What the gel? Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love my nails.

Posted September 18, 2019 by Maire in Hobbies, Whimsy / 0 Comments

In which we have a little envy and a lot of FOMO

A collage of this summer's manicures, featuring my brightly coloured nails.
A summer’s worth of gel manicures

I am the daughter of a long-time nail-chewer, and took up the habit myself when I was very young. I think I was around twelve or thirteen when the other girls my age started wearing nail polish. It was the 1980’s, and bright colours were a huge deal. The other girls had really nice manicures, even if they were DIY jobs. I had ragged, bitten nails. When I wore nail polish, it flaked off within minutes, let alone hours, and almost always looked awful.

My mother, a Mary Kay lady at the time, gave me a full manicure set for Christmas that year. If I really wanted nice nails, she said, this was the way to do it. Bear in mind, this was a lady who had been trying to stop biting her own nails longer than I had been on this planet, so you can take that with a grain of salt. By that point in time, she’d tried everything from foul-tasting nail polish to home-applied acrylic nails to try and break her own habit (which she’s done, don’t get me wrong, it just took time).

For the most part, the manicure kit did the trick. I happily buffed my nails, applied the different base coats for strengthening and moisturizing, put on the colour, and topped it all off with the top coats. Then watched with disappointment as everything peeled off. Okay, so it wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. I stopped biting my nails and aside from occasionally worrying at a nail with my teeth, I’ve broken that habit.

Because the nail polish didn’t do a single blessed thing for me, I pretty well ignored my nails from that point onwards. Oh, sure, I’d keep a pair of clippers in the purse in case a nail broke on a night out, but I gave up on doing anything fancy. At best I’d trim them regularly to keep from making ticking noises on the piano (and then computer) keys. Once in a while I’d get the urge to try something fun and exciting, but as the polish would chip, flake or peel within 24 hours, I really just gave up.

Mum needs a Girls’ Day Out and pretty nails

Fast forward to this spring. My Aunt was visiting and Mum decided we needed a treat. Sometime in the last dozen years she’s taken to getting her nails done at one of the shops down the street from her house. I’d never had a professional mani/pedi, so this was a brand-new experience for me. I was told to pick out a nail polish and get comfortable.

Unfortunately, the polish I chose would take too long to cure if I wanted to wear my socks and shoes home. There was a lot of tsk-ing over the bright pink choice, and after a lot of muttering on the part of the nail tech, a decision was made to “shellac” my hands and feet.
Folks, let me just say that ‘shellac’ had much different meanings when I was young. Either you were putting a tough coat of a particularly noxious varnish on woodwork, or you were getting drunk. I’m pretty sure the same meanings hold true nowadays. I distinctly recall feeling like I was in one of those “how did I find myself here?” situations as they polished my fingers and toes and cured the gunk with a UV/LED light.

And then it was over, I had bright nails, and could wear my socks home – which was good because it was a chilly day. Apparently they charged quite a lot for the service. So nice treat, but not an everyday thing, I thought.

After doing a little research online (because here I was with bright pink nails and the polish didn’t peel off after two hours!), I decided to pick up a UV/LED lamp of my own, and so ordered a kit from Amazon.

Learn from your mistakes

The polish started chipping as soon as I got home.

Me, naif

Now, I mentioned in the previous blog post that we’d gone to Minnesota this past summer? Mum thought it would be nice to have a mani/pedi day before I went, so once more my nails were at the mercy of strangers. This time we used regular nail polish. That last trip, as I said, was expensive.

how my nails have changed over 5 months
My current manicure (left) vs. regular polish in May (right)

The polish started chipping as soon as I got home. Luckily, I had a similar colour that did an adequate job of filling in the missing bits. The chips weren’t too bad at that point. I thought I’d be smart and use the gel topcoat that came with my brand new UV/LED light. After all, I’d seen sources online that said you could do extend the wear of your polish this way. Um…not so much. By the time we returned home, my nails were a mess. Thus began the summer of home manicures.

My nails have been rose-gold, burgundy, pink, blue, black, wine, polka-dotted, and holo. I’ve learned how to shape them, how to buff them properly, and to apply cuticle oil for stronger, healthier nails. Because I have damage to a couple of my fingers from a previous experiment with glue-on nails (over 10 years ago), I started experimenting with gel overlays. After having dents in my thumbnails for years, it’s really nice to see them looking pretty and normal. One of those nails has a tendency to dent and then to split. So far, with the cuticle oil treatments, I’m split-free. Fingers crossed that this continues.

I’ve also noticed that the shape of my nails has actually changed. I’m not sure if it’s because my nails have more strength, or because I’m taking better care of them, or because I don’t worry at them as much. They’ve developed a much steeper c-curve over the past three months, and they look a lot more attractive than they did. The biggest change is in the nails of my ring fingers: they no longer look like tiny spatulas (spatulae?)

My takeaway from 3 months of DIY manicures:

Do I recommend gel nails? Oh, most definitely. If I was going to do the Minnesota trip over again, I’d probably skip the salon manicure and get the pedi, then just do my own nails from the small stash I’m accumulating at home. (I’d also dress more casually, but that’s a different story). Now that my DIY manicures are lasting about a week and a half*, I’d much prefer the gel over unwittingly leaving a trail of peeled polish in my wake.

My favourites so far? OPI Fearlessly Alice, OPI Berry Fairy Fun with a double coat of Geláze Fairy Dust, and ASP Enchantment. There’s also a wine-coloured Sally Hansen gel polish called Pat on the Black that looks as though it will be fun for fall.

I definitely recommend picking up a UV/LED manicure lamp of your own and giving the process a try. Mine was part of a kit I found on Amazon for just over $40 (Can). The polishes can be expensive, but as the manicures last a long time, I suspect the startup costs (Lamp, Base, Polish, Topcoat) are the biggest investment. You can pick up new polishes as a once-in-a-while treat. It helps to watch for sales.

And I’m finding that pretty nails are a treat indeed

* I could probably go longer between manicures, but my nails now grow fast enough that if I don’t file them down regularly, they interfere with my ability to type with speed and relative accuracy.