Gel Polish common problems you can face

Problems you can face when working with gel polish

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Gel polish is a very popular medium to use when working with nails. Whether you’re using hard gel, builder gel, poly gel or acrylic, you can always incorporate gel polish in some way. It’s great for creating full coloured nails when you only have a limited amount of colours in your builder medium, or to create nail art with. Gel polish colours can be mixed like paint to create any colours you wish. The possibilities are endless if you have primary colours, white and black.

You might however face some challenges when working with gel polish, and it might catch you off guard if you don’t know what to look out for. Things like the gel polish peeling or lifting, the gel polish wrinkling, and more.

Gel polish chipping

Gel polish peeling at the free edge and/ or at the sidewalls

One of the most common problems you can face when working with gel polish is peeling. Whether you’ve covered your entire nail in gel polish or simply added some nail art. There are other factors that can cause gel polish to start peeling like working with chemicals or excessive amounts of exposure to water.

How to prevent peeling at the edge and/ or sideswalls

It is quite simple to prevent this from happening to your or your nails, you just have to do the following:

  • Prep the nails correctly before applying any product. The gel will not adhere to a shiny surface. Therefore if you don’t properly remove the shine from the natural nails as well as the tips, the gel will start peeling very soon after application.
  • Use a bonder before you apply a basecoat. A nail bonder will dehydrate the nails after nail preparation has been done, and it will maximise the adhesion of the product to the nails. If you skip this step and any oil remain on the nails the gel will not last. Some bonding agents also create a sticky layer which will promote the adhesion of the base coat to the natural nails.
  • Never apply gel polish without a base coat. Whether you’re painting the gel polish onto your natural nails or over an acrylic set, it is very important to use a good quality (preferably the same brand as the gel polish) base coat before you apply the gel polish. The reason being that gel polish needs the base coat to properly adhere to the nails. It is like a houses’ foundation. Without it, the gel polish will be weak and peel easily.

Note: A base coat usually has a sticky residue after curing. Don’t wipe this residue off using gel residue wipe off solution. It will help the gel polish adhere to the nails and will also prevent the gel polish from flooding the cuticles and sidewalls easily as the stickiness will cause a bit of resistance. It is very important to make sure that the basecoat covers the entire area where you intend to paint the gel polish. Therefore you should properly apply it and cap the free edge of the nails otherwise the gel polish will lift if it’s applied to a piece of nail that does not contain the base coat.

  • Encapsulate the gel polish after application. Whether you use a soft builder, basecoat, hard builder, acrylic, etc. It doesn’t matter. All that’s important is that you don’t apply the topcoat to the gel polish without any extra protection. 

Applying gel polish

What I like to do when applying gel polish to the nail is to apply my base coat and color and then encapsulate it with acrylic. I prefer this, rather than painting gel over the acrylic as I will have to paint another layer of base coat and 2-3 layers of gel polish (depending on the opacity) of the nails. This can cause the nails to look bulky and lose its’ desired shape. You can’t file the nails after applying gel polish as you will just end up filing the color off. 

How to use gel polish for nail art

When using gel polish for nail art I generally use a thin layer of basecoat to encapsulate the design. I am very thorough to include the whole of the nail and cap the nails’ edges completely.

The reason a topcoat is not sufficient enough is that it’s generally not as strong. So if you were to say, bump your nail and the topcoat chips, it won’t be long before the gel polish underneath does the same. This way when your topcoat chips there will still be a stronger layer of gel or another material protecting the fragile gel polish.

Note that gel polish can’t be applied without encapsulation to the nails, as it won’t last. They can however be used for toenail overlays without needing to be encapsulated.


Cap free edges of the nails

Cap-free edges of the nails mean to paint the end of the nail with the same product as the rest of the nail. It is important to not only cap the nails with the basecoat but also with the gel polish. But this is where it gets tricky. You should encapsulate the gel polish carefully afterwards to make sure that all of the polish is covered with whatever is protecting it. Otherwise, the gel polish can start to peel and take the product(say the soft builder) with it. SO take care when capping the edges of the nails after the gel polish has been applied. It’s not a good idea to rush this step otherwise your nails will chip.

Gel nails are lifting and not lasting

Lifting product is not only unappealing to look at and an irritating issue to deal with, but it can also lead to serious problems like the growth of bacteria on the natural nails. When gel nails start to lift whether it’s at the sidewalls, cuticle area or free edge, there are a couple of things that you should go through to determine what might be the cause. The main reasons usually include incorrect preparations of the natural nails, skipping of a core product, flooding of the cuticle or sidewalls, or more rarely underlining health conditions.

What can be causing your gel nail to lift?

