Gels are pre-mixed, so no ratio errors; never too wet (excess shrinkage) or too dry (brittleness). (Gels can’t be too wet or too dry, due to the “oligomer” gel, instead of monomer-liquid and polymer-powder mix as with acrylics.)
Gels harden in 20 secs and cure in under 2 mins (generally), so no lifting problems associated with filing on un-cured liquid/powder (polymer/monomer which take upwards of 24-72 hours to cure) acrylics. (Of course due to the photo-initiator induced hardening/curing of gels instead of body heat-induced as with acrylics).
Gels are completely cured, so non-porous, so no staining from nail polish. (That is most “good” high quality gels exhibit this quality
Gels will not break down in solvents. So again less potential lifting, breakage, service breakdown, yellowing, etc, (when they are done correctly). (Again this is referring to most gels, the rubber based gels are solvent soakable; not a quality I recommend)
Gels are more flexible (again due to the pre-mixing and the stabilizing factor of being completely cured— again that is MOST high quality gels I’m referring to— there are “bad” gels on the market to beware of, just as with everything else in life.)
Gels have less long term shrinkage, so less free edge separation and curling, because the gels are done “shrinking”/curing before the client leaves the salon. This promotes a healthier natural nail and better long term wear of the enhancement service.
Gels have NO ODOR. That is one of the highlights and best reasons to use them for techs and clients alike
Don’t worry yourself so much with understanding the complete chemistry, because that won’t much affect your technical skills applying them. A basic understanding is one thing, and that’s all we can provide here or even in our educational websites. For further depth and understanding you’ll need MUCH more. If that is the case, then I suggest you invest in a few good books on the subject, starting with one of Doug Schoons. I also advise several other basic chemistry books (HS and college level, available at bookstores and public libraries) to understand the chemistry of carbon based compounds (organic chemicals) and how they behave/react (such as esters, salts, etc). This subject cannot be explained easily in a few paragraphs, and will require a LOT of studying on your part to fully understand the complicated chemical structure of it all.
NOTE: Traditional acrylics (liquid/powder) CAN do everything that gels can as far as adhesion, flexibility, and durability… However, very few techs ever actually acquire the technical skills required to make “acrylics” perform the way gels do long term. Gels are NOT easier than acrylics (and RUN from any brand that tells you otherwise— really, if they were that easy… come on, after all…..). In fact, gels are pretty darn hard to master. And that’s a fact! BUT THEY ARE WORTH THE EFFORT!!!
Gels LOOK/seem, easier, because with practice, superior results can be had by more techs. However, many techs give up on gels before they master them. While gels seem “easy to learn”, they are HARD to master (the perceived easiness is very deceiving— please don’t ever be fooled by companies who claim their “gel” is “soooo easy” to learn and use; if it was really that easy 1) wouldn’t ALL techs already be using gels by now and 2) why would the clients even need to pay us to do it for them! (Anything worth having is worth working for …. Most new gel techs learn the easy part of gels, and then do not go on to practice and then master them. So eventually, they just give up and go back to what they already know. BUT, with PRACTICE and time and determination, a whole new world of nail enhancement technology awaits that will set you apart from other techs (well, for awhile at least, until the rest of them catch on and catch-up!)
Acrylics on the other hand, are harder to learn initially, but easier to master. However, since the learning curve is so hard at the beginning, most techs do not continue practicing once they “learn” the basics, and don’t bother continuing to educate themselves on acrylics once they have “learned” acrylics, hence they never “master” them and live forever with 2 week fills and never can progress their clients to 3 and 4 week fills (like is common with gels). Not because of their clients or the product they use, but because of their own inability to “master” their product.
I think gels are the future of out industry. Many top industry leaders agree with me. Lack of odors and control of the curing (and hence the potential lifting!) are the key reasons for this.
For more info on how nail products cure, and tons, and TONS or other related info, read my website at www.nailsplash.com It’s over 400 single spaced typed pages long, and it still doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all there is to know and learn about Nails as a profession. I am still learning everyday. When I stop learning, it will be time to retire
—–Barb (The GEL QUEEN!!)
As nail techs, we simplify true chemical names by using the word ‘liquid’ for a monomer, and ‘powder’ for a polymer. Most acrylic systems are made from organic polymer resins, which, simply stated, are the end result of mixing monomer and polymer (liquid and powder) to get an end result of a hardened material much like plexiglass. Monomer is derived from the acrylate family of chemicals and can be simple single molecule chains, or by adding other compatible acrylate chemicals, can be transformed into cross-linked chains, which create a stronger, more retentive, flexible net of woven molecules. Monomers with cross-linked molecules are stronger than single chains which can be miles long, even though they will ‘tangle’ themselves together into a small ‘ball’.
