I got gel nails for the first time this week, and I wanted to share my experience here. Before going, I decided to search online for images of gel manicures so that I could find something I thought looked nice and natural that I would like for the wedding, and I happened upon a blog that detailed the gel manicure process.
The blogger described something completely different than my experience (it was probably about 2-3 years old) and she mentioned several times that it was quite painful. I began to worry, since I'm a total wuss, but my friend assured me that it does not. I decided to suck it up and give it a shot. My experience was completely different than the one described by the blogger I found! I wanted to document it here in case anyone is looking for information about what exactly is a gel manicure, and what to expect.
My nail salon had multiple options for gel colors... pinks, reds, lots of different shades. I wanted a french look (without tips), since that's the look I want for my wedding in 2 months. The girl removed my regular polish (she commented several times that the polish on my nails, that I had done myself, looked like a professional gel manicure, so 10 points for me!), then filed my nails according to my preference (a bit short, somewhat more squared). She buffed my nail beds a little bit, and I washed my hands. Then she applied several coats of gel polish - clear first, then a light pink. While she would work on one hand, the other was placed into a portable contraption with a UV light to harden. I felt no pain whatsoever, no tightening, no nothing! Then she painted a thin line of white gel polish over the tips of my nails (she kept it natural looking), and followed up with another pink coat and then a clear coat. Overall, it was relatively quick and definitely painless. I walked out with perfect nails and they're still perfect.
The blog post I found discussed a very ornate process involving powder, swirling liquid on the nail, and a whole lot more "to-do" than what I experienced. I'm not a nail technician, so I don't know exactly why that woman experienced such a different process. I can only guess that gel polishes have been released since her post and now the whole process is very easy.
Removal involves soaking the fingertips with acetone on a cotton ball, held on the nail, and tin foil wrapped around the fingertip. (The woman next to me was getting her gel polish changed and her old color was a bright pink so they had to remove it.) The removal process, honestly, reminds me of what you have to do to effectively remove glitter polish. Same basic idea.
So, that was my experience. No pain, nothing remotely unpleasant. My favorite part is how great they still look, and how I reached into my purse, grabbed my keys, and scooted out the door without any worry of smudges, chips, or bubbles.
EDIT: Within a week, almost all of my nails were lifting. :-( I'm still going to do gel nails for the wedding, but I am going to go back to doing them myself in the meantime. When gel lifts, hair can get trapped under it when I'm washing or styling my hair, and then I end up pulling out my own hair. So, I'm starting to pull the gel nails off. Sad.