Soak-Off Gel Polish & General FAQ’s 179

I receive a LOT of emails, comments and messages through social media outlets with questions so I have started a list of FAQ’s. I will caveat this by telling you that I am NOT a licensed nail tech, just a girl with a gel polish obsession.

There is also a lot of really useful information over at The Purse Forums in the SOG for beginners thread so if you don’t find your answers here, you might also check there.

What does SOG mean?

SOG is an abbreviation for “Soak-Off-Gel” polish.  I also often refer to it as just “gel polish”.  My definition of a SOG is any nail polish that requires UV light technology to cure (aka dry/harden), and soaking for removal.

What is a swatch?

A swatch is a demonstration of a color or pattern.  If you were going to paint a room in your house, you might go to the hardware store and look at swatches of paint colors to help find the perfect shade.  On this blog you’ll find swatches/examples of gel nail polish colors.  These swatches demonstrate what the color(s) looks like on a live person’s nails because it’s very hard to decide on colors just by looking at pictures of bottles or little color pops when shopping for nail polish online.

Where can I buy Gelish MINIs? Where can I find X product?

I’m often asked where I get my Gelish MINIs.  These are sold exclusively at Sally Beauty Supply, and I believe can only be purchased in the US.

I’m also frequently asked where various polishes can be purchased in different countries. I recommend contacting the brands directly for a list of their distributors because I generally do not know that information.  I also don’t sell products, except for the occasional de-stashing of polishes from my personal collection.

Does gel polish damage or weaken your nails?

Gel polish should not weaken your nails when applied & removed properly.  It provides extra strength and prevents your nails from ripping and breaking, allowing them to grow longer and stronger.  The key is proper removal using a soak-off technique.  Don’t chisel, chip, file or peel your polish off… doing this will absolutely damage your nails.  Use an orange stick to aid in the removal if needed, but don’t use tools that will gauge your nail beds.  Also, be careful not to over-buff your nails prior to applying gel polish.  You only need a very light buff (if at all), and buffing too frequently can cause your nails to become thin.

How do you prevent gel polish “shrinkage”?

You may have noticed that some gel polishes tend to shrink-back or pull away from the edges when you apply them.  I’ve heard many recommendations to dry brush your foundation before applying the color.  It’s just like it sounds – you just take a dry brush and brush the tacky layer of your foundation in one direction, then apply the color.  I have tried this and really didn’t notice too much of a difference.  I find that some colors are just a little trickier to work with.

My solution for this problem is to apply the color onto one or two nails and then put them in my lamp for a few seconds to give them a partial cure, also known as flash curing.  It stops the shrinkage while I apply color to the rest of my nails.  Once I have all of my nails polished I cure them all for the full length of time.

Also, make sure that your polish is well mixed/shaken (shaking can cause bubbles, so be careful).  Sometimes the ingredients will separate if they’ve been sitting for a while and this also causes shrink-back issues.

How do you work with gel polishes that are thick and tend to “wrinkle” when curing?

Some of the highly pigmented gel polishes are thicker and will sometimes wrinkle when you cure them.  With these polishes you need to apply very thin coats.  Try warming your polish before using it by placing the bottle in warm water before using it.  You can also use a gel polish thinner to make the consistency a little thinner and easier to apply.  I have done this with a few of the wrinklers and it helped a lot.  Here are links to a few gel polish thinners:  LaRosa, Gelos (from Lechat), Glam & Glits thinner

Can acetone be used to thin gel polish?

No.  Gel polish has has a special formula that allows it to cure with UV light technology.  I recommend using a thinner that is made specifically for gel polishes.  See the links above.

Why does my gel polish chip or peel off after only a few days?

To be honest, this isn’t a problem that I experience often (maybe because I change my polish too frequently!).  However, I have found that what holds SOG in place is the bond of the foundation to your natural nail.  To get the best bond, lightly buff your nails and make sure that they are clean and free of any oils.  If you moisturized your hands recently, wash them, use alcohol or the cleansing solution to clean your nails really well, and apply the pH Bond.  Also be sure to cap your tips when you apply the foundation gel as well as all of the other coats of polish that you apply.

Another cause of peeling can be damaged, brittle or peeling nails.  Gel polish lasts longer when applied on healthy nails.

Can I mix and match gel polish brands (ie, use Gelish foundation and TIO with another brand of color)?

Yes.  I often use my Gelish foundation and top coat with other brands.

Can gel polish be used for stamping?

