Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tips and Tricks: Preventing Lifting and Chipping

It seems that most people encounter one of two issues with Soak Off Gel.  Either it doesn’t bond to the nail and they experience premature chipping and/or lifting, or it bonds so well that removal becomes a nightmare.  Thankfully, there are tricks to combat both of these issues!  I’ll tackle soak off issues in another blog post.  Today, let’s focus on preventing lifting and chipping. 

What causes lifting and chipping?  If you have not completely removed the cuticle from the nail, you are more likely to experience lifting.  If you have oily to normal nail beds, you are more likely to experience lifting.  If there are flaws in your application process, you are more likely to experience lifting.  If you are using the wrong base gel for your nail type, you are more likely to experience lifting.  There are a lot of factors that can lead to lifting and chipping. 
Cuticle Removal
If you haven’t been doing cuticle work, the cuticle can extend down the nail plate, and it often blends into the nail so that you can’t really tell it is there.  When you apply gel polish over the cuticle, it can’t bond and results in lifting.  There is a common misconception about where the cuticle is located on the nail.  The cuticle is NOT the skin around the base of the nail.  That is the eponychium.  The cuticle is dead skin tissue that grows down onto the nail.  Rather than try to recreate the wheel and go into the “how to” of cuticle removal, I’ll direct you to the pro.  Check out this FingerNailFixer Cuticule Work Video.

I prefer Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover and a spoon style cuticle pusher. 

Oily Nail Beds
Natural oils on the nail will create bonding issues for any base gel.  Most systems come with a bottle of prep, cleanser or dehydrator that is designed to remove oils from the nail.  However, for those with oily skin and nails, these products alone simply don’t get the job done.  It is crucial that you remove all oils from the nail before applying your base gel.  My secret weapon?  A grease fighting dish detergent.  Not one of the formulas that has moisturizers built in.  Simply one of the original formulas that is made for dishes, not hands.  I use the classic blue Dawn.  This is a trick I stumbled upon by accident by doing a manicure shortly after washing dishes.  It was the first time I got more than a week of wear!  So now it has become a part of my manicure routine.  After completing my cuticle work and shaping my nails, I grab my Dawn dish detergent and a nail brush and give my nails a quick wash and scrub to remove any residual oil. Which reminds me, I need to pick up another bottle of Dawn. 

You can also use an oil fighting soap, but I have found most of those leave behind added moisturizers that can interfere with the gel’s bond to the nail.  Be sure to keep it quick, though.  You don’t want your nails to absorb too much moisture from the wash.  I scrub and rinse both hands in less than 1 minute.  Give your hands time to dry completely before proceeding with your manicure, being careful not to touch your skin and pick up additional oils. If you use this trick, be sure to moisturize well when you're finished with your manicure.  If you've ever washed a sink full of dishes by hand, you know that dish detergent can cause dry skin.
There are two application mistakes that generally lead to lifting.  Polish on the skin around the nail and failure to properly cap the free edge of the nail. 

1) Neat and tidy application isn’t just about the look of the final result.  When gel polish overlaps the skin around the nail, it will cause lifting.  Stop your polish just shy of the skin around the nail.  And if you mess up, clean it up before you cure.  I use a stiff concealer brush and 91% isopropyl alcohol to clean up any mistakes before curing. 

The brush I prefer is the Elf Concealer Brush that can be found at Target for $1.  Elf makes two concealer brushes.  This white one, and a black one.  I love the black one for pigment work, but it's not as good for clean up.  This is what the white one looks like in the package:

You can use any stiff, short bristled brush.  You can also use the cleanser that came with your gel starter kit instead of isopropyl alcohol, but the isopropyl alcohol is cheaper and works great.  Just be sure you get 91% or higher.  Dip your brush in the alcohol, blot any excess on a lint-free wipe or paper towel, and carefully run it along the edge of the nail near the skin.  Be sure to frequently wipe and redip the brush as you clean to avoid spreading the polish around. 

Clean up every coat of gel before you cure.  Base coat, color coats, and top coat. 

2) You must cap the free edge of the nail with every coat of gel you apply, from your base coat to your color coats and finally your top coat.  Think about how you use your hands on a daily basis.  When you have an itch, you scratch with the free edge of your nail.  When you turn a page in a book, the free edge of your nail may drag along the page.  When you pull on your pants, the free edge rubs against the fabric.  When you type, the free edge of your nails may hit the keys.  If you stop the gel at the top of the free edge, all of the friction from day to day life will peel the gel back.  So cap that free edge with every coat!  When looking straight down on the tips of your nails, you should not be able to see natural nail. I'm using Ink Glacier on top of my current mani to demonstrate in the following pictures.

