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The Science Behind Gel Polish: How It Works

The Science Behind Gel Polish: How It Works

Gel polish has taken the nail industry by storm, offering a durable, glossy finish that traditional nail polish simply can't compete with. But have you ever wondered about the science behind this magical product? Let’s dive into this revolutionary product and uncover how it works.

The Basics of Gel Polish

At its core, gel polish is a type of nail lacquer that is hardened, or “cured,” using ultraviolet (UV) or light-emitting diode (LED) light. Unlike traditional nail polish, which air-dries, gel polish undergoes a chemical reaction when exposed to UV or LED light. This process, known as polymerisation, transforms the liquid gel into a solid, durable coating.

Polymerisation: The Magical Transformation

Polymerisation is the key to gel polish's long-lasting finish. When the gel polish is exposed to UV or LED light, the photoinitiators within the gel absorb the light energy and activate it. These photoinitiators then trigger a chemical reaction that causes the monomers and oligomers in the polish to link together, forming long, stable polymer chains. This reaction happens almost instantly, hence why gel polish cures so quickly under the light.

The type of light used for curing can affect the process. UV lights are traditional and cure most gel polishes in about two minutes per coat. LED lights, on the other hand, are faster and more energy-efficient, curing gel polish in about 30 seconds per coat. Some brands of gel polish are specifically formulated to work with LED lights, making the process even quicker.

The Role of Base and Top Coats

A successful gel manicure relies on more than just the coloured polish. The base coat and top coat play crucial roles in the durability and finish of the manicure. The base coat acts as a primer, ensuring the coloured gel polish adheres properly to the natural nail. It also protects the natural nail from potential staining by the coloured polish.

The top coat, applied after the coloured polish, provides a high-shine finish and an additional layer of protection. It seals in the colour and helps prevent chips and scratches, extending the life of the manicure. Both the base and top coats are cured under the light, just like the coloured polish, to ensure a hard, durable finish.

Removing Gel Polish: A Gentle Approach

One of the benefits of gel polish is its longevity, but this can also make removal a bit tricky. Unlike traditional polish, which can be removed with a quick swipe of acetone, gel polish needs to be soaked off. This involves wrapping the nails in cotton pads soaked in acetone and covering them with foil to keep the acetone in contact with the gel. After about 10-15 minutes, the gel polish will have softened enough to be gently pushed off with an orangewood stick or a cuticle pusher. Many nail techs have seen some horror stories after clients have been hacking at their gel-polished nails! We would always advocate the professional removal of gel nails for health and safety reasons.

HEMA-Free Gel Polish: A Safer Alternative

Recently, HEMA-free gel polishes have gained popularity. HEMA (2-Hydroxyethyl Methacrylate) is a common ingredient in many gel polishes but can cause allergic reactions in some individuals. HEMA-free gel polishes are formulated without this compound, making them a safer alternative for those with sensitive skin or allergies. Glitterbels was an early mover in the world of HEMA-free alternatives and now the rest of the market is playing catch-up.

The science behind HEMA-free gel polish is similar to regular gel polish in terms of the curing process and the overall chemical reaction. Both types undergo polymerisation under UV or LED light to form a durable finish. However, HEMA-free formulations use alternative monomers and photoinitiators to achieve the same result without the risk of irritation. This innovation ensures that clients with sensitivities can still enjoy long-lasting, beautiful gel manicures.

Are you interested in perfecting your gel polish technique? Explore our range of professional nail courses designed to help you master the art and science of gel polish application. Visit our courses page for more information and to learn more about our award-winning team of educators.