Deal Diva Review: Shellac and gel manicures
When my hands were on the gym floor in push-up position, my friend said, “Wow, your nails look great.” I cackled knowingly inside. I had a hard-living beauty secret.
It had been almost a month since I’d had a manicure, yet my nails looked pristine, at least to a fuzzy, far-off eye. This manicure was serious. It was legit. I had sexy Wolverine adamantium nails. And they were mine!
I’m a recovering acrylic nail addict. I wore the fakies for 8 years starting in high school. They were long and gaudy and over the top. I would sit for an hour while a nail tech drilled my real nail down to the thickness of rice paper, built fake ones on top then topped them with polish that took forever to dry. Within two weeks they were frequently broken, but my nails looked so bad underneath that I went back again. It was a money suck, a time suck, a sophistication suck.
Giving it up was liberating. I was able to enjoy manicures without drills again. Turns out, the nail tech does nice things like massage your hands and wrap them in heated towels. The glory! But within days, the polish would chip and peel. The money and time felt wasted.
When I heard gel nails were getting popular, I was cautiously optimistic. Shellac, or gel manicures, were supposed to last up to two weeks in perfect condition, and women everywhere were running to salons to get them. I was wary of going back to something that might hurt my nails again, but it seemed worth a try.
It was. I’ve been getting gel manicures at my favorite nail salon, New York Nails in downtown St. Petersburg, for a couple months now. I swear it’s the most relaxing place in the city. It’s not ornate or upscale, but it's calm with soft, twinkling music, and after your manicure the techs give you a back rub. No, really. A back rub.
But back to the Shellac. New York Nails has dozens of colors from CND’s Shellac line, the brand that set off the frenzy, plus OPI’s Gelcolor. A plain gel manicure is $30, and you can add $5 for French.
The nail tech trims your nails, then files them, then pushes back your cuticles, moisturizes your hands and does the hot towel drape. Ahhh. Then she starts to layer a gel base, several coats of color and a gel topcoat. Between each step, you stick your hands under a UV lamp to harden the materials. When you’re done, the nails are immediately dry. No performing the celebrated Get the Keys Out and Wreck Your Polish Shuffle.
My French manicure held up like nothing I’d ever experienced. Since the color was so light, you couldn’t see the nail growth unless you were awkwardly close. I did dishes, typed, picked up dog poop. I even participated in a 5K race and obstacle course in which I scaled rope walls and swam through mud. See? Here are my shoes after, and you can see the nails in the corner.
I didn’t have a single nail break and they cleaned right up. Here they are after a month. A month!
The removal process was a little Space Age. She dipped cotton swabs in nail polish remover, put them on my nails and wrapped each finger in tin foil. I looked like ET after a Pillsbury biscuit bake-off.
After a few minutes, she was able to scrape away the polish and my nails below were in good shape.
My next mani at New York Nails was slightly less successful. I opted for OPI’s teal shade, and it just seemed to keep sucking up the topcoat. The nail tech wasn’t thrilled with it either, but she gave me my back rub and I became mellowed into happy submission.
It was thicker than the French, and it betrayed growth more easily because of the dark color. Two weeks and I was ready for a replacement set, hardcore.
Gross. You know I love you guys since I'm showing you this hot mess.
I decided to try Tiffany Nail & Spa inside Westshore Plaza. It was busy at lunchtime, and loud and small. The nail tech didn’t employ the gentle cotton swab technique. She just soaked my fingers in a big bowl of nail polish remover and then scraped at it with her own fingers until it came off. She even pulled out the dreaded drill for the last stubborn bits. I have to say, this wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the world.
The rest of the manicure, though, was speedy and well-done. I was gone in just over a half hour. And, it was cheaper at $25 for solid pink CND polish.
I loved the result. I noticed no one in the shop getting the old-school acrylics. They do half and half now, my tech said, in terms of business.
If you do opt for shellac, be aware that your hands must sit under a UV lamp in spurts that can total up to 10 minutes. Some doctors have raised concerns about this, comparing it to tanning beds or sun exposure. The nail companies say it’s low-risk, but of course, they have an interest. The FDA has worked to ban fishy chemicals in nail polish, but if you have a bad feeling about a product or can't get a straight answer about what's in it, never be afraid to leave a nail shop.
After reading up, I think I’m going to start wearing waterproof sunscreen on my hands before I go, like many doctors suggest. I don’t want a disease or premature hand wrinkles. Not even for awesome Wolverine nails.
UPDATE: My friend wise Amanda informs me that you can buy all the Shellac products on Amazon.com, including the UV lamps. It'll set you back quite a few bucks at the outset, but it might pay off in the long run if you're interested in doing your own gel manicures at home. Check out the products here.
Deal Diva Stephanie
Photos: One-handed nail iPhone photography! Hey, I tried.