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My CalGel Experience at Sakura Nail and Spa

By on March 3, 2009
in NY Fashion Week F/W 09
Normally the night before a trip, I’m up late painting my nails. It’s part of my pre-trip ritual that usually involves little to no sleep as I rush around the house, trying not to forget anything. Though on my last trip to NYC I was more than happy to skip that part of my routine. I know it sounds crazy, the nail girl traveling bare nailed, but it was all for a very good reason.

You see one of my favorite people, the lovely Heather from MAC had been raving for months about her CalGel nails, tempting me with pics of amazing gradated manicures from this salon on the Upper East Side, Sakura. Since last fall she’s been sporting gray gradations, black with hot pink (for the Hello Kitty launch) and black with gold glitter. So even though I’m not much for the whole nail art thing, I had to get my butt on over there the night before fashion week started to try it for myself. Heather joined Jamie and I for our first CalGel experience and it was so very fun.

We met up at Sakura Nail and Spa, a cozy and inviting little salon. Not quite sure what CalGel was or how it worked, I was happy that they had an info sheet on the product to look over. Basically, it’s a soak off UV gel polish that is applied with a small paintbrush on the nail. It is cured with a UV lamp between layers to instantly dry the product. And the layers are thin so the overall result isn’t thick, like I’ve seen with some overlays.We spent a good fifteen minutes perusing the nail art displays trying to decide on a color/design. CalGel comes in over 80 shades and they can be mixed to create just about any hue you can think of. Between that, the special duo-chrome looking powders and nail art designs, it was a lot to take in. I went for a dark purple gradation effect, like I’d seen on Heather, with a layer of shimmer on top. Jamie opted for an intricate nail art design.

Here’s a work-in-progress shot of Heather’s deep, midnight blue gradation. Each nail artist has their own technique for doing the gradation but on my nails, she used a small flat eyeliner style brush to pull the color from the tip to the middle of the nail with short, light strokes. The whole process took about an hour and a half.

The final results

What you see below is after two weeks of wear. You can see the growth of my nails but because I used a clear base (at Yayoi’s suggestion) my nails still looked presentable. There was no lifting, peeling or chipping. Just the same perfect gradation.

Tip: Use non-acetone remover to take off the clear top coat, then paint over the CalGel with regular polish if you want a color change. Remove the polish with non-acetone remover and the CalGel will remain, perfectly intact.

Jamie’s purple and pink floral design with glitter and holographic sequins
Some designs on the other nail artists and customers

Maria Anton’s nails (above)

Now the removal process left something to be desired but it wasn’t horrifying. You can go back to the salon and pay for removal or do it yourself. Jamie said hers peeled off in the shower but mine took a little work.

To remove: Buff the CalGel with a 180 grit file/buffer. I suggest buffing as much as you can without hitting the nail. Soak a cotton pad with acetone, place it on the nail and wrap with aluminum foil for 10-15 minutes. After soaking, push the CalGel off with an orange stick.

While CalGel claims that it strengthens nails, I did not see that result though I also wasn’t left with paper thin nails like after my horrifying trip down acrylic lane. I imagine the strengthening claim applies to people who continually use CalGel and return for fills.

The cost for what I had done was $65. A basic CalGel manicure starts at $40, gradations are an additional $20, the special powder used in my manicure costs $5 extra, additional nail art prices vary. Call Sakura at 212-722-1334 for more info or to make an appointment. The salon is located on 2nd Ave between 88th & 89th.

You can learn more about CalGel on their website and if you email them directly, they can help you locate a salon in your area.

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There Are 31 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Emily says:

    Wow.. that sounds SO cool. It’d be perfect for something like a graduation or a wedding. I’m SO e-mailing to see if they have a salon in my area. Also, I e-mailed you through let me know if you got it.
    Thanks again!

  2. CincyFan says:

    Emily – I emailed you back a short while ago. Please let me know if you didn’t receive my response.

  3. Emily says:

    Just e-mailed you back!!

  4. Jessica says:

    Wow! Those look so cool. Although, $65 is a bit steep. Not that I’m sure the nail tech doesn’t earn every penny, just I can’t see myself coughing up that much for a mani anytime soon. Especially since there are so many great tips and shades here! :)

  5. Stef says:

    I think it looked cool, but I just can’t do any fake nail stuff anymore. I’ve worn fake nails before and the growing out process is a pain. I’ll stick to natural nails and polish!

  6. clockwork says:

    The gradation looks gorgeous, really holds up well in your pictures. Would love to give it a go one time.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I think it looks terrible like an old manicure peeling off from the start

  8. Bev says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience, and for taking what probably was a little risk with the health of your nails for us (You never know if a new chemical/process will leave you in shreds)!
    Would you recommend this for someone whose nails peel as a way to prevent that?

