Maintenance Of Gel Nails

Every 2-4 weeks, the client will need to come in to have her gel nails maintained (just as she would if wearing acrylics). For our purposes here, we will call this procedure a fill. Other names associated with this service include: fill-in, back-fill, rebalance, gel manicure, enhancement maintenance, etc.

Most gel clients can easily go 3-4 weeks between fills. However, it can be beneficial to start out with 2-week intervals until you see how she is adapting to her nails. As time progresses the intervals can be extended to 3 or 4 weeks. The key is consistency and regularly scheduled appointments. Nails should be filled before they start to show signs of distress (such as breaks, cracks, lifts, etc). As the professional it is up to you to gently “dictate” her fill schedule.

The benefit to the client in longer times between fills are obvious: Less time spent at the salon per month, and less cost over the course of a year associated with wearing them.

The benefit to nail techs: The longer the time frame between fill-ins, the more you will charge for the service. (Think of it as the client “renting” her nails from you!) Generally you can charge $5-7 more per week over the 2-week price. This allows you to make more money per hour worked, and service more clients overall. It’s a win/win situation!

The following procedures are best when used with thin viscosity or 1-component type gels (see Supplies for more info). If using thicker viscosity or builder type gels, you will need to make some adaptations to your technique. Remember, these are GENERIC instructions for you to use and adapt to your own personal style and product line. Refer to the manufacturer of the brand you use for product specific application instructions and other pertinent information.

Basic Fill Instructions for clients with: No breaks or repairs needed, and not wearing "pink and whites" (AKA Permanent French Manicure). Instructions for P&W’s and repairs are included in other lessons.

Standard Pre-Service

  1. Wash hands, sanitize, remove polish, push back cuticles, etc.
    Prep Steps
  2. Shorten nails: with tip cutter, hand file, or drill (straight across square for now). Nails should be maintained at a steady and consistent length. Clients should be educated* on their ideal length and then stick with it. That requires that the nails be shortened the amount that they grew between fill appointments. (*See Nail Tech 101 for more info.)
  3. Preliminary shaping of nails: Put preliminary shape into nails so that the rebalance filing done in the next step reflects the proper shape*. A drill (professional term is electric file) will allow you to quickly go through the nails and "round" the free-edge for those clients who wear them rounded or ‘squoval’. Do this step with a hand file if you don't use a drill. (*See Nail Tech 101 for more info on shaping nails.)
  4. Re-balance the nail: File the entire top of the nail either by hand or with a drill. Arches need to be moved BACK, so gel needs to be thinned and beveled at the free edge and the entire nail bed to accommodate the new arch placement. Entire gel surface needs to be thinned (and shine removed for new gel to adhere), to keep nails from becoming too thick with application of additional gel. If using a drill try a medium diamond bit* or sanding band on a mandrel. Carbides tend to be overkill with gels! (*See section on Electric Files for more info on using drills and choosing the proper drill bit.)
  5. Blend cuticle area: Blend the outgrowth of the old gel by hand and/or with your drill (diamond football in medium). You will still need to quickly use a hand file after the drill to remove shine from the natural nail outgrowth (drill is not recommended for filing this very small area of natural nail). Be sure all dead skin and other contaminants are removed to ensure good adhesion
  6. Final shaping of nail (if needed): Tailor and taper the sidewalls and put the final shape into the free-edge. Hold client's hand facing you, vertically, to really see the shaping. As you become more experienced, these 5 steps will become one.
  7. Dust nails: Remove all dust with a synthetic bristled manicure brush, dust buster bit, or scrub brush.
  8. Pre-prime (such as dehydrator or sanitizer) and prime: If using a liquid primer apply to new nail growth only and let it dry (do not get primer on the old gel). If using a primer gel, apply to new growth area* and “scrub” it into the natural nail. Use very little primer gel; it should have a matte and almost gritty look to it. Then cure in U-V light for amount of time as recommended by your manufacturer. (*Some brands instruct to apply gel primer to entire nail bed; new growth and old gel.
    Apply Gel
  9. First coat of gel: Apply 1 thin coat of gel to nail. Concentrate on new growth area, and then pull gel out over entire nail. This coat is thin compared to the next coat. Note: If you used a liquid primer and not a gel primer, then this coat will be thinner still (1st coat of any type gel product to touch the natural nail surface is always the thinnest), and it should be scrubbed in to the natural nail outgrowth, and then pulled out thinly over rest of nail bed.
  10. CURE in U-V light: Turn on light and place clients hand in the light properly so that all gel is facing toward the light source. (Work on applying gel to other hand while 1st is curing.)
    Repeat Gel Application and Cure
  11. Apply 2nd coat of gel: This layer is thicker than 1st. Add arches with this coat of gel. Let gel brush float the gel on and be sure to seal end of nails by letting brush "fall off" the end of the nail as you apply. Be sure when applying this coat of gel to set your brush down (parallel, not up-and-down), and just short of the cuticle, then push gel toward cuticle and pull back without ever lifting your brush. This will help to eliminate a ridge at the cuticle. Use the tail technique* to add the arches (move them back) for beauty and strength. Pick up gel with a “tail” stringing behind, then set the end of that tail down on nail and let it drip on nail as you pull it toward you. *For more on how to add arches to gel see the full-set lesson. Cure the nails. Hint: Apply arches to one or two fingers at a time and then “set” (semi-cure) in the light about 10 seconds to firm the gel up enough so that it doesn’t move. Finish applying arches to remaining fingers and then cure for a full cycle. Do thumbs separately so that they can be placed flat in the light. (See Hints and Tips section for more info on this and other detailed subjects.
  12. Examine nails for flaws and re-apply any gel NOW if needed, otherwise, CLEANSE with cleanser or alcohol (99%). Set down lint-free wipe saturated with cleanser at the cuticle and pull away from cuticle, dropping off the free-edge. Use a new section of the wipe for each finger.
    Finish Work
  13. Sidewall finishing: Lay the file in the grove, and pull out to be sure there is not gel in the groove and to taper the sidewalls for thickness as needed (very little if any!), and re-check free-edge shape.
  14. Cuticle beveling: Gently bevel the cuticle area.
  15. Check contour of top of nail, and file as needed.
  16. Buff out the nail to remove shine* and do final contouring; generally a white buffer block works best. You can choose to oily or wet buff at this time if that is your normal finishing procedure. (*Polish sticks better to a "dull" surface than it does to the super high-gloss of a gel nail. On an un-buffed gel surface you may find that the polish slides off the tip of the nail and shrinks from the sidewalls. This light buffing to remove the shine is a quick and efficient way to deal with the issue.)
  17. Post-Service: Send client to wash-up, take her payment and book her next appointment. Finally, polish her nails and send her to the dryers. (For a natural look without polish or P&W’s, see instructions for gloss-coat application.)
  18. DONE! Total time: Super Pro=30 to 45 minutes (not every tech achieves this time frame); Experienced=45 to 60; Novice/Beginner= 60 to 90 minutes!

