With every brand and their mother putting out a product with “GEL” in the name, nail world is becoming a very confusing place. The introduction of CND Shellac started a gel nails craze that has prompted more traditional polish brands to jack its style, producing products that promise gel-like results.
But here’s the problem. Gel Polish, Gel Hybrid, Gel Effect, Soak-Off Gel, UV Gel. What do they all mean? All this terminology makes it hard to decipher how a product applies and performs so I’m here to break down the differences for you.
UV Soak-Off Gel
Created as an alternative to hard, colored gels that require buffing and a long removal process, Soak-Off Gels come in a pot, are applied with a special brush and cured by a UV lamp. While you can do this at home, it’s intended to be a professional service.
Examples of UV Soak-Off Gel: OPI Axxium, Bio Sculpture Gel, Akzentz.
UV/LED Soak-Off Gel Polish
CND changed the colored gel game when they released Shellac (review). A product that applies like a polish and wears like a gel, it also comes with an easier removal process. This is also a soak-off gel, a UV or LED cured product, only it has a different application than the pot versions.
There have been innovations in this category with versions that don’t require a base coat (China Glaze Gelaze) or a top coat (Fuse Gelnamel). And unlike soak-off gels, consumer versions exist, like Red Carpet Manicure.
Examples of UV/LED Gel Polish: CND Shellac, Essie Gel, OPI GelColor, Gelish, Gelish Mini, ibd Just Gel
If you’re into gel polish you have to check out Chickettes.com. It’s an amazing resource for gel polish swatches, reviews and tutorials.
Gel Polish Hybrid
Again, CND is the innovator in this category. CND VINYLUX (review) is the first gel polish hybrid to the market. Gel hybrids combine the best aspects of traditional nail polish and gel polish.
Gel hybrids claim to have the fast dry time, long-lasting wear and glossy finish of a gel with the easy application and removal of a traditional nail polish, with no UV or LED lamp required. Expect this category to explode over the next year as hybrids become the trend.
A unique aspect is the required, Natural Light-activated top coat that comes in a solid bottle to block light exposure. While the product dries on its own, with no lamp involved, the top coat hardens with natural light exposure to protect the polish and lengthen wear.
Note: Young Nails is releasing Caption, a product with similar claims yet the top coat is not UV-activated. Instead, it contains a proprietary technology called LacQ3. We’ll have to see what that’s about come September.
UV-Activated Top Coats
An off-shoot of Gel Polish Hybrids are the individual UV-Activated Top Coats. These top coats are fast drying, don’t require a UV or LED lamp and harden, over time, with natural UV exposure. The bonus is, they work over any nail polish. Though, truth be told, I’ve used the CND VINYLUX Top Coat over other brands with no issue.
Examples of UV-Activated Top Coats: European Secrets Rock (my fave), Julep Freedom Top Coat. Nubar is developing one as well but the name has not been released.
Note: These are different than UV Top Coats, like Seche Ultra-V and LCN Polish Seal which require a UV lamp to dry.
Gel Effect Polish and Treatments
This is where the whole gel polish thing gets confusing. Gel Effect Polish and Treatments have the word “gel” in the product name and promise gel-like wear and shine, even though they don’t include the same technology as Gel Hybrids and Gel Polishes.
For the most part, these “gel” products have a thicker, self-leveling formula, like an amped up version of creme-jelly polishes. They promise the glossy, pillow-y look of gel polish and longer wear.
Which of these product categories have you tried? Thoughts on the different technologies? Do you prefer gels, in any form, over traditional nail polish? I look forward to your feedback.