Troubleshooter: Applying Light-Cured Gel System Like a Pro

Whether you’re using traditional gels or the newer, quicker gels, proper application is essential to prevent lifting and to create a durable set of nails.

Gel system have found favor with nail technicians because they usually require less filing and shaping than acrylics, and they allow you to take as long as you need to sculpt the nails because they don’t cure until you put them under the light. A newer generation of gel has simplified the application process even further.

According to Elsbeth Grutter-Schutz, a nail technician in Orange, Calif., and an educator for Orly International and Develop 10, traditional gels demand precision. “Many technicians have problems with their gel clients’ nails lifting because they are not applying the product precisely. The key to prevent lifting is to apply the gel evenly over the entire nail,” says Grutter-Schutz. In this month’s Troubleshooter, Grutter-Schutz explains the application process for traditional light-cured gel system while Nancy Waspi, director of research and development for Pro Finish (Scottsdale, Ariz.), comments on the newer gel technology and how its application is different.

Says Waspi, “With the new gel technology, gel are now much easier to use. So easy, in fact, that if you can apply polish, you can use the new gels successfully.

Depending on the gel, gels can brushed on over the natural nail, used as a tip overlay, or even to sculpt an extension. If using tips, after applying the tip, blend it to the natural nail and shape it using an 80- or a 100-grit file, then file the entire nail to remove any shine. “No part of the nail or the tip should be shinny or the gel won’t adhere properly. If you don’t file even the tiniest area, the gel may start to lift there, “ explains Grutter-Schutz.

Next, clean the client’s nails with the cleanser that comes with the system, then let the nails dry completely. If the client is wearing natural nails, you will need to apply primer over the entire nail, including around the free edge. If using ABS plastic tips, apply primer to the natural nail only because the gel will adhere to the tip without primer, says Grutter-Schutz. She explains: “Although some systems do not recommend using primer, I prefer to use primer because I think it is necessary for the best adhesion. Many manufacturers recommend using a bonding gel instead of primer to help gel adhere to the nail, but I prefer using primer because, in my experience, bonding gel has caused lifting.” Waspi says the newer gels don’t need primer at all.

Says Grutter-Schutz, “The first coat of gel is rough on your brush because you actually rub the gel into the nail with the brush. Use an old brush, if possible, for this coat.” Begin by brushing on an extra-thin coat of gel on the nails of one hand, she says. If you can slide the gel onto the nail with brush, you have too much, says Grutter-Schutz. “When applying the first coat, I use my brush to rub in the gel in circular motions over the entire nail. Make sure to brush the gel on the sides of the nail and around the free edge.” Using this technique for the first coat enables the gel to really hold onto the nail, so it acts as an additional “gel primer,” says Grutter-Schutz. Next, remove any excess gel on the skin with an orangewood stick.

With the new gel technology, simply brush two thin coats of gel on the entire nail as you would polish, says Waspi. “The product self-levels where you put it,” she adds.

Each layer of gel needs to be cured the light. Once you’ve finished applying gel to the client’s first hand, place it under the light, then start applying gel to the other hand, place it under the light, then start applying gel to the other hand. When the first hand is done curing, place the client’s other hands under the light, then brush on a slightly thicker coat of gel for strength and durability on the first hand, says Grutter-Schutz. Repeat the process on the other hand.

After the first hand is done curing a second time, apply a third, thicker coat of gel so you can sculpt away any imperfections as well as reinforce the stress area, says Grutter-Schutz. “When applying this coat, Make sure you apply an even amount of gel on the sides of the nail at the stress area,” she says. If you get any gel on the skin, remove it before curing using an orangewood stick and the manufacturer’s gel cleanser, says Waspi. After the final curing, clean off the tacky layer of gel with the manufacturer’s cleanser.

Next, file the nails, if necessary, with a 180-grit file, then finish off with buffing. “If your file at this stage, you can leave the other hand under the light until you’re done filing,” says Grutter-Schutz. “You cannot over-cure gel, so keep the client’s hand in the light the whole time you are working on her other hand. This assures maximum adhesion for every nail care client, whether they have thin, thick, dry, or moist nail beds, which is not often calculated in the manufacturer’s curing time.” Grutter-Schutz also cures each thumb separately for one minute after each curing because she says the light may not cure the thumbs evenly. Have the client wash her hands with soap and water before applying polish. No base coat is necessary with gels, explains Grutter-Schutz, because gels are non-porous.

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