In yet another attempt to educate the general public, this blog post is all about the differences between some of the products professional nail techs use, as well as educating you on the proper terms so that you get what you really want on your nails.
(A) "Shellac nails" -- Shellac is a *name brand*, not a service. It is trademarked by CND (formerly Creative Nail Design), and those salons that are telling you you're getting a "Shellac manicure" without actually using CND's Shellac are lying to you (& shame on them!). If they offer "Shellac nails", please ask if it's actually CND Shellac or a different brand, then know if they're not using CND Shellac, you are actually getting a "Gel Polish Manicure". To you, it may seem like a small nit-picky thing, but if we don't know what you are actually wearing, then we won't know exactly how (& how long) it's going to take; scheduling you for the wrong service and quoting you an incorrect price. For the record, if I don't apply it, I charge $10 AND UP to remove it. The "AND UP" applies when you are wearing unknown product. Did you know that some not-so-reputable salons & "techs" mix gel & polish, and call it Shellac?!?! Ugh.
(B) "Gel Polish" -- Most reputable salons & techs will refer to all brush-on, in-a-bottle, UV-cured coatings as "gel polish" (even CND Shellac, although technically, CND Shellac is considered a "power polish", since its formulation is different from other gel polishes, but we'll let that one slide). There are a ton of companies that offer gel polishes; the three I currently use (plus my CND Shellac) are Gelish, Artistic Colour Gloss, & GelColor. When you want a gel *polish* manicure, please don't call it a "gel manicure". Gel polish removes using pure acetone, or an acetone-based remover, wrapped with special remover wraps (there are a ton of different ones out there) or cotton & foil and letting them sit for 10-20m (depending on the brand). A few require a light scuff of a 180 grit file across the top coat first.
(C) "Soft/Soak Off Gels" -- Here, there are three sub-categories: "Strengtheners", "Builders", and "Soak Off Lacquers". All use the same method to remove as I described in the above section.
1. Strengtheners come in either a gel pot or a bottle with a brush. They are intended to give a *tiny bit* of strength to your natural nails, under your gel polish application. These will soak off with your gel polish; add about 5m for soak off. This is a topical, removable, application (not the same as a strengthener nail polish).
2. Builders are intended for that purpose; to build an enhancement (just like traditional gel and liquid & powder - aka acrylic). They can be used over natural nails, built out using a form, or used over properly applied tips. However, they are *not* intended to be used when you have nails much longer than just past your fingertips. They are flexible, and depending on how thick they were applied, they will soak off in 15-30 minutes.
3. Soak Off Lacquers are just that; color for your nails that soak off. They come in a pot you have to mix, are stronger than Shellac and gel polish, and can be "filled" (just like soak off Builders). And, just like soak off Builders, these require 15-30m for removal.
(D) "Hard/Traditional/Builder Gels" -- For strength & length, should be rebalanced (I do not use the term "fill" because that implies just putting more product at the cuticle area; I actually rebalance the whole nail each time to make sure your apex is properly strengthened and your shape is correct). The two biggest differences between these and soak off Builders are:
1. These must be filed off. I usually thin with my e-file (it's not a "drill" or a "dremel"; stop calling it that), then use increasingly fine hand files to remove.
2. These can also be used over natural nails, built out using a form, or used over properly applied tips... however, they can be used over (& to create) ANY length.
(E) Liquid & Powder -- We used to refer to these as "acrylic", but the more scientifically-accurate (& more professional, in my opinion) term is liquid & powder. L&P sets are similar in strength to soak off Builder gels, but must be applied using (as the name states) the proper ratio of liquid (monomer) to powder (polymers). Removal should be a combination of e-filing, soak off, and hand-filing... NEVER PICKING! There is no need for a bowl of acetone, as removal wraps work just fine, but some techs still prefer this method.
One of my biggest pet peeves, however, is when you call me and ask for "nails". I don't know what that means. I don't know how long to schedule your appointment. You could mean a basic manicure (45m-1hr) and I think you want a full set of gel nails (which could mean anything from 1.5 hrs for a simple overlay to 3 hrs if I'm sculpting a new set). Try these terms -- "regular manicure", "gel polish manicure", "gel nails" or "acrylic nails" (meaning enhancement), etc. Even the dreaded/hated term "fake nails" gives me SOME idea of what you want.