I wrapped up grad school slightly faster than anticipated! 🎉So, after nearly five years of being a full-time student alongside my full-time professional employment, I have free time back.
Since the last post, I haven’t done much beauty-related stuff. Overall, I’ve been primarily wash-and-wear because my life was work, grad school, work, grad school, grief, holidays, grief, grad school, work, etc.
On the grief front – two weeks before Christmas, we lost a precious member of our family. Ohki, our loving, gentle giant, was fourteen and magnificent. We are heartbroken. We were so lucky to share our lives with her and we miss her so, so much.
So – it’s hard to want to bother with things that feel so trivial and fleeting when you’re in the throes of grief.
But I tried to do a few small things to cheer myself up. I reorganized my manicure supplies into a train case my husband gifted me – it’s a better solution than I had. Organization projects are usually satisfying.
I managed to give myself a festive, glittery manicure with Luxio Figment. I can’t say enough about this gel polish; it’s a beautiful, glittery neutral that manages not to be loud. You could wear it every day without it being out of place! I mean, look at the product photo found at Polished Pinkies Pro, crediting MKris Nails:
For my next one, I will do a grey-and-white situation (for her) with Gelaze Recycle and Luxio Coy. Having some cheerful things around you can help during dark times.
I intend to resume a semblancy of consistency, but I’m not sure what the frequency looks like yet as I figure out what my post grad school new normal looks like. Stay tuned.
Who doesn’t like saving money? Paring back on the products you buy saves you money and reduces the things you need to store. So stop paying for products like CND Scrubfresh or Gelish Nail Surface cleanser and make your own gel nail cleanser.
It’s Easy to Make Your Own Gel Nail Cleanser
If you do your own gel polish or gel nails, you probably already have the two key ingredients of gel nail cleanser on hand.
I’ve written about this before: all you need are acetone and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) at either 70% or 91%. Mix them 1:1 in a well-ventilated area. If you’re making more than you need for that manicure, store it in a tightly-sealed container, LABEL IT, and stash it in a safe place.
I give mine a shake before using it, then apply to a lint-free cotton wipe to:
Prep nails before application
Remove the dispersion layer (the tacky/sticky layer) after your final cure
Pricing it Out
When you consider that the average going rate for gel nail cleansers available to consumers is $2.00-2.50 per ounce, it’s easy to see why you might want to make your own gel nail cleanser.
A quick search of the latest prices shows that I can get16oz of acetone for $3 and 16oz of isopropyl alcohol for $3 locally from Wal-Mart. That works out to just $0.38 per ounce if you DIY it. At the high end, that’s an 84% savings!
Even if you need to spend more getting it from Amazon at about $6 for alcohol and $8 for acetone, it works out to $0.88 per ounce, or a 65% savings.
The Bottom Line
Why buy (comparatively) expensive, inexplicably dyed products when you can make your own gel nail cleanser? Whether you want to save more money in general or have more of your nail/hobby budget to go to polishes, there’s little reason not to.
I saw the Apres Gel X extension kits some time ago. I’m not one for long or dramatic nails, but I was excited about the concept the way I was excited about Polygel. I thought this had the potential to be a very cool tool to create overlays without much fuss. AND it is readily available to us mere mortals.
Then, I forgot about them for a while because their length options were absolutely insane for someone who, well, works. I type all day and take care of my property. I can’t have talons not only from a functional standpoint but a noise one. I’d drive myself insane. I need something that’s more like an overlay with just a little length.
They finally arrived, and I set forth to do a set.
My first reaction was that these were absurdly long for something purportedly extra short. In what universe are these extra short? I admit that my nail beds themselves aren’t super long, and perhaps on someone whose nailbeds ARE long, they will be appropriately extra short. But these were STILL in, “I cannot function with these things as-is,” territory. No matter; we can file.
It would be nice, though, if Apres had measurements of their tips to give customers a realistic idea of what they’re purchasing. As is, they have some comparison photos – but without a frame of reference.