Gels, on the other hand, are made of molecular chains of acrylic molecules called ‘oligomers’. They are, in essence, still acrylic because they are made from the same type of acrylate as traditional monomer and polymer. Gel will not cure unless it is exposed to UV light. This is because the ‘oligomers’ are only activated by light. If not exposed to UV light, the initiator chemicals will not get ‘excited’ and try to pass the light energy onto another molecule. All acrylic systems (including gels) need some form of initiator to begin the race to become hardened material.
Traditional acrylics (not light cured) are ‘heat sensitive’ and the initiator chemical in the products reacts to the heat from our bodies. Then, the catalyst in the mixture excites the molecules and makes them want to attach themselves to another molecule, and the race to become hardened material has begun.
This action happens almost immediately with traditional monomer and polymer, although it will still take up to 2 weeks for the material to reach its’ optimum ‘hardness’. This is why it is so easy for most clients to experience cracking and breaking within a few days. The material isn’t totally ‘cured’, but only hardened enough for us to shape and file it. Gels react much the same way when they are exposed to UV light.
So, when you were told that that particular gel was not an acrylic, but a polymer, they were actually telling you that acrylic (monomer) and polymer (powder) had already been mixed together to form a ‘gel’ that would eventually become hardened material when exposed to UV light. ALL systems are organic polymer resins, whether it is traditional acrylic or a gel. In essence, no matter what the manufacturer prefers to call their system, it is STILL acrylic because these products are ALL derived from the acrylate chemical family.
Hooked on Nails
Marti’s explanation is perfect (of course). And I’ll add a little more insight on the subject.
ALL nail products are part of the “plastics” family (this family includes: plexiglass windows, plastic dishes, the lamination on your drivers license, paints–whether enamel or acrylic, the plastic housing on the computer console sitting right in front of you! Even fabric softener for our clothes is a PLASTIC!). Acrylics, gels, wraps, even nail polish! IN fact most (almost all) are chemically part of the actual acrylic family (or very close cousins of it).
The only exception is the rubber based products* (think rubber gloves, rubber balls, etc)— while not as closely related and not part of the acrylic family, but are part of the plastics family— and do have the common carbon component and are related in manner of use. Rubber based products (gels) are not safer than the acrylics or acrylates class of gels which are made from fossilized past life sources such as plants and animals. Any gel that is not rubber based is part of the same family of chemicals as acrylics and all other gels. There is NO new and exciting new chemical discovery out there with a new class of chemicals that are radically different than what we already have! Everything in this class is a version of another, some better quality than others, some worse, but all WORK the same way. (Keep in mind this is a very simplified and non-technical description.)
Confused enough? The key point to remember is that you don’t need to get boggled down in the terminology some companies use to confuse and/or scare you. Personally, I feel that when a company tries to sell their product based on fancy lingo and hyped up terminology that it’s just pain old marketing hype and scare tactics in some cases. Good, professional products that have stood the test of time don’t need to resort to these measures. Go with brands that don’t use hype or fancy phrase-ology to try and confuse the issues.
For our purposes as nail techs, most of us prefer to call any gel-like substance that cures on the nail under a U-V light a GEL (this is only to distinguish it from the different procedures used with acrylics or wraps). Whether the gel substance chemical itself is derived from natural fossilized sources, or from rubber trees, the result is basically the same*: a carbon based (hence “organic”) nail coating. (*Except the rubber based ones can generally be soaked off and tend to yellow more is one notable difference. I personally am NOT a fan of the rubber based gels in case you were wondering.)
Fancy terms or names don’t change the application process of all these product types: apply the “gel” (or whatever they call it , and then cure it in the U-V light source! One type “gel” is not safer or “better” health wise chemically than another type.
Of course there are differences in QUALITY and that is the main point you should be considering when purchasing gels. Forget the fancy terms and health claims of “safer” when comparing “gels”, and concentrate on the end product results. How well does it perform over time? Then add in personal preferences of your own and your clients.
Invest in a quality U-V light and you will be free to experiment with most quality brands of gel until you find the one that is the perfect match for you and your clients. You may even find that having several brands on hand allows you more freedom to customize to each clients particular needs and allows you to adapt and progress your gel skills.