Gel Nails Keep Chipping? Here’s Why

How annoying is it when 20% of your clients come back into the salon with chipped gel nails, but the other 80% seem to be rock solid! Sound familiar? it’s pretty frustrating isn’t it? 

You might have this problem, and if your anything like me when I first started nails, an issue with peeling gel polish might be a much more common occurrence, so I’ll explain a few ways in which I improved this problem.

Through much trial and error with different techniques and products, I wanted to share what I found worked best for me.

Proper Nail Bed Prep

I kept thinking, ‘why do my gel nails peel off after one day’, so I decided to do a bit of research. I saw this phrase pop up as a solution to all of my nail tech problems, and although it is very important, poor prep is not the only reason why polish pops off! However, there are some techniques that you forget after training that might cause them to just pop-off unannounced! 

So why is nail prep so important for keeping those gels on? The reason is that oily, smooth nails aren’t going to stick to anything but your own finger. If you think about what joiners do, they scratch the surface of wood before they glue it to anything else to promote adhesion.

First step: Remove cuticles by pushing back with a sharp cuticle pusher (remember the side walls)

Second step: Shape and buff nails (See notes below*)

Third step: Use Isopropal alcohol nail cleanser and scrub the nail firmly right around the side walls and free edge to rid of oils

Fourth step: Brush on a dehydrating nail prep solution to further rid of oils

Fifth step: Make sure you keep your client from touching anything by placing a a towel or object on top of their hand such as a cotton pad. This ensures your client doesn’t touch their face which will transfer oils to their just prepped hands!

Trouble Shooting *Be aware of the following:

  1. The nail bed needs to be roughed up with a file suitable for natural nails, do not use nail files that are for acrylic shaping as this will be too harsh
  2. Make sure you rough up 100% of the nail, around the sides, near the cuticles and the edges, or the polish will peel off at the most usual points
  3. DON’T rough the nail up too much! Nails just need to be lightly scratched to ensure proper product adhesion. In-fact, I have found that too much buffing weakens the clients’ nails, which makes nails more susceptible to bending, eventually tearing the Shellac or gel overtime
  4. If you’ve scratched the nails at a angle, don’t go over it again, especially at a different angle as this is just going to smooth out the scratch you’ve just made (Things are getting technical)
  5. Buy a block buffer to remove any ‘frilly’ bits still attached beneath the nails after shaping. This will ensure the nail is not bumpy during polishing.

Is removal destroying your clients nails?

Removal with acetone will save your clients from picking off their gel nail polish and taking layers of nail bed with it. However, poor removal will destroy the strength of the nails, which will in-turn, affect your service. 

The best thing you can do is remove gel nails with acetone. This ensure your clients have strong and healthy beds, but sometimes beauty therapists can rush removal due to clients being late.

Why you should book extra time for removal or make steps to ensure clients aren’t late

Rushing the removal process due to late arrivals will result in a weakened nail plate. The reason for this is that you haven’t allowed enough time for the acetone to penetrate the hard polish fully, which ensures it peels off with ease.

You will then have to take further action to get the polish off. Scraping and buffing to achieve a polish free nail will come at a cost to the strength of the nail surface. This weakens the nails as you will be taking layers of nail plate off when doing so. This results in nails that are more likely to bend and guess what bends with it? The polish. This will eventually tear the gel and the polish will peel.

Note: Use a remover that is gentle on the nails. I found a considerable difference in the chalkiness (white appearance after removal). A remover that isn’t as harsh on the nails will not dry out the nails as much as pure acetone. Dry nails will become brittle and break off more easily.

Applying The Polish 

I did all the prep correctly, but still had issues with gel staying on the nails and found that this way worked best for me to erradicate chipping nails.

Curing times: I was applying a thin layer of polish and capping the free edge, but that still resulted in chipping and peeling. My theory? Even though I shook up the bottles and even resorted to sticking them in-between my thighs to warm them up during prep, I found that the base coat kept getting thicker with every use.

If there’s one thing I remember from Chemistry, solvents will evaporate if open to the air. Eventually, every-time you take your brush out, the solvents that thin the polish will evaporate leaving you with gloopy product.

Gloopy product will not have the same curing times as ‘just bought’, straight out of Sweet Squared polish. Why? Because it’s thicker, and thicker product needs more time for the UV or LED light to penetrate it. I decided that the recommended 5 second cure time in the CND lamp was not working for me, so I upped it to 60 seconds just to be sure.

Shrinkage: The last thing I want to share with you is about shrinkage. Shrinkage is the movement of gel on the nail plate. For example, imagine you started painting the pinky finger, and now you’ve made your way to the thumb. By the time you’ve finished all 5 fingers, you look back at the pinky and the polish doesn’t look the same. It doesn’t look neat anymore, your miles away from the cuticles and the free edge that you just capped is no longer sealed! That ladies and gentlemen is shrinkage.

Shrinkage can occur for numerous reasons:

  • Old gel bottles
  • Highly pigmented colours (neons, black etc.)
  • Bottles haven’t been shook before use (you need to mix the solvents in the bottle)
  • It just happens!

How to fix shrinkage and ensure the free edge is sealed

Let’s start with why capping the free edge is so important. With time, the polished free edge will wear away with time, so the stronger those layers are, the less likely they will chip off. Sealing the nails also prevents oils and water from getting underneath the polish and loosening it.

I now paint two nails at a time, capping the edge of both nails just before I put it in the lamp. This gives me piece of mind that my client’s nails are sealed and as close to the cuticle and side walls as possible.

I also have another trick that has helped me seal the edges of clients with shorter nails. Long nails are easy enough to cap with a swish of your brush, but short nail capping can get messy and time consuming.

Here’s how I do it: Paint the nail and turn your brush the other way to point towards you and let the brush fall backwards onto the edge. Make sure you just use a thin layer of polish for this!

Watch the video below to see how I do this!

Seal those babies! 

There’s no point in going to all that effort and forgetting the product that’s going to seal in all your hard work!

Best way to apply top coat:

  1. Shake your top coat at the start of the appointment and allow the gel to settle
  2. Paint the top coat on two nails at a time then cure making sure to paint it the teeniest bit beyond where you started to apply the product around the cuticle and side walls to seal it
  3. Cap the edge just before you put the hands in the lamp to ensure no shrinkage has occurred away from the free-edge


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