How to Do a Gel Polish Manicure and French Manicure

This may not seem to fit in with the rest of my posts... but when you think about it, beauty products really are the ultimate DIY.  A lot of us don't think of it that way, but remember back to when you were in high school, when you were first learning about beauty products.  Remember the weird crap you did with your makeup?  You had no idea what you were doing!  Someone handed you some powders and brushes and pencils, and you tried to make some sense of it, but it ultimately takes years to master.

Then, there was the first time you tried acrylic nails, and more traumatically, the first time you removed acrylic nails. Then somewhere along the way, someone invented the fabulous Shellac, which cost as much as acrylic nails, but was obviously much simpler to apply, so you couldn't figure out why you were going to a salon to pay for it.


Pink Chiffon Gel Polish
(Here is the usual disclaimer that I am not an expert, so see one for an expert opinion, and don't blame me if you hurt your nails or hands and see a doctor before starting any exercise regimen, etc. etc. and so forth)

Okay, onward we go...


Gel Polish Vs. Regular Polish

The pros: gel polish lasts longer, does not scratch or have the "crayon effect" on paper, and is smoother and thicker.  Some people say it lasts upwards of 3 weeks, but since I am hard on my nails, mine usually only lasts about a week (which is good for me).  Also, no dry time... you just cure for a minute, and then you are dry, dent proof, and ready to run out the door.

The cons: gel polish is still a bit of a bitch to remove. Nothing like acrylic nails, mind you, but it will take you a good 30 minutes at least to take this stuff off, so consider if that is something that would bug you.

DIY Gel Nail Kits

The important thing to find out is if your gel polish is LED or UV cured.  Shellac is UV, for instance, and most home kits (Sensationail, Gelish) are LED.  If you are using an LED polish, you must use an LED light, and likewise a UV polish  must use a UV light.  That being said, you can cross brands within that rule... For instance, I have the Sensationail LED light (it is the cheapest kit), and I use Gelish (LED cured) with it all the time.  Works like a charm!  I would not, however, use Shellac (UV cured) with it.

Sensationail kit is usually around $50, and can be found at Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, etc.  $50 seems steep, but LED lights pretty much last forever... their life is something like 50,000 hours, so in other words, you can leave it in your will for your grandchildren.

Sensationail Kit Gel Polish Manicure
Sensationail Kit

The Sensationail Kit Includes:
LED Light (most important part)
Primer: Use Sparingly, because it can make removal harder
Gel Base/Top coat
Color Gel polish
Cleanser: it is just alcohol, so unless you have money to burn, no need to rebuy.. just use alcohol.
Lint free wipes:  Again, I just use a paper towel, and it works out fine.

Basic Gel Polish Steps

 

Read the instructions, but the basic instructions are usually:
  1. "Buff" nail with high grit nail file (I like a buffing block) to rough up the surface
  2. Clean nail with cleanser (or alcohol) with lint free wipe (or paper towel)
  3. ApplyPrimer/PH Bond (sparingly, or not at all, for easier removal)
  4. Apply Base coat (then cure)
  5. Apply 2 thin coats of color polish, capping the tip  (cure after each coat)
  6. Apply Top coat, capping the tip (cure)
  7. Clean with cleanser (or alcohol) with lint free wipe (or paper towel)
  8. Moisturize
Oh, when curing, be sure to cure the thumbs separately.  For some reason, they don't tell you that, but thumbs really need to be on their own to cure properly, due to the angle of the lights.

It is really so simple, actually simpler than painting your nails with regular polish, since the dry time is pretty much nil.... so if you are just wanting a solid color, you are done, lady.  Here are some cool color results from my experiments:
Sensationail Pink Chiffon
Sensationail Pink Chiffon
Sensationail Scarlet Red
Sensationail Scarlet Red





DIY Gel Manicure Gelish Sea Foam
Gelish: Seafoam
DIY Gel Manicure Gelish Black Shadow and Silver Sand
Gelish: Black Shadow and Silver Sand
Gelish Candyland Sugar N Spice
Gelish Candyland Sugar N Spice

French Manicure

I had been curious about DIY French Manicures for a while, but until I got the gel kit, I didn't see the point in devoting so much energy to a manicure that would wear off in a day or so.  The gel was a game changer for me since it lasts so much longer.

