tip.
  3. Cure. Place each hand under the UV light for the recommended time.
  4. Apply colored gel. Cover the entire nail. Check coverage on sides and free edge. Remove gel from skin and cuticle with an orangewood stick.
  5. Cure. Place each hand under the light for the recommended time.
  6. Apply second coat of color. This second coat of colored gel is optional. Apply only if a deeper base color is desired. Do not cure if you are going to do gel nail art (See steps below).
  7. Cure. Place each hand under the light for the recommended time.
  8. Apply clear gel. Apply a thin coat of clear gel over the entire nail.
  9. Cure. Place each hand under the light for the recommended time.
  10. Finish the nails. Apply cuticle oil and have the client wash her hands.


Gel nail art is relatively simple even for novices. To create the art, do steps 1-6 above. Do not cure the gel. Then proceed with the following instructions.

7) Apply thin bands of contrasting color gel. Use a thin detail brush to apply diagonal stripes of one or more colors. Bands must be applied over an uncured base coat of color.

8) Clean brush. Wipe the brush clean on a non-fibrous pad saturated with brush cleanser.

9) Stroke brush in opposite direction. Lightly draw the brush perpendicular through the gel stripes. This brush stroke actually develops an airbrush effect. The gels flow together to create an interesting design. The longer you wait before curing, the more the colors will blend together.

10)   Cure. Place the nails under the light for the recommended time.

11)   Apply striping, stones, or do freehand art. Apply any other forms of nail art you wish on the cured, tacky surface. The tacky surface will secure striping and stones. Freehand art should the tacky surface helps prevent gels from leveling too quickly.

12)   Cure freehand design. Cure the freehand design if it was created with gel. If you used paints for the freehand design, allow time for the paint to dry before proceeding

13)  Apply clear gel. Apply a thin coat of clear gel over the entire nail surface.

14)   Cure. Place each hand under the light and cure for the recommended time.

15)   Finish the nails. Apply cuticle oil and have the client wash her hands.

You can use different color combinations and different brushstrokes to vary the design. Clients will enjoy the creative custom-look, and they’ll love the short amount of time it takes.

Artificial nail systems offer something for everyone – clients and technicians alike. Myers now offers gels as part of her service menu. “Some clients changed over immediately and now swear by gels,” she says. “Other clients prefer to stay with the service they were already getting. But even some of them, my polish problem clients, have colored gels applied over the other product because they like what they get.”





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