How to Prep Natural Nails for Gel Polish Application
Let’s talk a little about proper preparation of natural nails prior to gel polish application. I receive a lot of questions and complaints from readers about premature chipping and peeling, and many times this is caused by improper nail prep. For proper gel polish adhesion it’s important that the nail plate is dehydrated and free of oils, skin and debris. Below are some tips regarding proper preparation. (Most of these tips also apply to nail enhancement prep).
Don’t Use Water!
Conduct a dry manicure before applying gel polish… do NOT use water. Don’t soak the fingertips in water, and don’t use any products that add moisture or oil to the nails. Your fingers and nails may look dry and unattractive during the prep process, but that’s OK because your polish is going to last longer and you can work on adding moisture back into your hands AFTER your gel polish application is complete.
Also, don’t do your nails right after prolonged exposure to water such as showering or doing dishes!
I haven’t talked a lot about cuticle care on my blog because I don’t really have cuticles. I push mine back ALL the time… it’s almost a nervous habit. I’ve learned from working on clients that proper cuticle care is a really important step for most people. The cuticle is the dead skin that attaches to the nail plate at the base of the nail, and it needs to be properly pushed back and removed from the nail so that your gel polish can adhere properly. If you apply polish over the cuticle you will almost definitely have premature lifting around the edges.
I use CND Cuticle Away to soften the cuticle and a Tweezerman cuticle pusher to push the cuticle off of the nail plate. When pushing the cuticle you want to use a small circular motion. It’s also important to use a cuticle softener that doesn’t have oils in it since the objective is to keep the nails free of oil and moisture during prep.
After pushing the cuticle you can nip if there is excess dead skin visible, but this needs to be done very carefully. You only want to nip the dead skin which appears white in color, and not any live tissue (the eponychium). I use these comfort grip nippers from Mehaz. When nipping, be sure not to pull on the skin – squeeze and cut in a clean motion. Watch this video by NaioUK for a demonstration of the proper nipping technique.
After caring for the cuticles, buff the nail plate with a fine grit buffer like this EzFlow 240/280 buffer. This will help loosen any remaining dead skin from the nail plate and also remove the shine. Be sure to buff the entire nail plate from edge to edge!
Cleansing & Priming
After buffing you will need to remove all of the debris from the nails as well as any excess oils using a lint-free wipe and cleanser. I was previously using alcohol prep pads for this step, but I learned that 70% alcohol isn’t sufficient. You need to use a 99% isopropyl alcohol-based cleanser to really dehydrate the nail plate and remove the oils for optimal adhesion. Now I use OPI Expert Touch Nail Wipes or HandsDown Cotton Rounds and a cleanser like CND Scrub Fresh. We use Scrub Fresh at school, but at home I’ve been using the Pink Gellac cleanser (currently not available in the US). Most manufacturers sell a cleanser to accompany their polish line.
After cleansing the nail you can also optionally use a prep solution, bonder or primer. Many prep solutions such as Gelish pH Bond or RCM Prep are alcohol-based and help dehydrate the nail plate further. Primers like Gelish Pro Bond and Pink Gellac Primer are solutions that help with adhesion and should only be used if you often experience issues with premature lifting or chipping. I recommend only using primers on the tips or areas where lifting and chipping occur. If you use a primer on the whole nail, removal could be very difficult.
Allow the cleanser, bonder and/or primer to completely air dry before proceeding with your gel polish application.
Note: I realize that my personal choice of brands is all over the board. I tend to mix and match and use whatever works best for me, but it is recommended to stick with products within a brand/line for the best results. :)