Apres Gel X Sizing
I started to work on fitting tips to my nails. Despite their recently-expanded sizing range, I struggled with this a bit. I’m also surprised, candidly; I would not describe these sizes as inclusive. Apres recently added half sizes to some of the smaller nails (i.e., 4.5) but no half sizes in the thumb-appropriate range, and also the largest nail, a 00, is pretty small overall.
I have small nails, and 00 would’ve almost been a fit. For me, I was somewhere between 0 and 1; I went with 1 and this was probably a mistake based on how application went and how they feel.
Apres Gel X Application
Application, despite my thumbs, was very, very easy. I’m extremely impressed by the product, and I am so, so excited this exists.
The process goes something like this:
Lightly buff natural nail as you would to prep for gel polish.
Etch the inner surface of the enhancement, where it will contact the natural nail using an e-file or buffer.
Apply pH bonder and primer to nails.
Apply a thin coat of Extend Gel to your natural nails; cure 30sec in LED/60sec in UV.
Apply a thin coat of Extend Gel to the etched area of the extension plus a small bead at the base of the extension.
Here’s where things get interesting:
Apply the extension to the nail from the cuticle edge, at an angle so you’re kind of squishing the gel to distribute across the nail. Maintain pressure to maintain contact; you’ll know its right if it is clear. If you have weird gaps/bubbles, you don’t have good contact (true for my thumbs).
This is the hard part: While maintaining pressure, flash cure for ten seconds. Ideally, you’ll be holding the free edge of the nail so the part in contact with your nail bed can fully cure. If you can’t do that due to your lamp or dexterity or both (hi, it’s me), start the cure and then cautiously move to allow the area you’re covering to cure.
Finish that hand by repeating the above steps, then cure everything for 30sec in LED or 60 in UV. They should look like this:
Shape them with a file if/as needed. Make sure you’re in a well-ventilated space when you do this, and that you’ve prepared your workspace with the expectation that there’s going to be a ton of dust to clean (there will be). I put down a rag that could catch a lot of it that I could then shake into the trash.
That said, I really recommend an e-file (I have one like this) for working with these if you need to do significant filing. A hand file will still be desired for fine-tuning, but you’ll be filing forever by hand if that’s all you do.
Once shaped, remove any excess dust, wipe the tips with an alcohol wipe to be very sure, and you’re ready to paint – if you will be painting. Because these enhancements ARE gel, you can apply gel polish to these directly without additional prep.
Since my idea of, “extra short,” and Apres’ idea of, “extra short,” are two very, very different things, I had to file the living hell out of these with an e-file to shorten them. I wasn’t happy about that – the amount of filing I needed to make them actually extra short defeated the time-savings I hoped they’d be for me. All said and done, this set took about 60-75 minutes. Not bad for using a new product/method, but not quite what I hoped for in a, “daily driver,” candidate.
They are gorgeous. The clear tips are truly crystal clear, and the neutral tips I bought were a pretty nude-to-me. They’re slightly thicker at the free edge than at the cuticle edge, which is great from a structure perspective. You don’t get bulk at the cuticle, but you get strength further out. They take gel polish beautifully with no additional prep to the outside of the tip. They were a joy to paint, and they didn’t give me any trouble with polish lifting or chipping.
Apres Gel X are stunningly durable. Honestly, I wish the length was more in line with my needs because they wore like absolute iron. I had them on for two-and-a-half weeks before I had to take them off for length (due to growth) reasons.
I only had slight lifting at the cuticle edge on two nails at this point: my right index finger (first) and that wonky initially-applied left-thumb (second).
This is the experience I hoped for the first time I got acrylics (which I was misinformed were gel) from a salon a stunning 14+ years ago.
Pricing and Availability
This product isn’t gatekept for professionals only! You don’t have to have a Cosmoprof membership or a license to buy them. They also aren’t absurdly expensive!🙌
You can buy Apres Gel X direct, from specialty nail distributors like Beyond Polish or similar, or most recently, you can buy from Apres via Amazon (which wasn’t a thing when I bought them), with many products qualifying for two-day Prime shipping. The full line up isn’t on Amazon, but its still pretty cool.
