Soak-Off Gel Polish

Sensationail Gel Polish Lamp
This is a legacy post that has been given a facelift. Enjoy!

UV gel polish has been pretty trendy for a while now – probably a year and a half, give or take? Though there are many players on the field and the products are more accessible than ever, there remains skepticism regarding the efficacy of the products as compared to their claims – if I blamed anyone for that, I’d be a jerk.

How I Learned to Love the Gel

Here’s some backstory, for you – holiday season 2012 – a friend expressed curiosity in the Sensationail gel system. Her roommate had one of the kits and seemed happy with it, but my friend and I craved a bit more than this flaky roommate’s thumbs-up. We did some research on it and found the promises of:

  • low-odor application
  • zero dry-time
  • up to two weeks of wear
  • a finish that does not wind up dull after a few days
  • and relatively easy removal appealing.

She bit, got a kit, and liked it. After seeing her results, I pined for one, and my partner got me a kit that Christmas.

Most kits consist of steps involving prepping the nail, applying color gel polish in between a base and top coat, and curing after each layer. I find the process takes me about 30-45 minutes, but I’m a perfectionist about it (nails are my thing). While applying gel polish differs slightly, it is no more difficult than applying traditional polish – the major thing is that you must clean up any “oops” areas before you cure, but it is easy enough. There really is no dry time, just a minute or so of cure time per layer (brands may differ).

The real question is does it really hold up?

Realistically, your first DIY gel polish manicure may not. There is a learning curve for some people, but usually those kinks are worked out by the third go. I got 12 days out of my first gel polish manicure, and I bet I would have gone longer had I not made a mistake. Since then, I have had gel manis last nearly three weeks (yes) without chipping or getting sassy and the only main issue was my new nail growth. I never had to reapply a top coat because it was losing its luster.

This is all fantastic – my job requires use of my hands quite a lot, and sometimes I have to perform tasks that has my fingers in awkwardly-shaped, non-nail-friendly spaces. This stuff holds up to that kind of wear-and-tear just fine. I do, however, wear rubber gloves when I wash dishes or if I work with any chemicals (like when cleaning the house).

So far, I would agree that the application process is low odor except for the primer – if the gel polishes have an odor, it is faint and reminds me of how Expo Dry Erase markers used to smell. This is important for me, as my fiance is very sensitive to potent smells – I love painting my nails, but I never could before without giving him a headache.

Brands & Prices

So far, I have tried Sensationail, Harmony Gelish, Red Carpet Manicure, OPI GelColor, and FingerPaints gel products. You may hear gel referred to as Shellac (which is a brand; think of the Xerox phenomenon) but Shellac is a gel product by CND. Whether or not the manufacturers would like you to believe it, the polishes are compatible with other brands’ lamps. It is just best to be careful of your cure times (cure longer than you think you should if you aren’t sure).

Most brands’ individual polishes range between $7-15 per bottle and are available in various places. All of them can be found online, but some can be found in retail pharmacies and mass merchants. Others are available in places like Ulta or Sally Beauty; the latter is my go-to. Others still are technically pro-only and therefore a bit harder to get your hands on legit bottles.

The Bottom Line

I recommend everything I’ve tried (Oct 2016 update: except Gelish) to anyone wanting a long-lasting manicure. I also recommend checking out swatches before you buy.  The forum at PurseBlog is a nice resource full of user-submitted swatches. Chickettes is awesome for swatches too.