By the way, there is NO way to take a flattering picture of the tips of your nails.  Hello fat fingers!

I’ve had a few people ask how to cap the free edge without getting polish all over the skin under the nail.  When you hear people say to “cap the free edge”, what they really mean is apply gel to the very edge of the tip of the nail so that it overflows very slightly onto the underside of the nail.  If you look at the underside of my nails, you will see approximately 1 mm of polish overflow along the tip. 

I always cap the free edge before applying the gel to the surface of the nail rather than capping at the end.  This prevents pooling at the tip of the nail.  Here’s how I do it:
  1. Wipe the brush against the inside of the bottle neck to remove excess polish.  Your brush should not have a drop of polish at the end like you will when you polish the surface of the nail.  The bristles will hold enough to effectively cap the tip when the polish has been wiped from both sides of the brush.  If you have just finished applying color to a previous nail, you can use what is left on the brush to cap the next nail before you reload the brush to polish the nail surface. 
  2. Holding the brush perpendicular to the tip of the nail, place the side of the brush on the outside corner (for square nails) or outside edge (for round nails).  Use the side of the brush and run it along the tip from the edge to the center.  Repeat from the opposite corner/side of the nail.  If you have shorter nails, use your thumb (or finger if you're polishing your thumb) to gently pull back the skin on the tip of the finger.
  3. Polish the top of the nail as usual.
  4. If you had too much polish on the brush when you capped the nail, it may have pooled on the underside or touched the skin.  Use your clean up brush to take care of that before you cure the layer. 
Base Gel and Bonder
If you have tried the above tips and are still seeing lifting or chipping, you may be using a base gel that is not formulated for your nail type.  Of the seven that I have tried, I found that some work better for oily nails and some work better for dry nails.  For example, Gelish Foundation and Red Carpet Manicure Structure Base Gel tend to work very well with oily nails but will bond so well with dry nails that removal becomes extremely difficult.  Ink Base and Couture Base tend be more likely to lift on oily nails but work very well with normal to dry nails.  I personally use Kiss Base Gel.  It is the perfect balance of staying power and easy removal for my nail type.  So if you are still experiencing lifting after correcting the issues I mentioned above, one option is to try a different base. 

Another option is to use a bonder.  Bonder is a thin liquid that is applied to the very tip and free edge of the nail before applying your base gel.  It leaves behind a sticky layer that allows the gel to really grab the nail.  There are several bonders for soak off gel polish on the market, but this becomes very tricky territory.  For example, Gelish PH Bond is not a bonder.  It is a dehydrator and pH balancer.  OPI BondAid is also a dehydrator and pH balancer.  Sensationail kits come with “Gel Primer”.  This is a bonder.  FingerPaints Gel Polish Chip-Free Bonder is also bonder.   Then there are also products labeled as bonders that are intended for use with hard gel or acrylics.  Those will make soak off difficult.  See, confusing.  So be careful ordering a bonder online.  I have personally used both the Sensationail Gel Primer (available as part of the essentials kit at several drugs stores and large retail stores) and Fingerpaints Chip-Free Bonder (available at Sally Beauty Supply) with great results.

I hope this helps!



  1. Great article, thank you for writing about this! I can not wait to try your suggestions. Especially the dish soap. :-)

  2. Wow! I can't wait to give the gels another try! Thanks for all the info!

  3. This may be a silly question but do you use the bonder after the dehydrator?

    1. Not a silly question at all :) Yes, bonder goes after the dehydrator

    2. do you have to cure the bonder? I tried to look up the directions but couldn't find out the answer.

    3. Some brands may require curing, but the FingerPaints bonder that I use does not.

  4. Great post!!! I've been using Sensationail with terrible results. I have short nails so it's hard to wrap the free edge, but I do. Then I use a brush to clean the skin of gel. My tips chip within days of application. I was thinking of trying Gelish. Can I use the sensational bonder with the gelish base gel?

    Thanks so much for all this info!