  9. Anonymous says:

    I actually use colour gel on my toes all the time.. they are durable and don’t wear off or chip.. you basically have to redo them only because of the re-growth.. I am a nail tech on the side of my 9-5 job, but anyone can really buy some gel and a lamp and do it themselves at home.. it’s well worth it.. it’s just like painting a couple of layers of polish..

    For nail extensions though, i much prefer acrylic..

  10. bevs says:

    They are just beautiful… I love it- thank you for sharing it with us.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I am a true Calgel girl wearing it on my toes and fingers and it is great for anyone wanting a natural appearance. It is a much healthier alternative to acrylice nails. You shouldn’t be soaking off with acetone, I soak off mine with Calaway which was provided to me by my manicurist. If you call Calgel USA (888-428-4357) they can give you a list of nail techs using Calgel nearest to you.

    Thanks for the blog!

  12. gel says:

    Interesting content.

    Just wanted to share some information that may help busy professionals caught up with work and who have less time to maintain their nails. You can try out gel nails which are now becoming a hot favorite as they are natural looking even without nail tips and the best way for nail enhancement. Also, if you are allergic to those strong smelling chemicals which you can experience with acrylic nails, then you should use gel nails as these are odorless.

    However, when you are planning on gel nail application, make sure you approach a nail salon or a nail artist who is well versed with gel nails and is properly trained and mastered in gel applications. This will save you from problems that can arise with improper gel nail applications.

  13. Yadi says:

    thats so funny that i found a post on calgel on your site
    a friend of mine and i have been trying to go and get it done but time never allows – sakura is the best place in all nyc to get this done!

    while my office is just a hop skip and a jump i never get my butt there

    thanks for the review your results were so pretty ! i cant wait to get my butt in there and do it now!

  14. SerenityLife says:

    My friend from Japan insisted that I try Calgel so I may try it although I gave up doing anything fake with my nails again. But, if the polish lasts as she said for a month, then I think it maybe worth it. I appreciate your informative blog on this.


  15. maria says:


    iam one of the nail tech in sakura, i didnt know that you have my hands up there. i remember you came from another state to get calgel during fashion week. wow that was a long time ago !!

    please tag that pic with my name,.. it the black gradation n blue stars!!!!

    maria anton

    • All Lacquered Up says:

      Hi Maria! So glad you found me. I edited the post to credit your nails. I so wish I lived closer to the city so I could come to Sakura more often.

  16. Melissa says:

    wow! Very nice…this is perfect for when going on a long fabulous vacation and not having to worry about ugly nails! LOL! Do you know if they can put extensions on the nails before they apply the calgel?

    • ERica says:

      The Calgel is the extension so its still natural and not like a fake tip in regular nail salons.

  17. ERica says:

    I went to Sakura Nail Spa today and so far so good. It feels good to not have my nails abused by the machine in other nail salons. I love my color and I’m sticking to it because its a natural look but with a light sparkle. I hope it doesnt chip off or anything because I work alot with my hands.One great thing I learned today about the gel every week you clean your nails with non acetone then put clear polish. The color they put on your nails wont come off because Calgel is over it!

  18. Avatar says:

    Cool one =)) =^_^=

  19. Carol Stamper says:

    I live in Salisbury, NC 28146 Can you tell me if there is a salon in my area? These products are fantastic!

  20. camomila says:

    ola.. eu gostava de saber se existe algum site que venda produtos de calgel,

  21. ardith marguleas says:

    Are there any salons in the Palm Springs,California area that do Calgel manicures?

  22. Susu says:

    What’s the best way to prevent lifting or peeling? I’ve been using Bella Forma Soak off Gels, i switched from Calgel…now my clients are complaining that it lifts off. So disappointing!

  23. chelekell says:

    I had mine done at a local salon in Largo, FL for $20, and they are awesome. I didn’t get anything fancy, just solid pink, but I still love them!

    • Michelle says:

      Can you please tell me the name of the salon? I can’t find any in Miami, I wouldn’t mind driving to Largo. Thank you!

  24. ellen says:

    it looks like there is dirt trapped under your nails!! Avoid!

  25. Katie says:

    Do you have to use acrylic or “fake” nail tips?

  26. Toba says:

    Hw kan i get calgel in nigeria

  27. Pat says:

    I had my calgel manicure done in Honolulu, HI on June 28 while on vacation. Presently, my French mani has been on for 4 weeks. I haven’t been able to find a person that does calgel in NC. There really isn’t another product as good as calgel. I expect to have my mani still looking pretty good for 7 weeks.