C2819c457a25ad08a9e5 gel

Ever wonder why your gel manicure never looks like the nail art pics on Instagram? Chances are, you’ve been asking for the wrong kind of gel. There are actually two types of gel out there: soak-off gels, also known as “soft gels;” and hard gel, the clear gel that most Japanese nail artists use. So what sets the two apart? Read on to learn more about hard gel and find out which gel is right for you.

The Application:

Soak-off gel is applied just like traditional polish: You begin by applying base coat, followed by two coats of color, then topcoat. The only difference? You cure the nail under UV or LED light rather than air-dry. Because hard gel has a thicker viscosity, it requires a more strategic application. Typically, the tech applies hard gel in a similar way that he or she would apply acrylic: by applying a bead of clear gel to the nail, then “pulling” the product with the brush out toward the free edge. One major benefit of hard gel? It can be applied in thin layers in order to achieve your desired thickness. Plus, the tech can apply a layer of clear gel to keep any gems or stones in place. One thing to remember: Because hard gel is thicker than soak-off gel, it typically requires a longer curing time.

The Results:

Soak-off gel delivers a plump, high-shine finish that looks like an amped-up version of traditional polish. Hard gel, on the other hand, provides a glossy, “jelly”-like appearance. While both formulas provide durability to the natural nail, hard gel is the only one that can be sculpted to add length or create 3-D nail art.

The Removal:

Hard gel must be filed off while soak-off gel dissolves in acetone. Typically, soak-off gel removes in 10-15 minutes, while hard gel may take a little longer depending on the thickness. Another thing to keep in mind: Because hard gel is applied in thin coats, it can be difficult for the tech to determine when to stop filing before hitting your natural nail. Your best bet? Tell the tech to leave a small, thin amount of hard gel on your natural nail and let it grow out.

The Verdict:

So, which gel is right for you? If you’re looking for short-term durability, then gel polish is the way to go. If you want elaborate nail art or a lengthy set of extensions, then it’s time to give hard gel a shot.

Looking to give gels a chance? Take a peek at some of our favorite new styles here!