Introduction to Gel Polish Manicures

Are you a fan of having beautifully manicured nails but are disappointed when your polish chips or peels after only a few days? If you’re looking for a longer-lasting, chip-resistant manicure, consider trying a gel polish manicure, the nail industry’s latest trend (and with good reason).

What is a gel polish manicure?

A gel polish manicure is a manicure that uses a soft gel in the form of polish. The gel polish acts as an overlay on the nail that lasts for at least two weeks (but often as long as four weeks). The result is high shine nails with no chipping, peeling, or cracking. When applied by an experienced, professional esthetician, gel polish manicures are gentle to the natural nail.

Unlike regular nail polish, gel polish must be cured (ie. hardened) under a UV or LED light. Curing refers to the chemical process that occurs when photo initiators within the gel are exposed to the specific wavelengths of UV or LED light. This chemical reaction, called polymerization, converts the soft, liquid gel into a hard, solid gel. After curing, a residual sticky layer (called the inhibition layer) remains on top of the solid gel. The stickiness is the result of oxygen in the air inhibiting the cure on the surface layer of the polymerizing gel polish. Any residual stickiness on the nail is easily removed by wiping with a lint-free wipe soaked in high concentrate alcohol such as rubbing alcohol.

What is a Shellac manicure and is it different than a gel polish manicure?

A Shellac manicure and a gel polish manicure are the same thing. Shellac is a brand name for the original long-wear gel polish created by Creative Nail Design (CND). “Power Polish” is Shellac’s patented nail product which is a hybrid of a nail polish and a gel. Shellac and all other gel polishes are applied like regular nail polish to natural nails (ie. no sculpting or filing is required).

How is a gel polish/Shellac manicure different than gels/gel nails?

Many people are confused by the difference between gel polish and gel nails. A gel polish is a soft gel that is too soft to create a nail extension. In other words, no length can be added to the natural nail with gel polish. Gels, on the other hand, are a type of artificial nail using hard gels. Once cured, hard gels are tough enough to be made into a nail extension. As a result, gels can be used to add length and strength to the nail. A main benefit of gel polish as opposed to gels is that in the long term, gel polish is much less damaging to nails than traditional gels.

How is a gel polish manicure applied?

The esthetician will manicure the nails including trimming, shaping, and cuticle grooming. Prior to gel polish application, she will roughen up the nail bed with a file or buffer (though this process is not required specifically for Shellac). Next, she will dehydrate and clean the nail bed with alcohol then apply the base coat. Following the base coat come two coats of gel polish colour then a final top coat. Each polish coat must be cured either under a UV or LED lamp for anywhere from 30-60 seconds (depending on the brand) before the next coat can be applied. Finally, the esthetician will remove the sticky film residue on the nails using alcohol and apply cuticle oil to the nails to bring back nourishment into the cuticle after the harsh alcohol application.

How is a gel polish manicure removed?

An esthetician will remove the shine from the gel polish with a file. She will then soak the nails in acetone for five to 10 minutes and carefully scrape the polish away with a cuticle pusher. Alternatively, she may apply a cotton ball soaked in acetone directly to the nail and secure it with aluminum foil.

Shellac is removed in mostly the same way except the esthetician does not remove the shine of the polish with a file. She will apply remover wraps specially manufactured by CND so that the fingers do not soak in the acetone. Nails must soak for approximately eight minutes.

What are the pros and cons of a gel polish manicure?


  • Thin and strong nail product that offers both flexibility and durability
  • Natural, glossy shine
  • Long-lasting – at least 14 days of high-performance wear
  • Polish colour does not fade like regular nail polish
  • No drying time, so no worry of smudging or ruining one’s manicure
  • Quick removal technique involving acetone wraps does not cause dry, thin or torn nails
  • No nail damage (when applied and removed by an experienced esthetician)


  • Unlike with artificial nails, cannot use gel polish to strengthen or lengthen nails
  • Many gel polishes, including Shellac, are only sold to licensed professionals and require a particular removal process – cannot apply Shellac, repair a break, or remove it yourself at home
  • Requires the use of a UV or LED lamp for curing
  • Can only be used on a healthy nail bed – gel polish is not suitable for anyone with weak or damaged nails
  • Results in dry cuticles from the alcohol and acetone application
  • More expensive than a classic manicure

What are the do’s and don’ts of a gel polish manicure?


  • Soak your nails in vitamin E oil the night before your gel polish manicure to protect your nail tips from any damage.
  • Keep your nails short and neat; gel polish softens nails, leaving them thin and prone to snagging. By keeping them short, you can help avoid broken nails or infections.
  • Regularly apply cuticle oil and lotion to the nails to maintain flexibility in the colour coating and to keep the nails and surrounding cuticles moisturized after alcohol and acetone exposure.


  • Get a gel polish manicure if you have weak or damaged nails as it will affect the durability of your finished nails.
  • Clip or file your gel nails at home as this can cause the polish to lift and peel.
  • Peel your gel polish off at home as it damages the nail beds.
  • Try to remove the gel polish yourself. If gel polish is removed incorrectly, it can leave cracks, pits or scrapes on the surface of your nails.

How do I care for my nails after a gel polish manicure?

To keep your nails healthy and to keep your gel polish looking its best, you should:

  • Apply cuticle oil to your nails twice a day. The cuticle oil will penetrate the porous gel polish and nourish the nail bed, keeping your nails healthy underneath the polish.
  • Wear gloves when using strong chemicals or tanning oils to prevent peels or chips.
  • Once the gel polish has grown out, have it professionally removed by an experienced esthetician to avoid damaging the nail bed.
  • Take breaks between your gel polish manicures. Avoid painting your nails for two weeks in between gel manicures to keep your nails looking their best. Use a nail strengthener to fortify your nails during this rest period.

Are you curious to try out gel polish? At Silhouette Spa and Laser, we offer a variety of nail services including both classic and gel polish manicures to keep your hands and nails looking their best. Call us today to book your manicure appointment – we would be glad to serve you!



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