Techs who regularly finish fills in less than 30 minutes may not be doing a complete fill job (rebalance of the nail); the client will pay the price later in service break-down problems! This is known as a "fluff fill-in”; basically nothing more than a quick buff, one thin layer of gel and a polish change; this practice is a disservice to the client and the professionalism of our industry!

Maintaining a clients enhancements correctly is essential for repeat business.

  • Step 1: Greet your customer by name and introduce yourself. Have your customer fill out a customer card with contact information. Contact information is needed for confirming future appointments, sending out bounce back coupons and for legal purposes (every time a customer is serviced it should be documented).
  • Step 2: Have customer and technician wash their hands.
  • Step 3: Remove old polish if any.
  • Step 4: Gentle push back cuticles.
  • Step 5: Consult with your client to find a comfortable nail length. Encouraging your client to keep her nails at a workable length will help guard against lifting, stress crack and even reduce breakage. Shorten her nails by using a tip cutter or a file. ** For a enhancement to be balanced the free edge should never be longer than half the length of the nail bed.
  • Step 6: Remove the shined and thin product on the entire nail. Arches will need to be moved back which is done by thinning the free edge to allow new placement of a natural arch.
  • Step 7: Blend the cuticle area and remove the shine and any secondary skin (pterygium) using a 240 grit file. If your using a drill be very careful NEVER to touch the natural nail.
  • Step 8: Remove dust by using a sanitized manicure brush. Never use a cosmetic brush which has been commonly used in the industry in the past. Dusting nails with an cosmetic brush creates static electricity which draws the dust to the brush and then spread over other nails. Cosmetic brushes are made of natural hair and can not be sanitized. Spreading dust and contaminating the nail surface with a dirty brush can cause the enhancement to lift. Apply nail sept, nail cleaner, or a product used to sanitize and dehydrate such as IBD’s Nail Prep to sanitize the nail plate. IF the sanitizer touches the tip it will turn it shiny and you will need to buff the tip return it to a matt finish. Do not use alcohol to sanitize the nail plate. Alcohol is a petroleum based product and does leave a residue which also is contributes to lifting.
  • Step 9: Apply a very thin layer of gel primer or bonder (manufactures use different names) on your first hand, and place that hand under your gel light and cure for the manufactures recommended amount of time (2 -3 minutes depending on product and light). While the first hand is curing repeat this step on the second hand.
  • Step 10: Apply 1 thin coat of gel filling the new growth and cuticle area, never allowing the gel to touch the skin. Continue by pulling the gel over the entire nail and cure. ** Cuticle area application tip When applying gel to the cuticle area, set your brush down just short of the cuticle, then push gel toward cuticle and pull back without ever lifting your brush. This will help to eliminate a ridge at the cuticle. of the nail bed.
  • Step 11: Building arches and reinforcing stress areas.

