More and more nail technicians use gel nail enhancements as alternatives to traditional acrylics. Jenny Markakis, a certified master gel educator and owner of Fantastic Nails by Jenny in Melbourne, Australia, says, “Gels are easy to learn, but hard to master.” Even so, gels are a great service for nail techs to offer. We review some techniques to help you attain the level of proficiency you need.
Tip and Overlay
One method for building a pink-and-white gel extension involves using French white or natural-colored, well-less tips. To apply a set of gel nails using this method, follow the steps recommended in your gel system instructions, which will be approximately as follows:
Prep the nail. Trim and shape the free edge, buff the entire surface of the nail with a light-grit file to remove the shine and surface oils, push back the cuticle (being careful to not break the cuticle seal), remove any excess dead tissue from sidewall to sidewall, clean the nail with a cleanser or dehydrate it, and allow the nail to air dry.
Apply the tip using adhesive resin or glue, making sure the well is placed evenly on each nail. When working with gels, you must etch the tip so that all of the shine is removed. This may be accomplished by lightly buffing the tips after the adhesive has set.
Hint! You can pre-etch tips by using an electric file and arbor band to remove the shine before placing the tips on the nails. Use your downtime to prepare an ample supply.
Apply a bonding agent to the nail as your system requires—there are several kinds out there, from very thin bonder gels to traditional primers to protein-based sticky bonders.
Apply clear or pink gel over the entire nail plate and extension. Usually you’ll need to apply a base gel, then a builder gel to create strength in the stress area, and possibly a gloss coat for shine. Be sure to bring the gel down and around the free edge to seal the entire enhancement. You can also try using a one-step gel system, which will allow you to build the nail with a single component.
Hint! When working with gels, you must be sure you’re happy with the shape and length before you apply the final coat of gel—filing gel after application can break the seal.
Sculpting a pink-and-white gel nail requires you to adjust your thinking. Light must be able to pass through the entire extension in order for the product to fully cure. Begin with a clean, oil- and debris-free, dehydrated nail. You can use clear forms that are specifically designed for sculpting gels, or you can use traditional forms. If you use a traditional form, apply a thin layer of clear base gel and extend it out to form a free edge, then cure that for at least 30 seconds. Next, pop off the form before adding the white so the light can pass through the bottom side of the extension and cure the white fully.
Once you have your extension platform in place, you can then apply the white gel.
If you’re using a clear form, you can use white builder gel to help build thickness on the free edge. When you butt the clear or pink builder gel up against the white, pull only the smallest amount possible over the entire tip area. You will most likely need to file the surface of the nail to perfect the shape although, with experience and careful application, the nail may require only minimal buffing, or you may be able to skip this step altogether. Finish with a coat of clear gel to add gloss.
If you’ve applied the enhancement using a regular form and clear gel extension, you can use either a clear builder gel or a colored gel polish to build the tip. Using gel polish creates an opaque, thin nail extension, because the gel polish adds color only; the strength of the enhancement will come from the clear builder gel placed over the top of the nail.
With gels, you can work as long as you need to while you perfect the smile line. Be aware that gels with pigment in them will move around on the nail, so you will probably need to work one finger at a time, so that you can quickly pop a completed nail into the light and freeze the gel in place. Keep in mind, you can always work on the next finger on the other hand while one hand is under the light. Another great benefit of gels is that after you have completed all 10 white applications, you can assess if any of them need tweaking and add a little more product if necessary.
After you’ve applied the white, continue by adding clear or pink builder gel to build body in the stress area. Then file to perfect the shape, and finish with a gloss coat.
Hint! As long as light can pass through all of the gel layers, you can choose to cure the nails fully only after all of the layers have been applied. Save time by “flash-curing” each step as you go along. However, be sure to cure any layers that will be underneath a colored layer (any gel that’s not transparent) fully before you move to the next layer.
Maintaining pink-and-white gels can be easier than maintaining traditional acrylic enhancements; gel is easier to file than acrylic and you have more backfilling options. Gel backfills can also be more challenging, because you need to apply the white in a manner that doesn’t result in a thick, bulging nail extension.
When doing gel backfills, start by performing the usual basic tasks: Buff the entire surface of the nail, thin down the white area, reapply new white and complete the regular fill at the cuticle area. However, when working with gels you will most likely file away the entire white layer, rather than simply cutting a trench into the smile line area and applying new product next to it. Fortunately, gels are easier to file, so removing an entire layer is much easier than it sounds.
Hint! Gels with pigments in them are still somewhat transparent in order to allow light to pass through the entire layer so it can fully cure. Therefore, layering one colored gel on top of another will always result in a shadow of the lower layer showing through.
Filing gels is easy enough with 100-grit files, arbor bands or other types of abrasives that grind rather than cut. It’s not a good idea to use a cutting type of abrasive, such as a carbide bit, over the nail plate area since you can easily cut right through the soft gel into the nail.
Hint! Since true gel products don’t usually dissolve in acetone, you must manually clean your metal bits after using them on gels. Disposable arbor bands are efficient, effective, sanitary if used properly and, best of all, inexpensive!
As you work on removing the old white product, you’ll thin down the free edge. Blend and bevel the entire nail surface, and shape and shorten the nail at the same time. Dust off the nails and look at all 10 of them to ensure that you and your client are completely happy with the length and shape. Cleanse, dehydrate and apply a bonder agent in the fill area according to your system’s instructions. At this point, you have a few options:
1. Use builder gel that contains color pigment. Depending on your system, you may need to overlay the nail’s entire surface with a gel base and fully cure before applying the white. There are many different French white builder gels with various viscosities. Some will self-level; some will stay exactly where you place them. Try several to find the one that works best for you.
Generally, builder gels are thicker and do not run after being placed on the nail, so you can apply them on several fingers at a time before curing.
2. Use gel polish for the free edge. Again, first you may need to apply a thin coat of base gel, which must be fully cured before moving on. Or you may be able to apply the gel polish directly on the free edge area—but only if the free edges are completely covered with gel product. Usually your smile line will be crisper if you apply gel polish over a gel base coat and a little softer if you apply the gel polish on cured gel product. You’ll probably need to work on one finger at a time, going back and forth between hands and having your client switch each hand in and out of the light. Once all 10 free edges are completed to your satisfaction and cured, you may continue with the next layer of builder gel or one-step gel. Remember that gel polishes are available in a lot of colors—you don’t have to stick with stark white!
Hint! Gel polishes do not bond with the natural nail—they must be applied on top of a fully cured gel base coat.
There’s no one right way to work with gel nail enhancements, just as there is no one perfect product. (If there were, we’d all be using it!) Therefore, in the tradition of nail techs pushing the envelope, explore different methods and find the one that works for you!