Sunday, January 24, 2016

Soft (Soak-off) Gel vs Hard Gel

We have discussed the chemistry of hard gel nails and how gel nails interact with UV/LED lamps. In this post I am going to compare soak off gels (SOG) - aka soft gels or gel polish - with what we know about gel nail enhancements - aka hard gels.
Image courtesy of

In very basic terms, "hard gels" are the original gel nail enhancements - they are clear, hard, non-porous, flexible and must be removed by soaking off.  They are highly non-porous and solvent resistant, which is why they must be filed off, but that also means that it is almost unheard of for them to yellow due to staining or with exposure to chemicals or sun.

Soft gel/ soak off gel/ hybrid gel polish is very flexible, thin, generally require only minimal nail preparation before application, and most times are not build-able (though there are brands now making soak off gel builders and Biosculpture has made build-able soak off colored gels for over 25 years).   

Hard gels and soak off gels have a very similar base - however soak-off gels are a specifically designed and formulated acrylate base with a higher molecular weight which results in an elongated molecular structure. This creates space between the cross-linking agents and the oligomers allowing penetration of solvents which break down the gel.

UV/LED lamps work the same with soak off gels as they do with hard gels.  And as with hard gels, using one lamp for all products is risky because you run the risk of under- or over-curing. You may not even realize the gel is under-cured (it will look hard on top well before it’s actually done fully curing), so you could unknowingly be exposing the client to uncured product, which can cause adverse skin reactions.  I cannot stress this enough.  Please read my posts on lamps (part 2 here)

One very interesting quality about soak off gels is that they actually get harder to remove the longer they are on the natural nail (per Doug Schoon, president of Schoon Scientific and renowned nail industry chemist).  Just like any nail enhancement, they should be maintained every 2-3 weeks. And remember, that not all enhancements work for all people. so if a client can't get more than a few days of of wear out of a soak off gel, they might want to consider as stronger enhancement. I know this from personal experience - I can usually get 1-2 days of wear out or regular nail polish on my natural nails and gel polish gives me 3-4 days, if I'm lucky,

As with any nail enhancement (and they ARE enhancements, even if they are not mean to be worn as long as a hard gel), improper preparation and improper removal can still damage the natural nail, as many clients have unfortunately found out. “Gel-polish should come off easily with no heavy-handed or forceful scraping,” says Doug Schoon. “If you have to force the product off at all, you are doing something wrong.”
Courtesy of Doug Schoon


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Enhancement Troubleshooting: Free Edge Separation

One of the most common problems a nail tech sees during a fill service is separation of the natural nail from the enhancement at the nail tip.  It can be very frustrating to have zero lifting or issues anywhere else but the tip is peeling away!

There are a number of reasons for free edge separation:
  • Nail tip adhesive break down
  • Improper mix ratio in acrylic - especially too wet of a ratio which may not lift at the cuticle but often pulls away at the tip.
  • Using old bulbs with gel
  • Clients using their nails as tools
  • Old product - this is less likely with today's advanced  products but there are some acrylic on the market that still use old technology. 
  • The natural nail. 
Yes, the natural nail itself is often a cause of enhancement separation at the free edge.  If you take a good look at your natural nail you will notice that as it grows, it does not grow out perfectly straight, it naturally has a lower arch and C-curve and as the nail gets longer, these become more prominent. When this happens, the nail slowly begins to pull away from the enhancement -  usually at the free edge and especially at the corners of the free edge.
The second thing that happens with natural nails that can cause separation is that the nail becomes dry.  When the nail plate is on top of the nail bed it is getting moisture from the body through the bed.  However, once it leaves the bed and becomes free edge, it is susceptible to the elements and is no longer getting any moisture or natural protection. Much like conditioning your hair, you need to condition your nails EVEN when wearing enhancements!   If the natural nails are not conditioned with oil daily, they WILL dry up, and curl away from the enhancement.  The hardest part here is convincing clients that this is essential. 
Gluing down the separation does not work and may trap contaminants.  Cutting off the natural nail is generally undesirable from the clients perspective and often causes further lifting.  There really is only one true fix for free edge separation - you need to remove the product  that is separated and replace with fresh product.  

Now, you don't need to soak off the entire nail but you do need to file off the whole separated area - similar to doing a backfill.  Then re-cleanse, prime and apply product per your manufacturer's instructions.  In some cases, you may have to use a form to re-extend the nail to match the other nails.


  • Use a thicker, gel-like nail adhesive which breaks down more slowly, or attach tips with acrylic or sculpt the nail.
  • Make sure your mix ratio is correct for your product.
  • Make sure you clean your UV./LED bulbs daily and change them regularly.
  • Have the client use a good quality cuticle oil (not one that contains mineral oil or petroleum products) not just on their cuticle area but also under the free edge on the natural nail several times a day.
  • Each time you file the length down on a set of nails where the natural nail is the same length as the enhancement, you will need to cap the edge with a small layer of acrylic or gel to seal around the client's nails and the enhancement.