Take Them All Off - How to Remove Gels

Here, we give you some tips on removing gels. From filling to soaking there’s more than one way to do it. And it doesn’t always have to be difficult.

If you hadn’t already noticed, gel nails—especially light-cured or light-activated ones-are one of the fastest-growing salon services, according to NAILS’ 2000-2001 Fact Book. And with the current popularity of all things natural, it makes perfect sense: Most gel systems are odorless, so they go hand in hand with the back to-basics spa atmosphere.

Many nail techs, however, are still hesitant about giving gels a try. Not only because they’re different from the traditional acrylics taught in schools, but also because many nail techs believe gels are difficult to apply and remove. And that topic is even debatable among nail techs who work with gels. Some nail techs we talked to said gels are extremely easy to remove, while others said it’s just as difficult, if not more so, as removing set of acrylic nails.

“While the new generation of gels are superior to previous versions, they are still difficult to remove,” says Lauren Breese, who’s in charge of marketing development for OPI Products and who recommends the filling and soaking method for removing gels.

Whatever the opinion, there’s more than one way to remove gels. So although gels may seem difficult to take off at first, you’ll find that the more you work with them, the easier it will become.

Filing or Soaking: Which Is Better?

So what’s the easiest and fastest gel removal method? Most nail techs seem to agree that filing off the product, or at least using that method as a starting point, is the best way. And contrary to what some may think, this process involves virtually no nail damage.

“Don’t be scared by the fact that they have to be filed off,” says Barb Wetzel of Nail Splash Nail Salon in Chicago. “I personally guarantee that filing off a set of gels properly is far less work and far less harmful to the nails, cuticles, and skin than letting the hands sit in acetone for any-where from 15-30 minutes and sometimes even an hour.”

Wetzel’s removal technique is to simply continue filing the nail past the point she normally would file in preparation for a fill. For the removal process, Wetzel files off about twice as much product, and she prefers using an electric file at the beginning and then finishing up with a hand file.

So where does soaking come in? Dixie Eklund, vice president of sales for FPO, recommends a combination of filing and soaking off to remove gels. “The best way to remove the gel product is to first thin the nails down and then soak them for about five minutes. Finish off by filling the remaining gel down until there is a very thin layer on the nail.

“Many traditional U.S. gels would lift if they weren’t completely removed, but the new generation of gels adheres to the nail and won’t lift,” says Eklund. “They’re more flexible too. We recommend leaving a thin layer of our ego gel on the nail as it grows out to protect the natural nail.”

But for the most part, the majority of light-cured gel nails do not come off easily if they are only soaked in acetone. That’s because the materials that make up the gel do not break down as easily as acrylic, which means that filing comes into the picture no mater what.

Margo Reed, an Austin, Texas-based director of education for ibd, recommends the filing and soaking method. Before soaking the nails, she makes sure to file the gel product as thin as possible without filing into the natural nail surface. She also files down the length as much as possible.

“Soaking gel in acetone without filing off the shine doesn’t work at all,” Reed says. “It does dissolve in acetone, just not in the ‘visible’ way acrylic does. The gel will become thinner and thinner until it sort of just comes away from the natural nail.”

While the nails are soaking, Reed uses a cuticle pusher to gently scrape the surface of the gel product. And once the nails are finished soaking, she continues this process until the gel is removed.

Of course, as several nail techs pointed out, there really is no need to remove a client’s gels unless she is moving and can no longer keep up her appointments. “It is the rare occasion that I’ve had to remove a set of gels, “Wetzel says. “And that’s usually due to moving or finances, not an unhappiness with the gels themselves.”

But if the client isn’t leaving and plans to keep up her appointments, then gradual removal is best. Janice Lonardo, national education director for Star Nail Products, recommends filing the gel product off gradually and then having the client go for a follow-up manicure every week. “Filing them off all at once takes away too much of the natural nail,” she says.

Lonardo says she’s also heard of nail techs who soak cotton balls in acetone and then wrap them around the nails with aluminum foil for about 20-40 minutes. This helps soften the gel, she says, and the rest of the product can then the filed off.

Maggie Boyd, owner of Avante Studio & Spa in Barrington, Ill., also prefers the growing out method. She makes sure to shorten her client’s nails, then thins them out with a file, buffs them, and finishes of with a manicure. Between the filing and growing out process, the gel product should be gone after several appointments, she says.

Although light-cured systems are definitely more popular, some nail techs opt for non-light cured gels. These systems are much faster and easier to remove since they’re basically thick viscosity resins (glues) that are cured with a spray activator or air-dried.

“Soaking in acetone would be the method to use. The glue should break down a bit faster than gel or acrylic,” Reed says.

Growing Out With Other Systems

Switching a client over from acrylics to gels is fairly simple. A nail tech can grow a cline out of acrylic or fiberglass by filing in her nails with gel and with in three to four fills, the old product will be completely gone. But switching a client over from gels to acrylics or another system can be a bit more difficult, according to some. “To grow someone out of gels by filling in their nails with acrylic doesn’t usually work because the adhesion isn’t reliable,” Reed says.

However, Wetzel says that although it is rare for a client to ask for such a switch, filling or transferring with acrylic over gel is not a problem, since the gel is the foundation and has better adhesion than acrylic.

Growing a client out of gels by filling in with fiberglass is much easier to do, especially if the fiberglass is finished with gel.

A Little Color

Gels are not only clear. There’s also an array of colored gels, and they’re easier to remove than one might think. Many of the new formulas on the market require only one application, so they can easily be filed away during a fill service with a hand file or a sand band.

Reed says this makes changing colors during a fill much easier because the nail tech isn’t using up any more time than she would in a normal fill service. Of course, it’s important to apply a layer of regular clear gel before applying the colored gel on top. Doing so protects the natural nail from any damage during the removal process, and makes it easier for the nail tech to change colors. All a nail tech has to do is file off the top most layer of product, which is the color layer, and re-apply a new color.

Reed suggests that if the witch is being made from a dark color to a lighter one, extra care must be taken to ensure that all of the dark shade is filed away.

Ultimately, it’s up to the nail tech to decide what removal method works best for her. It’s also important to know which removal method each manufacturer recommends.

Undoubtedly, the best thing about gels is how surprised clients are after they are removed. Their nails are often healthy and in good shape. And although they asked for their gels to be removed, many ultimately return because of the good experience they had with them.

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