I discovered the home manicure. I’m not talking about a file and polish. I kind of fell in love with professional manicures a couple years ago before my trip to Japan transpired. I was a nail biter, you see. Life long, since I was three years old. In my adulthood, I had somewhat staved off my habit, but still found myself nibbling at snags and such. My nails have always been quite brittle because of the nail biting. Even when they were finally allowed to grow long and (slightly) stronger, they still tore and broke easily.
So I got fed up with short, not so feminine nails. Found a local nail salon. Got acrylics. Not crazy long ones, but with extensions cut to a “sporty” length, they were longer than I could ever grow them naturally. And they were strong! I was so happy, I kept going in for fill-ins every few weeks for the next couple months. Taking them off was not so easy, of course. I thought two months was enough time to have pretty nails, and taking them off to let the nails breathe would be another couple months.
The soak-off at the nail salon was the longest hour of my life… Especially with the inane talk shows they had playing on the TV at the time. Well, this is how we learn.
After a break, I had them done again, on and off for the next year or so. Spending $25 – $30 every time. I felt I had watched the process enough times that I could teach myself how to do it at home.
YouTube is also an incredible resource for learning.
UV Gel Nails
I had heard of “Gel Nails” before, but no salon in my area (that is the small town of Taos, NM) offers gel nails. They do the old fashion acrylic powder with various colored tips to choose from. Most people settle for the tip color variation rather than get the full deco nail treatment that has been popular in Asia for the last decade or so now.
AND – something that kind of bothered me – in my preparation before ever embarking on having my nails done with acrylics, I read everywhere that there’s a procedure to follow as far as preparing the nail, pushing back cuticles, making sure the nail is cleaned with solution, etc. My local nail salons did not do these things, probably for the sake of expediency. Though I read these were important steps to take to be sure the health of the nail underneath was not compromised, and to keep the acrylic layer from lifting too soon.
Luckily, I never experienced adverse effects from having the acrylics applied haphazardly. I also doused my nails in tea tree oil, and vitamin E just in case. Amazingly, my cuticles had never looked better than when I have my falsies on.
Anyway, it’s huge in Asia, and if you go to a place like Tokyo, you’ll also notice it’s expensive. Just the base treatment (without all the nail art) will run you $50 bucks to start. They charge per nail, and for each element you choose to add to your design (they have an a la carte kind of thing).
Don’t get me wrong. “You get what you pay for…” certainly applies if you get your nails done professionally in Japan. You’ll get a great result. For quite a bit of money. Many women have them there. I can’t tell you the countless amount of ladies I saw on the Tokyo subway with awesome nails, covered in gems and metal studs, perfectly rounded and polished.
And the magazines on the subject are numerous! Here’s just one called NAIRUAATO (Nail Art)… which I think is a special issue of Nail Venus, the main magazine I’ve seen for nails in Japan (they seriously have tons though). Nail salons from all over Japan will submit their top nail tech’s latest designs, and you can browse them like a catalogue. As well as some tutorials for the DIY crowd, and advertisements for nail schools.
DIY Gel Nails
Not wanting to spend that kind of money, in Tokyo or elsewhere, I decided to go the DIY route and investigated tutorials online, as well as supplies and kits. For $50 dollars, I could get a basic UV Gel Nail kit on eBay (or Aliexpress) with free shipping. It even comes with a UV lamp, and several colors of gel, as well as the clear, pink, and white basics. Brushes, solutions, nail buffers, files, et al. As you see here:
Even rhinestones, uv gel top coat, clippers for artificial nails, stickers for builder gel… The brand name that I could read is called “Fina” (the cursive F at the beginning is sometimes misread as Sina or Lina). It comes from China, but that doesn’t detract from the quality – for a home DIY experiment, anyway. This is really affordable.
You can be as creative as you want, and do your nails so often that if you’ve ever had them done professionally, you’ll know this will pay for itself after just two or three times. If you’re the artistic type and want to start learning to do your own nails professionally at home, this is a great way to begin. And this is just the starter kit!
The amount of different elements you can purchase, inexpensively, to add to your nail art journey is boundless it seems. You can use your own nail polishes, water transfer decals, stickers, nail stamping kits, charms (they sell special tiny ones for nail art specifically).
It might take a little practice, and you may need to set aside enough time in the day to do so, but once you get going, it’s a really fun art project that saves you money and makes your nails look great.
I learned that you don’t need all the professional solutions they sell (like the nail shine liquid or nail prep solution). You can just use rubbing alcohol for both prepping the nail (to dry it for better adhesion of the gel) and for wiping off the excess gel after a UV cure.
Also a helpful thing NOT included in this set (I bought mine separately) is an electric nail drill. Now, the pro salons have a Dremmel set up. But you can buy electric drills that are less robust AND Affordable (I’m talking $12-$30). The one I purchased was the Vogue electric nail drill, and it comes with a bunch of sanding drums, as well as special bits for other things.
- Be careful of storing the gel pots sideways!! THEY WILL LEAK . . . and then you’ll have quite a mess to clean up afterwards, probably with lots of rubbing alcohol to get it all off of everything it leaked on. Speaking from experience. heh.
- Take care of the nails after they done. Tea tree oil to keep little gremlins at bay, and cuticle oil like Sally Hanson’s Vitamin E oil.
- Try not to immerse them in water too much. But hey, you have to wash your hair and hands sometimes, right? Just be aware of the possibility of lifting, which happens no matter what. Though you want to try to keep your nails looking nice for a least two weeks. The stuff will fall off on its own. Then it’s time for a redo or you take them off. Your call.
- Make sure you’re familiar with the removal process of fake tips and acrylics. I usually snip mine all off as short as I can without hurting myself or my natural nail underneath (which thankfully grows as they’re protected by my gnashing teeth), sand off the gel coatings carefully, and then do the foil wrap method. Doesn’t take long if you only do three or four coats of the gel base on top of all your goodies (rhinestones, stickers, et al).