In addition to starter boxes of tips (which range 500-600 pieces), you can buy refill bags of just the size you need. For example, a lot of people use the same size on their ring and index fingers. Instead of buying a whole box of sizes that don’t fit you, once you know what you need you can just buy the tips that fit. Refill bags are $3.49 each for 50 pieces. That is a hell of a price once you know what you need!
Apres also offers mini boxes of tips (280 pieces) now for $16.99. They weren’t doing this when I ordered these several months ago, or else that’s the route I’d have gone. Why start small? Well, with a smaller pack you can:
see if you like them
experiment with their other shapes (they have square, coffin, almond, round, and stilletto) or lengths
or find your sizes, then use more of your budget to buy those refill bags!
The Bottom Line
If you can handle the length, I can’t recommend these enough. Apres Gel X is the gold standard for nail enhancements between their quality, ease-of-application for non-professionals, and service acceleration for professionals. Their prep products are top-notch and would do equally well for basic gel polishing as they would as adhesion prep for these enhancements. I am so impressed.
Despite the level of detail and nuance in my application instructions, they were truly easy to apply – far easier than Polygel, acrylic dual forms, or dip manicures. If you don’t want or need to aggressively file them to a usable length, application is FAST. The surface is flawless; no fussing with sculpting or self leveling.
But my hope was to take my existing hour-ish long prep and polish application down to 30-45 since I wouldn’t have to address surface imperfections. Even with practice, the amount of filing I need for them to be doable won’t get that fast.
I ultimately regifted my Gel X tips to my niece who does nails for a living (she, too, is singing their praises from a quality and workflow standpoint – her clientele is not averse to length, so they’re a great addition to her services), but I would absolutely buy if Apres released an extra-extra short, or if I get to a place where I can feel good about spending that much time on my nails. For now, I’m back to just doing gel polish.
I tend to shy away from absolutist post titles. That I didn’t this time should be telling. Who gets excited about nail clippers? I do, when they’re this good. Hell, my husband evangelizes them.
I had never found a pair of nail clippers I liked. At most, a pair achieved the stunning heights of acceptable. In fact, I went for years never cutting them and onlyfiling to remove length. But that takes a while, burns through files, and creates excess dust.
I have since found that Japanese brand Takuminozawa makes the BEST nail clippers. This brand is also sometimes known as Green Bell. Like a few of my favorite things these days, are imports. They have several varieties, but I am using these fingernail clippers ($12) and these toenail ones ($14).
Before I got into gel manicures, I used to do nail art all the time. This also consumed a lot of time, which was okay back then because I HAD time. Then, I got into gel and got 10-21 days out of a manicure. As my time faded, so too did my interest in nail art. Even now, I don’t dislike it. I just can’t spend hours on my nails 1-2x a week, and I never picked up gel art.
Enter Ohora Semi-Cured Gel Nail Strips
I had never tried nail strips – neither classic nor curable gel. Though I appreciate the art-on-demand aspect, they didn’t strike me as something I needed to try. I have good polishing skills, and I can live without art. So, I dismissed them for my own purposes. This goes for both gel AND classic strips – just had very little interest at their price point.
I was pleasantly surprised that using these things is pretty damn easy! Match up sizing much like you’d do for a press-on nail. Carefully peel from the backing. Align with your cuticle and gently but firmly press to adhere, ensuring no bubbles or gaps.
Quality tools are something I will spend money on so I can do the job right and not replace them due to premature degradation. Since I do all my manicures at home (and have many years, pre-pandemic!), I’ve tried a lot of nail tools. I’ve tried various tools to work on my cuticles: slide-style cutters, jaw nippers, chemical solutions, and more. After a pair I had been getting by with broke, I did some research to buy a pair I wouldn’t need to replace for a long time.
Enter Rui Smiths Cuticle Nippers
I’ve owned my pair since January, now, and can’t recommend them enough. Their spring action is buttery-smooth and they cut cleanly and deftly. Just like a normal pair of nail clippers or scissors, a smooth, clean closure of the blades is key to ensure a tidy (and SAFE) cut.