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Gel Nails

There are so many fabulous nail treatments to choose from these days, it can get a little confusing. Acrylics, Gel Nails, Shellac - what's the difference? Let's find out.

Both acrylic and Gel Nails are basically fake nails placed on top of your own. They can be used to extend the nail and give it extra strength. But they are very different in terms of application and use.

Shellac is neither acrylic nor gel. It is actually a blend of gel and nail polish. It can't be used to extend your nail, but it does give you excellent durability.

Teething Problems

Gel nails probably first appeared in the United States in the 1980s. At that time, however, the idea didn't really catch on. This was largely due to problems with the lights used to set the gel.

There was little training available and, if done incorrectly, the process could leave both client and nail technician with burnt fingertips. Making matters worse, home-use ­systems were also introduced, which did nothing to improve the product's reputation.

One decade and a whole lot of research later, gel nails were back. By 2010, well over half of salons offered this as a service and today, well, it's available everywhere.

What is Gel?

These days, however, gel nails come in many forms, including 3-D gels, polish-gel hybrids, soak-off gels and more. In its most basic form, gel is a semi-solid mix of monomers and oligomers that harden to a polymer when exposed to UVA light.

The gel contains photoinitiators - to absorb the light, stabilisers - to prevent discolouration and pigments - to give it colour. Interestingly, it's the pigments that required the most research. Some colours, like white, reflect the UVA light while others, like black, absorb it. This means the nail technician must set the light correctly for best results.

Advantages of Gel Nails

Gel Nails offer many advantages over some other nail treatments. They set faster, last longer and are easier to remove. They give a glossy but natural look, and they are more flexible than acrylic nails.

Hybrid brush-on gel polishes are the latest innovation, combining the best of all worlds. They go on as easily as nail polish and soak off faster than traditional gels. They also give you the durability of gel nails.

The main difference between nail polish and gel nails is that durability. Nail polish contains mostly nitrocellulose resin, which will scratch off. Gel nails use urethanes, which offer excellent scratch resistance.

Weighing It Up

Gel nails are applied in much the same way as nail polish, with a base coat, colour and then top coat. Each coat has to be cured under the UVA light. Properly applied, gel nails are as strong as acrylic but not as thick, so they look more natural.

Cost-wise, gel nails work out about the same as acrylics but bear in mind that you can keep acrylics going with cheaper monthly infills. Soak-off gels last up to 14 days.

When you're choosing a nail treatment, consider your lifestyle. If your nails are in and out of water all day, the gel would be the better option. Because it sticks like a nail polish it's better at resisting water. Acrylics can start lifting if subjected to too much water.

Are Gel Nails Safe?

You may be wondering if the use of UVA light to cure your gel nails is dangerous. Certainly, there have been many debates on the subject. There is no evidence to suggest that having regular gel nail treatments will give you skin cancer. The US Skin Cancer Foundation looked into this and said the risk was far lower than that presented by tanning devices.

If you are concerned, however, you could apply sunscreen to your hands before your nail treatment. Try and avoid applying it to the nails themselves.