I’ve become a Gel Girl.
For those not familiar with the vernacular of beauty salons, gel is a kind of nail polish that, for all intents and purposes, is a modern-day miracle.
Its positives are many, including the fact that there’s no chipping, cracking or peeling. And, also unlike traditional polish, gel holds its shine and won’t fade; lasts weeks longer, and is odorless. Some professional manicurists also swear that clients who get regular gel manicures have stronger nails within a few months. Gel also comes in plenty of colors, and thanks to a special LED light, dries within seconds of being put on, which eliminates smudging.
For every one of these reasons—especially the fact that I’ll now only need a new pedicure when I notice my toenails growing out—I’m never going back to the Cutex our grandmothers used.
But gel wasn’t an overnight sensation. Indeed, nail polish has a long, and global, history.
The product originated in China as early as 3000 B.C., and contained beeswax, egg whites, gelatin and vegetable dyes.
In Egypt, the richest of women wore nail extensions made from bone, ivory and gold. In Greece in the 1800s, women of the same class choose empty pistachio shells to wear over their real nails. Automobile paint inspired the first modern-day polish, which was colorless, but in the 1930s, premiered in a second, cream color. A decade later, pin-up goddess
Rita Hayworth made bright red nails famous.
Then came artificial nails. Shiny and durable, they were gel’s predecessor.
Like many other out-of-the-box ideas, it happened because of an accident. In 1954, a dentist named Fred Slack broke a nail at work, and created a fake nail using dental acrylic as a replacement. And while today’s acrylics are way more advanced than Slack’s primitive substitute (although the process is still meant for damaged nails, or ones that can’t grow), I always cringed when I saw someone getting an acrylic manicure. The chemical smell was overpowering; the sound of a drill-like instrument kept me more than an arm’s distance away, and I’m pretty sure smoke was involved.
So, I kept buying drugstore polish, knowing that in a few weeks, my toes were sure to chip. That, of course, meant it was time for the nasty smelling nail polish remover and a fresh coat of polish to the damaged areas. Even when gel polish hit my little beach town about 10 years ago, I assumed it was uber expensive. Consequently, I kept doing what I’d been doing. It wasn’t great, but it was okay.
Then, late last year, my daughter gifted me with a gel pedicure.
There were a few steps more at this appointment, including a different top coat and the already-mentioned light. But as it turns out, a gel is just $10 more than a regular pedicure.
However, there’s one big downside to traveling the gel road: over-the-counter polish remover won’t take it off.
Instead, I’ll need to go back to the salon. I could try the removal process at home, but that involves more steps and time than the original application, including buffing the shine off each toe; placing a cotton ball soaked in acetone on every digit, and then wrapping it all in aluminum foil. This is pretty much what salons do anyway, but at least in the hands of professionals, I know it will be done right.
I’ll keep nail polish remover around, though.
It removes paint splatters from windows and floors, as well as eliminating tea stains from China cups. One of the weirdest uses is this: if you happen to see a blood-sucking leech on your skin, pour the acetone directly onto the leech, and it will soon peel off.
Here’s hoping that if I’m ever in that pickle, I’ll have the remover at hand.
But I’ll never need it for my toes again.