All lamps are not created equal – some use UV light, some are just LED and some use a mix of both – and all of these come in a variety of strengths. The key facts to note? LED lights are faster (30-60 seconds per coat compared to UV lamps that take a minimum of 3 minutes to cure each layer), plus LEDs have bulbs that never need changing and emit a mix of light (which still includes some UV but at a much lower, less damaging level). Most of the new lamps you’ll find online are therefore billed as UV LED lights, ensuring they work super quickly and on all types of gel polish. We opted for this lamp as it was highly recommended and it’s great.
To ensure long-lasting results, it’s important to properly prep nails. File and shape them to your desired length before neatening cuticles. While you can just push them down with a wooden or metal cuticle pusher, we find using a softener and remover like Sally Hansen’s Instant Cuticle Remover a lot easier and more pleasant. Apply, wait a minute and then push them down before rinsing. Be warned: it’s important not to skip this step as it isn’t just about making nails look slicker – if any polish ends up on cuticles or on the skin around the nail it will lead to faster peeling. Finally, lightly buff the surface of your nails with Side 2 on a buffer i.e. not the nail file side or the final side that adds shine but the one in-between.
You may have noticed that in a salon they then sweep a soaked cotton pad of liquid over your nails to prep the nail bed. We’ve been using CND’s ScrubFresh, which decontaminates nails by removing any excess oil to ensure the polish properly adheres and therefore lasts as long as possible. (Plus, we also sweep it over once we’ve finished painting our nails to remove the slight tackiness that gel topcoats leave behind). To save money, you can buy it with CND’s Offly Fast remover, so that you can safely remove gel polish at home without damaging your nails.
The Base & Top Coats
You can find a plethora of nail brand options online and while you still have to choose wisely, this is a step where you don’t necessarily need to opt for a brand that you recognise or pay mega bucks. Just look for one that works on all brands of shellac and gel polish and that has good reviews. We’ve tried and tested NYK1, which works really well. Apply a THIN base coat layer and cure – in fact with all layers, remember it’s thin for the win!
This is where it’s important not to scrimp – there’s a reason why even the most budget nail salons still use the big brands and few rival CND for their colour range or longevity. Be aware that there are counterfeit CND products online, so always check reviews before purchasing. Over your cured base coat, paint a thin layer (again think: “thin for the win!”) cure, add another thin layer and cure using 30-60 seconds of light. The colour will remain slightly tacky in-between coats so be careful as you remove your hand from the lamp and we’d definitely recommend completely finishing one hand before starting the other. You can mix colours – Negligee & Romantique make a very pretty nude – or stick to one colour. When curing, make sure you place any polish bottles far away (or behind) the lamp as the light can harden the polish in the bottles if you leave it right in front. Finish with a layer of top coat and cap the very top of the nail with – you guessed it – a thin layer to prevent chipping, before drying under a 120 second cycle. Sweep a clean pad with Scrubfresh on it lightly over the top to remove the tackiness. Finish with a sweep of cuticle oil around the nail bed, et voilà.
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