Advanced “Gel-like” Nail Polishes Are Becoming the New Go-To

Sable Yong
Getty Images

Getty Images

Even as a beauty editor, I’ve had exactly one gel manicure in my lifetime. It looked great, lasted for weeks, and left my nails underneath in a state upon removal. So much so that I didn’t wear nail polish for a week afterwards–the horror!– in fear of disintegrating what was left of my poor nails. Plus, who needs the risk of extra UV exposure during that curing process on top of the already harrowing removal process?

In case you somehow didn’t know, the “gel” in gel manicures refers to the polymers involved in the curing process, which are usually either incorporated into the nail polish’s formula or applied as a top coat. When exposed to UV light, a polymerization process occurs in which a chemical reaction causes the molecules to bond to one another and harden.

Since gel manicures are the working girl’s choice for long-wearing polish that can put up with all the rapid-speed typing and opening of several seltzer cans a day, looking into options for a safer “gel” manicure is a must. This is why brands have recently been creating formulas with gel in the name, but don’t require UV light to cure, yet still promise the same sleek, long-lasting results.

MORE: How It Works: Gelish Gel Nail Polish

So, what’s the deal with these at-home gel nail polishes? How do they work without any of the damaging factors that have put me, as well as many others, off of an official salon gel’s nail-weakening effects? Generally, there is more than one step to it. By mixing a “gel formula” nail color with a top coat that contains the other ingredient for it to cure, that replaces the UV light step.

You’ll probably notice that lots of these long-wear nail polishes say something like “gel effect” to infer that while it may not use that exact chemistry, it does offer similar results. Sally Hansen’s Miracle Gel Polishes involve an advanced color coat which contains a molecule called Oligomer and a top coat that has a photoinitiator which works with the Oligomer to cure the polish using natural light. That curing process keeps going long after your mani feels dry, becoming more durable over time. Sounds pretty ideal, right? Possibly the biggest relief though is that you can remove it with regular nail polish remover just as easily as any normal nail polish.

Caption Polish incorporates what they call LAC3 technology. You guessed it—it involves a 3-step process. It’s a triple layer fusion dual polymer technology that uses polyester resin and plant-derived plasticizers to give you all the benefits of a gel manicure with their three-step system. It claims to dry three times faster than regular nail polish while remaining 3-free, and removes with regular nail polish remover sans soaking.

Deborah Lippmann’s Gel Lab Pro, on the other hand, lets you mimic the look of a gel manicure using a base coat containing Epoxy Resin and Polyvinyl Butyral to fortify your actual nail, and a top coat with dual-polymer technology for your high-shine hard finish. The magic’s in the top coat with this one, so you can pretty much give any of your nail polishes a gel-finish. It’ll definitely prolong the wear, but probably not as long as using a color nail polish that also has a gel formula. Like the rest of Deborah Lippmann’s nail polishes, the Gel Lab Pro polishes are both 5-free.

While no one can really gauge the durability of gel nail polishes, considering everyone’s lifestyle is different, the progression of gel technology that also incorporates convenience and safety seems to be an ever-growing trend in nails. We’re just excited to see them live up to their claims, whether they’re genuine “gel” polishes or just polishes that give you that gel-like wear.

MORE: How To Remove Gel Nail Polish