It’s been a couple of years since I first started doing my nails with gel nail polish (not to be confused with UV gel overlays which are not very common anymore. I’m talking about systems like Gelish, Shellac, OPI Axxium, etc.). I get asked the same questions again and again so I though I might give you some answers to FAQs. Here’s the original post describing what gel polish is in case you are wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Here’s my latest pedicure that I did with Gel Polish*:
The most common thing I’m asked is if it’s possible to use regular nail polish with a Gel polish base coat and top coat. While I certainly understand wanting to do this–gel polish is about 2-3 times more expensive than regular polishes and comes in very limited colors–it’s really the worst of both worlds. One of the great benefits of using gel polish is that it doesn’t dry, it cures. Meaning once it’s been under the UV/LED lamp for a couple of minutes it’s throughly cured; it’s perfectly dry and touchable. There is absolutely no fear of smearing or smudging anything. Hallelujah! This is most certainly NOT the case with traditional nail polish. It takes a while to dry. After you’ve done a couple of coats you have to wait up to half and hour. In addition to that you have to take it easy or you can STILL end up with messed up polish. It’s such a pain!
Traditional nail polish also chips like mad, even sandwiched between the gel base and topcoats. There’s a reason the gel polish companies make their own nail polish colors; it’s not just to get all your money. The gel type of polish actually lasts longer. I’ve sandwiched regular nail polish before when I’ve needed a color I simply can’t find in a gel and I can get maybe 3-5 days of wear before everything starts chipping like crazy. Hardly worth the trouble. So while layering regular polish between gel base and top coats is possible, it’s not much of a solution. Just bite the bullet and buy some colored gel polishes. That’s the whole point of using this nail system: you want nails that look great for a long time.
Another question I get asked is what brands I like the best. Pretty much every high end nail company has come up with their own version of gel polish and I simply can’t try every one. There are great forums on the internet that discuss the pros and cons of different brands so you might want to google those. I’ve tried Shellac and Gelish and out of those two I definitely prefer Gelish. It’s thicker and stronger which is ideal for my thin, peely nails. Shellac doesn’t seem to protect the nail as well. I buy most of my Gelish products on Amazon. The prices are great and it’s nice to read reviews of each color because the Gelish color swatches and charts are way off base. Last month I bought the most adorable Gelish green polish (kind of a muted green apple color) and my daughters can’t get enough of it. At less than $13 for this polish Amazon beats the pants off of stores like Sally (sorry Sally!)
I have to tell you that I am not a fan of the Red Carpet system. The polish is incredibly thin and watery which, as you can imagine, does not hold up as well. It is made by the same company that makes Gelish but it’s definitely not the same quality (kind of like Old Navy vs. Gap). I have a Red Carpet LED lamp that is OK in a pinch but is so small that only four fingers fit at a time. The light barely reaches the sides of each nail which means that they aren’t fully cured. That leads to polish rubbing off. Not good! I have about six Red Carpet colors and each one has been disappointing.
I subscribe to nail blogs all over the world and my favorite blog is by a Singaporean girl named Ying (her blog is here). She does the most fantastic nail art! She has moved away from Gelish to a Korean brand called Angel Pro Gelly. She raved about the quality and the amazing amount of colors so I scoured the internet hoping to find it somewhere. No dice. This stuff is pretty hard to find. I contacted Angel Pro and they were more than happy to sell their polish to me directly. As a matter of fact they were offering orders with no shipping and handling charges, even though I’m on a different continent. The prices are a little steep ($20-$26 per bottle) but I had some Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket so I thought, “what the heck?” and ordered a few bottles (plus the base and top coats). Let me tell you, I am madly in love!!! This stuff is quite thick (which means fewer coats) and it lasts like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve tried five of the colors now and this stuff stays on without chipping for 2-3 weeks easily. I could never get my Gelish to last for even two weeks. Especially the reds. Those seem to chip especially badly. But my Angel Pro Gelly red (A gorgeous blood red, #147) lasted like a champ. I just can’t say enough great things about this brand. And the colors! They have everything! Check them out here. I’m sticking with Angel Pro from now on. Kind of a bummer that it’s so hard to obtain but it’s so worth it. Here’s just a fraction of AngelPro’s colors:
Let’s talk about lamps: You can’t do gel nail polish without one! The prices of UV and LED lights are going down all the time. UV’s are cheaper but they take longer to cure nails. The UV lamp that I’ve been really happy with (that you can get here) has gone down in price to around $50. You can do two hands at once too, so I’m very fond of it. LEDs cut way down on curing time (45 seconds vs. 2-3 minutes) but they cost more than twice as much ($100-$300). I prefer a lamp that lets me do both hands at once and so far only UV lamps have that option. As I said, I have the Red Carpet LED lamp which is quite tiny (not a good thing unless you’re traveling). It does a decent job provided you can expose all angles of your nails to the light. It’s less than $50 (even cheaper if you buy it from Ulta with a coupon) so I can’t really complain. I place mine on top of a sheet of tin foil to make it even more reflective.
Removal is probably the biggest pain of gel nail polish. The top coat of the polish should be filed briefly, then soaked for about 15 minutes. If you get bored with your color or it starts peeling resist the urge to peel it all off!!! It will take the top layer of your nail with it and that is no good at all. Instead just take the time to give it a nice soak in pure acetone. Some people soak cotton balls with acetone then wrap the cotton with tin foil. I just put the acetone in a small dish and soak one hand at a time while I’m browsing the internet (Pinterest is perfect for this! It’s a time suck that requires almost no typing). Both removal styles work just fine; I find the whole tin foil thing a bit of a pain, personally. The important thing is to allow the polish to bubble up, then scrape it off with an orange stick. If it’s being stubborn, place the nails back in acetone for a few minutes. You don’t want to be too forceful about scraping off the polish; you’ll take a layer of your nails with you if you do. As long as you let the acetone do it’s job, the quality of your fingernails won’t be compromised.
Since I’ve switched almost exclusively to AngelPro Gelly polish my nails are longer and stronger than they’ve ever been. My ring fingernail on my right hand has been permanently peeling for about five years but the gel polish keeps it in place and looking good. I’m super happy to find a polish system that makes it look like I have perfect nails. Don’t tell anyone that I do it myself and it takes only a couple of hours every two weeks to maintain!
* colors used for my paisley pedicure: background pale pink (angel pro gelly #40), white (APG #124), black (APG #29), very bright pink (Gelish “Gossip Girl”), brownish pink (Gelish “Exhale”) and medium pink (APG #21)
I get no money from Angel Pro or Gelish for liking their products, but I do get a few pennies if you buy products through my links to Amazon. Let me tell you, I could use all the pennies I can get!