Gel Polish Troubleshooting Guide

Since gel polish came onto the nail scene, it has influenced bookings and revenue and means that clients can’t smudge their fresh nails. However, this technique comes with its own issues, especially since home kits have become so readily available with no education. That doesn't mean that standard polish should get neglected either, follow these top tips on prolonging traditional nail polish here.

Don’t get complacent when it comes to this service, and follow my tips below:

Correct hand placement in a UV lamp. Image courtesy of Cosmo Nails.

Ensure the correct cure

With gel polish, it’s paramount to ensure a good cure so that the colour and overlay will last. If the gel polish is applied too thick, the curing time might not be enough to create a full cure, which can lead to peeling. Ensure that you are using the correct curing time for your lamp, as another gel and lamp can respond differently.

Bubbling, peeling, chipping and other forms of service breakdown can occur when the product hasn’t been cured correctly and can be most commonly found on the thumbs where the client has placed these incorrectly in the lamp. If you find this happening, then cure the thumbs separately.

What may appear cured, may not be – if the gel polish application is too thick, the outside may be cured but the inside, not. If this is left, then over time, this un-cured gel will become exposed and can lead to irritation and a possible allergic reaction.

To test your gel polish cure, you can use ‘the dry brush test’. Using a clean dry brush, wipe over the product once cured – if the product is wiping away with the brush it is not cured. With darker, more pigmented colours you can be left with a stain on the brush, but it will not pull away.

Bulb change schedule

Changing your bulbs regularly is essential to ensure a through cure. The recommended schedule for changing the bulbs in your UV lamp is: If you have 30 to 40 gel clients a week, the bulbs need to be changed every four to six months. If you have 20 gel clients a week, change your bulbs every six to eight months. Once a year is sufficient for nail techs with less than 20 gel clients a week. An easy way to remember this is to write the date on the bottom of your lamp or in your diary when you last changed the bulbs.

If you notice the tacky layer on your client’s nails starts getting thicker even after the correct curing time is up or if you are seeing service breakdown and can see a dull grey ring around the bulb, this is a strong indicator you need to replace the bulbs.

A handy idea to ensure clients place their hands correctly in the lamp. Courtesy of Tammy Upthegrove.

Problems with application

Gel shrinks when it cures, so it is paramount to ensure you seal the free edge by applying the gel horizontally at the very edge. Because gel shrinks when cured, it is necessary that the product continues down over the free edge but not underneath so it does not shrink back over the top of the nail.

Capping the free edge should be the last step before curing. Remember, gel is self levelling and will shrink before curing also, if your gel polish is shrinking quicker than you can work, cure a few nails at a time.

Gel polish colour can often bleed with the base coat or if primer is used. You shouldn’t use primer before gel polish, apart from a wash at the free edge if the client is prone to lifting or chipping, as it increases the soak off time. To prevent the base coat bleeding into the colour, I prefer to remove the tacky layer of the base coat for a more even colour application.

Have you ever noticed that after removing your tacky layer, the gel can appear dull? You need to let the product cool slightly after removal from the lamp before cleansing and applying cuticle oil. If this doesn’t solve the issue, your top coat may be contaminated with dust.

L-R from top: Application too far from cuticle & sidewalls; application too close to skin; product applied too thick – showing uncured product underneath; correct application

The perfect polish

For longevity and client satisfaction you should paint as close to the cuticle and sidewalls as possible without touching the skin. Approximately a 1mm gap should be left, otherwise the client will leave their appointment with what looks like 1-2 weeks growth.

When painting, use a balance point positioning with your pinkie to keep a steady hand and get better nail coverage. The thumb and forefinger of the holding hand pinch the client’s finger to pull back the soft tissue from the nail plate. This makes the nail bed a little bigger and ensures complete gel polish coverage and the sidewalls. If you push the cuticle back prior to painting, then once the service is complete, pull that cuticle back over the painted nail to close any gap.

Brushes are a personal preference; some techs like short, square, stubby brushes while other techs prefer a longer, thinner brush. If the brush in the gel polish isn’t your favourite style, then use a nail art brush such as a small 3D brush, fine line or even a one stroke brush to enable you to paint as close the cuticle as you can prior to filling in the rest of the nail.

Any damage to the natural nail is usually the result of improper application or removal, overly aggressive filing, or client abuse such as picking or biting. When both L&P and gel enhancements and coverings are applied, maintained, and removed correctly, no damage should occur. Learn how to deal with clients who want to remove their nails at home here.

Many techs can get confused between the differences of gel and acrylic, learn more about whether there is a difference between the two products here. Even if you're not an acrylic tech, understanding the science of both products is essential to be fully knowledgable to inform your clients correctly.

If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about nails, check out our next blog on understanding the drying times of liquid and powder acrylic here.

Love Katie B x


  • Lynda Baker

    Thank you so much for this information

  • Katie

    Thank you, great tips

  • Leamarie

    Brilliant educational information on all things nails! Thank you ☺️

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