One of the issues that a person encounters when applying gel polish is shrinkage.
There are several reasons that cause gel polish to shrink at the free edge or at the sides of a nail. The most common ones are inadequate nail plate preparation, the gel polish quality and condition, and how it is applied. Gel polish shrinkage can be prevented or fixed if those factors are identified before hand.
For people who do gel polish at home once every two weeks or so do not have a lot of practice or experience in applying gel polish. Since gel polish is usually thicker than regular one, knowing how to apply it properly will save you time by doing it right the first time.
To learn how to effectively apply gel polish, read the article about two tips to apply thin layers of gel polish on nails.
Five reasons that cause gel polish to shrink
Dirty or oily nail surface can cause gel polish to shrink
Without thoroughly prepare the nail surface, gel polish can shrink at the free edge or at the sides of a nail.
Before applying gel polish on nails, proper nail surface preparation has to be done as follows:
- Remove old polish if any.
- Cut/trim nails to the desired length.
- Remove or trim excessive cuticles. This can be done by nipping cuticles dry or after soaking. Gently buff the entire nail surface. Three or four back and forth gentle strokes are sufficient. Overdoing this will thin out the nail needlessly.
- Do buff the tip or free edge of the nails to remove any burs.
- Clean the nail surface with alcohol and apply bonder/dehydrator.
- Apply primer if required by gel polish manufacturer. Use a small fan to dry nail surface 1 minute or air dry for 3 minutes before applying gel polish base coat.
All of the steps above will ensure the nail surface free from oil, lotion, or moisture and create a clean nail surface for polishing.
Too much gel base coat or gel polish
Secondly, thick gel polish will not cure thoroughly. Base coat and color gel polishes should be checked to make sure they are in good condition before applying on nails. Gel polishes are usually thicker or higher in viscosity than regular nail polish so the phrase “less is more” should be exercised.
Practice technique of removing extra polish on nail brush by scraping top and/or bottom of the brush against the inside rim of the polish bottle. Press nail brush firmly on the nail to ensure a thin coat is applied.
Remove excess on the brush by first scraping it against the rim of the polish bottle with up and down strokes then brush the nail surface again to ensure an even thinner coat.
Gel base coat and gel color both need to be cured under UV light separately so make sure each coat is properly cured. If gel polish is too thick, a normal UV light source can not penetrate or cure a thick layer of gel polish thoroughly. The UV light will cause the edge of the gel polish to be cured first and contracted while the inside is still uncured. As a result, gel polish will shrink along the side wall or free edge of a nail.
Thick, old or low quality gel polish
Thirdly, gel polish products will start to thicken over time due to evaporation of liquid chemical ingredients in a gel polish bottle. When this happens, the gel base or gel color will get thicker and it will be difficult to apply a thin coat on nail surfaces.
If a gel polish thinner is available, put a few drops of this solution to the gel bottle and vigorously shake for 1 or 2 minutes. Inspect the gel consistency on the brush. It should be thick but readily dripping off the brush. Use more gel polish thinner if necessary.
If the gel inside the bottle is so thick that it deforms the brush bristles, discard it. It already solidifies and can not be brought back to liquid form.
Bad or weak UV lamp will cause gel polish to shrink
Next, all UV lamps whether it is a lamp using compact fluorescent bulbs or LED (light emitted diodes) will diminish or get weaker over time with the bulb type lamps do so quicker.
When this happens the amount of UV light generated will be reduced compared to the new one and so its energy to cure gel polish will also be reduced, This will cause the gel polish to be under cured, meaning the surface will cure first and prevent light from going deeper to cure lower gel layer.
Inadequate or insufficient power UV light sources will cause the same effect.
To determine if a UV lamp is in good condition or not, polish 3 nail tips with black, white, and one dark gel color then curing them with recommended time under the UV lamp in question.
Repeat polish the three nail tips one more time. If after the second time, any of the three polish colors shrink, the UV lamp does not produce enough light.
To correct this situation, the old bulbs in a UV lamp must be replaced with new ones and the above test should be repeated to ensure improvement. If this happens to an LED type UV lamp, this lamp is defective or at the end of its working life and should be properly discarded.