  • Incorrect preparation of the natural nails: If the nails were not prepped correctly before application this will cause lifting of the product within the first week. Prepping the nails include pushing back the cuticles, cleaning the nail plate of any dried skin that was left over after pushing back the cuticles, filing and removing the shine from the nails completely, properly removing dust from the natural nails, applying a bonding agent to the nails and letting it dry completely before applying a coat of base gel. If any debris remains on the nail or if you miss any bit of nail when filing, the product will start to lift. 
  • Forgetting to use a core product: If you forget to apply a bonding agent or to apply a base gel before you apply the gel polish and/ or the builder gel, your nail product will most likely start to lift. It’s very important to practice and remember a list of items that you have to use in order. As you get better at doing nails it will become like second nature.
  • Flooding the cuticle or sidewalls of the nails: Once the products touch the skin, the oil from the skin will be transferred to the product and cause it to lift. When the product starts lifting it will keep lifting further into the nail if not repaired fast enough. The reason for this type of lifting is that product will not stick to an oily surface. This is also why it’s so important to file your nails and dehydrate them to ensure the removal of any natural oils present on the nails.
  • Underlying health conditions: Some health conditions can affect the adhesion of the product to the natural nails. Things like hormonal imbalances, menopause, pregnancy, psoriasis, certain types of medication and others can cause this problem. It is firstly important for your client to determine, through a health practitioner, what the issue might be. Something that has worked for me when working with clients who have health conditions that affect their nails, is to use a good quality rubber base gel. A rubber base gel is gentle on the natural nails while creating a strong bonding agent for the product applied over it. It creates a flexible environment so that the product won’t lift or crack as it grows out with the nail plate. A rubber base can be used with both gel- and acrylic applications.

The gel polish isn’t curing properly

When using any type of gel product it is important to read the label for instructions. Just because one product cures for 30 seconds under an LED lamp does not mean another will too. Some products only cure under a UV lamp and will not cure under an LED lamp. It is also important to check the curing time. If you don’t cure the gel long enough it won’t cure properly. This means that parts of it will still be wet and if you don’t realize it you can start experiencing an allergic reaction as prolonged exposure to an uncured product is not healthy.

If you’ve done the above and the product is still not curing properly it might be a good idea to check your UV/LED lamp. There can be one of two issues. Either your lamp needs some globe replacement as globes can lose their potency after time even if they’re still shining bright, or your LED lamp is not strong enough. 

There are many UV/LED lamps that are quite cheap but unfortunately, these lamps tend to be lower wattage. It’s always good to consult the sales representative when buying things like The UV/LED lamp. Some lamps can also not withstand continuous use when, for instance, doing nail art that has to be cured continually. It is better to invest in a more expensive lamp that will do the job right the first time. Time is money in this industry and you need equipment that will make your life easier and shorten your time when working with clients, not the other way around.

why gel polish is wrinkling

The gel polish looks wrinkled or bubbly

This is caused when your gel is not cured thoroughly. The top layer of the gel is cured but the gel underneath is still wet. You will be able to easily peel off the gel using your nail of a cuticle pusher. You should never leave nails like this. Unfortunately, when this happens there is no way to save the nails. No amount of curing time will cause the gel underneath to fully cure. You will have to remove all the gel and reapply.

Reasons why your gel polish looks wrinkled or bubbly

Two reasons for this to happen can be

  1. Your UV/LED lamp as mentioned in detail above(Why isn’t my gel polish curing properly)
  2. (the most common reason) applying the gel polish too thickly. Just be aware that a lot of gel polish, especially neon colors, tends to have a translucent appearance. 

It will however do you no good to try and save time by applying thick amounts of product to try and get full coverage with only one layer. It is important to apply gel polish in thin layers. Even if it takes you 2-3 or even more layers of product. Trust me it’s not worth it to rush things. You will end up ruining the nails and having to remove all of the gel polish. This will just waste time and product.

A tip that helps when applying extremely translucent colors that I use is to apply a layer or two of white underneath and then to apply the colour on top. White is generally more opaque and will cause the color on top to seem more opaque as well. 

Gel feels sticky after curing

If you’re new to using gel you will soon notice that the nails will still be sticky after curing. This can be quite a shock especially if no one warned you. This is however a completely normal occurrence. When wiping some colours with gel residue wipe off solution, you may even notice that some of the pigment may come off on to the wipe. It won’t look like it on the nails but you might see some of the colours on the wipe. This is normal as well.

The sticky layer is called the inhibition layer and is caused by oxygen present in the air that prevents a thin amount of gel polish on the top of the nails to react correctly and cure completely. (source)

This is nothing to worry about. As long as a large amount of gel doesn’t come off when wiping the nails and they are hard after curing, it’s nothing to break your head about and is completely normal.


Gel polish is quite an easy and fun product to work with. You can easily create natural-looking nails using it. It is, however, just like with any nail system, very important to get proper training before using gel and gel polish of any kind.

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