In my experience, no.  Gel polishes tend to spread out making it very hard to get crisp lines when stamping.  You also don’t usually get full opacity with one coat, so it just doesn’t work well.  I normally use regular nail polish to stamp on top of my gel manicures.  I apply the top coat, wipe it clean, stamp, and then top coat again.  And if you mess up when stamping you can just wipe it off and try again!

Can I use regular nail polish with a gel foundation and/or top coat?

Yes, but your manicure likely will not last as long.  I have applied the Gelish foundation and Structure gel on my nails and then polished them with a regular polish and regular top coat.  When doing this it is possible to remove the regular nail polish with a non-acetone remover and then reapply another color.  I don’t recommend using a glitter polish because that requires some soaking and will damage the gel base.  Also, the base will start to wear/peel after a couple of applications/removals.

I have also applied regular polish in between the Gelish foundation and top coat.  When doing this you have to be sure that the regular nail polish is completely dry before applying the top coat.  If it’s not dry you can get some puckering in the polish and you can still mess up your nails if you bump them on something.  Allow the regular nail polish to dry for at least 1-2 hours before applying your gel top coat.

As I mentioned above, I also use regular nail polish for stamping.  Since stamping generally doesn’t cover the whole nail my stamped manicures usually last just as long as a regular gel manicure.

What type of lamp do you use and can you recommend a good UV or LED lamp?  Why isn’t my polish curing with XYZ lamp?

I’m currently using the Gelish 18G LED lamp, but previously used a Thermal Spa UV lamp (they’re both awesome lamps!).  I wrote an article about lamps with some recommendations.  Read it here.

I receive SO many questions about nail lamps, wattage, my opinion on various brands and which polishes cure with which lamps.  I can only provide information about the lamps that I’ve used and cannot answer all of the questions about other brands or off-brands.

Can you tell me which gel polish brands are UV and/or LED curable?

I started a spreadsheet with some of the more commonly known brands, and listed whether they require UV or LED lamps for curing.  Remember that ALL gel polishes are UV curable, but not all are LED curable.  View the list of brands here.

Do you use a matte top coat and/or why does your finish look matte and not glossy?

I do not typically use a matte top coat, but when I do it is clearly stated in the post.  I take all of my photos in a homemade lightbox which filters the light, often causing the finish to appear matte.  I have very recently adjusted my lighting setup so that the light isn’t as heavily filtered.

What type of camera do you use?

All of my photos and videos are taken with my iPhone… no fancy cameras here.  Yes, really.  :)

How do you swatch gel polish?  Does it take a lot of time to apply and soak off?

It does take time, but I have learned a few tricks to make the process go a little faster.  When I’m planning to swatch several colors in one session, I don’t apply the foundation gel and apply the color directly onto my nails.  I used to think that it was the top coat that makes the soak off take longer, but I found that it’s actually the foundation.  Without the foundation, I can file off the top coat real quick and then the soak off with acetone only takes a few minutes.  I also only polish the four fingers on my left hand when I’m doing a swatch session.

I recently learned another new trick for when I want to wear a color for only a couple of days. Instead of using the foundation gel, I use a regular nail polish base.  This keeps my nails from getting stained, but it doesn’t allow the gel polish to form that bond with my nails so I can soak it off faster when I’m ready to change colors.

Update 6/16/14: I now use a peel-off base for swatching  ;)

How do you care for your hands and cuticles and keep them looking good with the frequency of your polish changes?

I don’t have a lot of tips to share here.  I always moisturize my hands after applying gel polish and just when my hands feel dry in general.  My favorite lotion right now is True Blue paraffin lotion from Bath & Body Works, and I’ve been using a cuticle oil and the nail and cuticle serum from Julep.  I also use CND cuticle remover about once a week, and I occasionally use my heated spa mitts or parafin bath when I want to pamper my hands a little.  ;)

Do you have a list of gel polishes that fade?

These are the Gelish colors that I have experienced fading with (mostly lilac/pink/mauve):

  • My Nightly Craving
  • He Loves Me He Loves Me Not
  • Up in the Blue
  • Take Action
  • Go Girl
  • It’s a Lily
  • Princess Tiara
  • You’re So Sweet You’re Giving Me a Toothache
  • Skinny Vanilla Latte
  • Carnival Hangover (fades in the bottle)
  • All Haile the Queen
  • Mauvy Mauve

Here are links to some other articles I have written with gel polish tips & tricks:

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