The difference between: Hard Gel / Soak off Gel / Gel Polish

This is a confusing one for some nail tech’s.

I have had calls from tech’s wanting to book onto our acrylic progression or conversion course, of which there is a pre-requisite of being qualified in  gel, and when I say gel it is in the traditional way, meaning a hard gel. The problem lies when tech’s answer with saying they are qualified in a ‘ well known’ gel polish.

A qualification in gel polish really is an extension to a manicure system. A gel polish is a thin brush on formulation that applies like a regular polish, but requires a certain prep and an LED lamp to cure each coat, as such i should be doing you a disservice if I accepted your gel polish qualification as a pree-requisite to doing a 1 or 2 day acrylic course, where we assume you know all about prep, tipping, nail diseases and disorders, polymerisation, structure of enhancements…I could go on and on….

So what’s the difference in these gels?

There are currently 3 types of gels on the market today:
Gel polish
Soak off/ soft gels
Hard gels

All gels are light cured, whether by UV or UV LED lamps.
LED lamps still use UV light

Gel Polish

Gel polish is the newest of the gels to hit the market, it is a thin brush on formula, designed to look and feel like a regular polish, without the chipping and dulling you would normally see 7-10 days after a regular polish manicure. It gives a flexible result, allowing your nails to move as as natural nails do, each coat of gel polish is cured so the end result is completely dry, the top coat is super glossy so the gel polish coating will stay looking amazing until the clients next appointment, finally the gel polish is a soak off gel, meaning it can be gently removed using a specified remover in around 10minutes, ready for a new application in a different colour, of which there are hundreds…
Gel polishes can be cured by UV or UV LED lamps

Soak off gels / soft gels

Soak off gels do what it says on the pot, they soak off when ready to remove. Soak off gels were introduced to the market over 10 years ago, and we’re a flexible short term alternative to hard gels. They come in hundreds of colours, a little thicker than gel polishes, they offer a little more strength, so for a client who has very thin and damaged nail plates a soak off gel would be a better alternative than a gel polish which really struggles to stay on a weak damaged nail. Compared to a gel polish, the result is bulkier, and the top coat gel is less glossy, so as part of the system there is usually a glossy air dry top coat you can use to finish the service. The soak off removal takes a little longer than gel polish too, taking anywhere from 15-25 minutes depending on the brand and how thick the application is. Nails created using soak off gels are usually kept relatively short due to the flexibility of the gel, it is a great overlay product, but it won’t support a longer length on its own.

Hard gels

These were the first gels to be released into the market. The gel is a pre-mixed acrylic, meaning you don’t have to worry about the mix ratio of acrylic during application or even that it sets as you work the product, it was formulated to be the perfect mix ratio and would not cure until you exposed it to a UV light which stared the curing process.
The beauty about hard gel is you can sculpt out a long strong enhancement that would rival an acrylic look, it is a little more flexible than acrylic and doesn’t require buffing to a high shine due to the glossy nature of the gel.
The gel needs to be applied ip with good structure using the same principles you use in the your acrylic application, placing your apex in the correct place as well as keeping it thin the right areas.
The downside to hard gel is that when you want to remove it, it requires filing off, which can be a laborious job, and is where a lot of damage to the natural nail can occur when the nail tech hasn’t realised the gel has been removed but keeps filing into the natural nail.
The conclusion
There are pro points to all 3 gel systems p, and as a tech, you can almost prescribe which gel is gig to be the best for each client, depending on what their natural nails are like, what their lifestyle is and the result they are looking for, so you really have great scope for giving your clients the perfect nails.

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