    Building Gels: Building gels are now available with most gel lines. Building gels do not self level and are applied using the technique as their companion gels. This unique gel stays where you put it allowing you to easily “build” an arch or sculpt an edge without gravity doing its job and leveling it, allowing you more time to perfect your work. Pick up a small amount of gel on a your gel brush wiping the other side against the edge of the jar so you have one side with gel and the other side will be clean. Place gel in the areas that needs to be reinforced, or areas that need to be built up such as arches and free edges when sculpting. Smooth gel be lightly brushing and blending then cure.

    Gel “Tail” or “Ribbon” Technique

    The tail technique allows you to use thin velocity gels to build in arches and reinforce stress areas. This technique takes practice but once mastered becomes a second nature and produces a beautifully arched nail.

    Pick up a large amount of gel on your gel brush by dipping your brush into your container of gel. When you lift the brush up the gel will stream off the brush resembling a tail. Carefully move the brush over the top of the nail and lower your hand until the tip of the tail of gel slightly touches the nail as seen in illustration I slowly move your hand toward the free edge. Depending on the length of the nail bed and the shape of the nail you will develop an eye for the natural placement of the arch. This technique is slightly unusual considering your brush should never touch the nail your just allowing the gel to flow off your brush. Photo of tail hanging off brush over nail

    Until you develop confidence and speed you will need to cure the product as soon as you get it in place for 30 seconds to set it. Once all 4 nail are set you can then sure them for the manufactures recommended time.

    Inspect each nail looking for thin areas or imperfections.

    ** Cuticle area application tip When applying gel to the cuticle area, set your brush down just short of the cuticle, then push gel toward cuticle and pull back without ever lifting your brush. This will help to eliminate a ridge at the cuticle
  • Step 12: Remove tacky layer by using a gel nail cleanser and a lint free cotton wipe (do not use a cotton ball because the fiber will stick the nail and will be difficult to remove) or a makeup sponge (which only can be used once and should not be used from customer to customer). Saturate the wipe or sponge with the cleanser and wipe off the tacky layer. When wiping if the nails seem to tacky then the nail may have not have cured correctly. Check your bulbs for dirt (wipe w/alcohol), or may need to be replaced. Gel nails are incredibly shiny which is a real selling point if you cut corners and use alcohol it will give your beautiful gel nail a dull finish

    Note, once cleanser has touched a nail you CANNOT apply more gel without first rebuffing to take shine off of the gel. Gel will not stick to glossy gel, only tacky gel or non-shiny gel!
  • Step 13: Using a 240 grit file the shape, blend the sidewalls and cuticle area, remove any unwanted imperfection and thin free edge.
  • Step 14: Buff and remove all file marks.
  • Step 15 Buff and remove all file marks.
  • Step 16: You can finish several different ways.

    When working with colored gel one simply rule applies and once you understand why it’s simple to remember. Color which is pigment in the gel blocks the uv rays. So if you apply the colored gel to thick it may not cure underneath because the uv rays can ‘t penetrate the gel fully. So thin is always better than thick with working with colored gel
      • Don’t have your client wash, clean each nail carefully with your gel cleanser and a lint free wipe.
      • Apply a thin layer of “Top Coat Gel”
      • Cure
      • Wipe with gel nail cleanser to remove the tacky layer (several manufacture make a top coat that cure without a tacky layer)
        Use IBD’s Intense Seal for a brilliant shine without the tacky residue.
      • Apply THIN layer of colored gel
      • Cure
      • Apply THIN layer of colored gel
      • Cure
    1. Polish
      • 1 coat of a ridge filling base coat
      • 2 coats of polish
      • 1 coat of a quick drying top coat
    2. Gel Top Coat
    3. Colored Gel

      Repeat as many times as needed until you achieve the shade you wanted.
  • Apply a thin layer of “Top Coat Gel”
  • Cure
  • Wipe with gel nail cleanser to remove the tacky layer ( several manufacture make a top coat that cure without a tacky layer)
  • Step 17: Have your client pay and book her next appointment.
  • Step 18 DONE! Total time: Super Pro=30 to 45 minutes, Experienced= 45 to 60 minutes, Intermediate= 50 to 90, Novice/Beginner= 60 -120 minutes!