Gel nail polish: Are you getting what you pay for?

Gel nail polish is, hands down, the most popular service at nail salons right now. But many women may not be getting what they think they're getting.

CND's Shellac is a brand of gel nail polish. It was the first to hit nail salons, offering a no-chip, super-shiny nail color lasting up to two weeks.

As its popularity grew, so did the competition. OPI and Gelish now offer their own colorful rainbows of  gel nail polishes to choose from, but shop owners will tell you no two gel polishes are the same.

At least, they should.

Andy Truong, of Oak Nails just off the UMKC campus, said approximately 80 percent of his nail clientele is there to get gel polish. He said customers walk in all the time and ask for Shellac, then pick a different brand off the shelf. He said they'll also sometimes come in and say they got Shellac at another salon and just want to change the color.

He can tell within minutes it wasn't really Shellac they'd had applied at the previous salon.

Shellac is a brand, just like Kleenex is a facial tissue and Q-tip is a cotton-tipped swab. There are other brands of facial tissue and cotton-swabs, but we often refer to them by the brand names. The same is true for Shellac.

Truong said Shellac is the best brand if your main concern is the health of your nail. He said it soaks off five times faster than any other brand, and involves less scraping of the nail. The top coat for Shellac is also shinier than its competitors, and the price is shinier, too.

Shellac is the most expensive of the gel nail polishes on the market, and the bottles are half the size of the competition. The higher cost for the salon owner is one reason Truong believes other salons might not correct you if you ask for Shellac but choose a different gel polish when picking your color.

OPI's gel polish is easier to match with other nail colors, Truong said, and there are dozens of color options.

But a soak-off takes much longer. It can take 15 to 20 minutes to soak off OPI's gel polish, which is concerning to some because fingertips spending that much time in acetone can dehydrate nails and skin.

There's also more scraping involved during removal, which can be harder on the natural nail.

Gelish's appeal is its wide variety of polish colors -- there are more than 100 to choose from. But Truong has the same concerns about the Gelish top and base coats. He said they are also harder on the nail and take longer to soak off than Shellac.

Diane Dang has worked on nails for more than a decade. She agrees with Truong.

Here's what you need to know if the health of your nails is your top concern, according to Dang:

1. If you want the healthiest gel polish for your nails, you should ask specifically for Shellac.

2. A sure sign you've not gotten Shellac is if it takes longer than five minutes to soak off when you go in for a color change.

3. If you really like the colors offered by other lines, you can ask for Shellac base and top coats. Dang said the color in the middle doesn't matter nearly as much as the base and top coats.

Truong said there are a few things you need to be aware of when you go to a salon for gel polish.

The first thing is the bottle. All three brands have distinctly different top and base coat bottles. Shellac base coat is a little brown bottle with a black lid and metallic sticker on the front.

OPI gel top and base coat comes in the traditional OPI bottle shape, but is dark in color with no sticker label.

Gelish is a stark white bottle and lid with a scroll design on the bottle.

The second thing to be aware of is the light used to set the gel color. If the color is still sticky to the touch after being wiped, and isn't significantly shinier than your normal polish, the nail tech might be using the wrong light.

Truong said some salons will use the same light used to set a gel topcoat for acrylic nails. He said it doesn't work well, and often means the salon is cutting costs by not ordering the right light.

Lastly, make sure the tech is gently swiping the tip of your nail with the each layer of polish, including the base and top. Truong said you will not get the best wear for your money if this step is skipped.

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