In addition to the supplies above, you will need:
French Manicure brush (artist brush did not work as well in my experience)
Little cup for alcohol

Here is the French Manicure brush I use:
French Manicure Brush
French Manicure Brush

I got it on Amazon, and it was not at all expensive.  It even has a dotting tool on the other side, which is fun to play with too, if you are into designs.

The steps I take for a French Manicure are:
1. "Buff" nail with high grit nail file to rough up the surface
2. Clean nail with cleanser (or alcohol) with lint free wipe (or paper towel)
3. ApplyPrimer/PH Bond (sparingly)
4. Apply Base coat (then cure)
5. Apply 1 coat of Sensationail Babydoll pink (cure)
6. Apply white polish to tips.  It will look messy, don't worry!  Do not cure yet.
It is messy, but do not despair!
7. Dip the brush in alcohol, and dab the end on the paper towel, to remove excess alcohol.  Slowly, with a back and forth motion, brush the white into a moon shape. If you totally screw it up, you can actually wipe off the white with alcohol and a paper towel, and repaint the tip.
See?  I told you.
8. Once you get them how you want them, cure!
Gel Polish Cure Sensationail LED lamp
The Cure (not the band)
 9. Apply top coat and cure
10. Clean with cleanser (or alcohol) with lint free wipe (or paper towel)
11. Moisturize

French Manicure: Finished!
French Manicure: Voila!



Some more experiments with French Manicure colors are below.  One note: when I am not using white for tips, I do NOT use the Babydoll pink for the base; I just use a clear coat.

Black French Manicure
Black French Manicure with Gelish Black Shadow, Silver Sand
Sparkly Pink French Manicure
Sparkly Pink French Manicure with Gelish High Voltage


Sparkly Blue French Manicure
Sparkly Blue French Manicure with Gelish Oocha Coocha Blue

Gel Polish Removal

I regret to inform you that you will have to remove your gel polish at some point.  People seem to have a variety of experiences with removal; some say it is not so bad, and others say it is the seventh circle of hell (Dante intended to list gel polish removal in there, but got distracted).  I am somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.  Why the variance, I wonder?  It may have something to do with the natural oils on your hand, or ph balance or something?  Who knows.

I won't lie, I have become impatient many times, and rather than waiting for a soak to finish, scraped off the polish too soon, damaging the nail... it isn't a great idea.  Hopefully you are more patient than I am.

Basic removal is simple, but it just takes time.  I like to use the Gelish remover, because it doesn't seem as drying as acetone.  Since my skin tends to be dry, it is worth the extra expense.  If you have oily skin, you could probably get away with straight acetone (that is the active ingredient).

You will need:
Aluminum foil cut into squares
Cotton rounds, cut into fourths
Acetone or Gelish remover
Orange stick, or Sensationail removal too
A bowl of warm water
Ziploc Bag
High grit nail file or buffing block

Orange Stick gel polish removal
Orange Stick.  Why are they called that, anyhow?
Sensationail Removal Tool Gel Polish
Sensationail Removal Tool.  Use carefully!!


Basic Steps:
  • Gently file the shine off your nail with a high grit nail file or buffing block.
  • Soak the cotton round pieces in the remover or acetone liquid
  • Apply the soaked cotton round to your nail, and wrap the foil around your finger, to keep it in place.
  • Repeat this process on all the nails of one hand.
  • Stick your foiled hand into the ziploc bag (it will feel silly), and then stick that into the bowl of warm water. 
  • Wait for 15 minutes
  • Peek at your nails under the foil, and see if they are lifting off.  You should be able to gently push (not scrape) the polish off.  If it will not come off gently, resoak.
  • Repeat on the other hand.

Okay, I think that's it.  I'm sure I will think of something I forgot to mention, but surely this covers the basics!

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