  5. Great post! I have been using Sensationail with terrible results. My tips chips are chipping within days. Have shorts nails so it's hard to wrap the tips, but I do. Then I clean the skin with a brush. I was going to try Gelish. Can I use the sensationail bonder with the gelish gel base?

    Thanks for all this great info!

    1. Yes, you can. I would try the Gelish foundation without the bonder first, though. You might find you don't need it.

  6. I've been doing my own gel manicures for almost 2 years now. I started with CND Shellac, then once I got an OPI LED lamp, I switched to OPI Gelcolor. I will say that my LED lamp does a fine job of curing both the OPI Gelcolor and Shellac, despite what CND claims. I discovered Fingerpaints Gel Polish Chip-Free Bonder a couple of months ago and it is a fantastic product! You just put a wee bit on the tips of your natural nails after scrub fresh or other dehydrating nail prep and it really does make a noticeable difference specifically on the tips of my manicure. The only down side is the brush, which is oddly long and skimpy. I am going to try trimming the brush, and if that doesn't work, I may swap out the brush altogether. BTW, I am not a fan of Gelish gel colors--too gloppy. Also, I have had great success using OPI Gelcolor base (cured for 30 seconds in the LED lamp, then any "regular" OPI nail polish in the middle, also curing each coat for 30 seconds, then finishing with a coat of OPI Gelcolor top coat and curing for 45 seconds. Stays on for an average of 19 days. I have also used Shellac (my favorite color is Grapefruit Sparkle!) in between OPI Gelcolor base and topcoat.

  7. Michelle, the rubbing alcohol [99%]worked like a charm; so did the capping of nails. I also did only one hand at a time, although I have two lamps. FIRST TIME EVER that my nails lasted more than 24hrs!!! BIG THANK YOU!!!! I also very much appreciate the pictures :)

  8. My problem is that a few days into the wear, the product on the edge that's sort of just sealing it all on peels away. This is about a 1mm wide piece of product running the length of the free edge that comes away. Often this leaves a rough edge to the nail (prpduct) where the product has torn away that I sort of file to smooth, otherwise it catches on fabrics and stockings and things. Wear then continues like normal but I think it's limiting my wear time. Do other people have this happen to? Or does your capping always stay put? Thanks Michelle!

    1. Tammy, that is a very common problem. I see it most on shorter nails but have experienced it with long nails as well. Are you capping the base as deeply as the color? Have you tried using a bonder just on the free edge? Another thought...when you cap the edge the product ends up thicker there, which can lead to lifting. You might try capping first, then applying the polish to the rest of the nail (if you aren't already).

    2. Thanks SO much Michelle!! I'll try all of those things! Very helpful :D

  9. Thanks for your tips. My gel polish usually doesn't last more than a week, and when I travel for two weeks I wish I didn't have to bring all my nail stuff to redo my nails. I'm a nail biter and picker and when I keep polish on my nails I'm less likely to chew and pick at them.

    That being said I'm going to try your suggestions. The polish that seems to stay on the longest for me is Le Chat Perfect Match.... But I haven't tried their base coat, which I think I will do. I also see they have a bonder ...LeChat Soak Off Polish Prime Bond.... But how would I know if it's really a bonder or just a pH and dehydrator? Thanks!

  10. Young nails protein bond is a great primer under gel polish, just used at the tip and free edge of course, not the whole nail ;-)

  11. These were some great tips! Thanks! you mentioned doing a post on soak-off issues, but I couldn't find one. I have trouble getting my gel off and would love some tips! Thanks!

  12. Thank you for the tips. I am having problems with lifting at the cuticle, especially on the pointer fingers. I use FingerPaints and have used the chip free bonder but only at the free edge as directed. Would you recommend using the chip free bonder on the entire nail for lifting at the cuticle?

    1. Are you sure you're getting all of the cuticle off of the nail plate? No cuticle remover left behind? Not touching the skin when you polish? That is usually the cause of lifting around the cuticle area. If you have ruled out all of those things, you can try applying the bonder around the cuticle area, but leave the center of the nail free of bonder for easier removal.

  13. Hi I am using all red carpet products to start. I found that my nails were soft and I went to Sally Stores and spoke to one of the girls. She suggested a hard gel base brand bid hard gel LED/UV CLEAR.
    I am using Red carpet color and top coat.
    I have done all the coverage to the tips but I am finding Day 2 the nail and the color on tips have separated...
    Can you suggest something for me.


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