Since most of the smaller home use type of UV lamps generate about 6 watts of UV light energy as compared to those larger sized, professional ones which generate more than 30 watts in UV light energy, any reduction in UV light of these smaller, home use types will dramatically affects their gel polish curing ability than that of full-sized, professional ones.
Also, some smaller, home use UV lamps do not come with a bottom reflective plate. With this plate being used, the UV light shines down will reflect back to the top side and will partially reflect back on the nails so the light intensity will be enhanced.
If your UV lamp does not have a bottom plate, put it on a reflective metal tray, or a smooth, light color table surface before curing gel polish. Remember this feature the next time you are in the market for a UV lamp.
Curing on the wrong location under a UV light cause gel polish to shrink
Lastly, even though you do all four things mentioned above and gel polish still shrinks, it may be that the nails are not placed where it should be for optimal light intensity and energy.
White, black or dark color gel polish requires adequate light intensity they need in order to cure completely. If nails are not placed at the right location, UV light that shines on the nail surface will be at an angle and some will be reflected away instead of being absorbed in the polish, causing gel polish to be cured around the edge and under-cured inside.
Make sure that all nails are facing the light. Thumbs and pinky ones are the ones that usually have this problem.
Most lights will reflect away from the white color so if white gel polish is too thick, as the top layer cures, this cured layer will prevent light from coming through and there will not be enough light energy to go cure lower layer.
On the contrary, lights will be absorbed by the black gel polish and after the top layer cures, it will also prevent sufficient light to go deeper to cure the lower layer.
Make sure you only apply thin coats when using white, black or bright color gel polish. You can always add one more layer if the shade is not what you like yet. The time it takes to apply one more coat is much less than the time it takes to remove the polish and put it back on.
Shrinking problem can be avoid by using quality gel polish brands.
In my years of applying gel polish on thousands of customers’ nails, I have used several commercial brands that are popular among nail salons across the country.
I like the base coat and top coat from Gelish for the fact that the brush of the base coat bottle is much shorter than that of a typical brush. This makes the brush stiffer and because of this, you can apply thinner coat and therefore using less material each time so the bottle will go a long way.
The second thing I like about this brand is the base coat and top coat are chemically and structurally stable in both hot and cold seasons so you do not have to adjust your applying gel polish technique as the weather or temperature change. Check out the latest price on amazon.
You can use these gel base coat and top coat with any other brands of gel polish colors. Keep in mind though that this top coat needs to be wiped off with alcohol-based cleanser to remove the residue.
My favorite gel polish is Lechat on Amazon. I have used many dozens of different shades from this brand. Not one color disappointed me.
The quickest way to solve shrinking gel polish
If the shrinkage on the nails are not excessive, putting one more gel topcoat layer over them might smooth out the defects that you can not tell by looking at arm’s length. You can learn how you can quickly fix it here in this short article. If you succeed, you are in luck but keep in mind that these gel nails will not last as long as the others.
If shrinkage are still visible, learn how to quickly remove gel polish here.
Related articles on gel polish shrinkage:
Ever wonder which UV LED nail lamp is the best for home use? I have bought a 3 SUN 48 watt UV LED nail lamps for my salon. They performed well in a busy salon and kind of heavy-handed environment for more than a year. They should also be great for home use. Check out the latest price on Amazon.
Learn how to apply gel polish perfect every time with two simple tips. Gel polish has to be at the right consistency, not so thick and the nail brush has to load the least amount of gel polish will result in a thin layer of gel polish on the natural nails.
I bought the latest nail drill on amazon. I used it to remove the gel polish top coat before soaking gel polish and it surpassed my expectation. This new nail drill has slender shape and weighs under 2 oz that makes it an ideal drill for gel polish removal. It is also a rechargeable drill so you do not a cord trying to pull it away from your hand.
Whether you do only gel polish, or SNS dipping powder at home, this little newly designed nail drill can handle them all. The best part is it costs under $20. Be one of the first to own it and you will brag about it too. Check out the latest price on amazon. After you learn how to use it, you will not want to go back to manual filing to remove gel polish.
Gel polish peels off too soon? Find out why.