What Is Gel Nail Polish? All Your Questions Answered!

Soak-off gel nail polish is a cross between a nail gel and a nail polish. You can apply it like a polish but you need to dry it like a gel, under a UV/LED lamp.

The best feature of gel nail polishes is their longevity. With regular polish, you only have 1-3, days until it starts chipping. But you can wear soak-off gel nail polish for up to 2 weeks, or sometimes even more.

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What is gel nail polish, what is gel polish, what is soak-off gel polish

Do I need to go to a salon?

You can gel a gel manicure at a salon but you can perfectly do gel nails at home too.

Here is my full guide on the process.

While certain steps, like buffing your nails or using a dehydrator and primer, may sound difficult, they may be optional with some brands.

What is the Shellac soak-off gel nail polish?

Shellac is not another name for gel nail polishes. It’s, in fact, a brand manufactured by CND.

Shellac was the first brand of gel nail polishes that actually popularized gel manicure.

And it’s still very popular today. It’s one of the leaders of the nail products market.

That’s why for some people Shellac is a synonym of soak-off gel nail polish. They use it as a generic term, similar to Velcro and Scotch Tape.

Another definition of the word “shellac” is a resin secreted by lac bugs, which is used for coating wood, etc. But CND Shellac contains no such resin, it’s vegan and cruelty-free.

Gel nail polish finishes

What is Cream gel nail polish?

Gellen Nude Grays 6-Piece Set

What is gel nail polish, what is gel polish, what is soak-off gel polish


Cream polish is the most common kind. It’s opaque and that doesn’t change color, doesn’t contain any glitter or magnetic powder, and has a glossy finish.

What is Glitter gel nail polish?

Beetles Glitter 6-Piece Set

What is gel nail polish, what is gel polish, what is soak-off gel polish


Glitter and shimmer polish is made with the addition of glitters and shimmer powders.

It looks very pretty.

What is Mermaid gel nail polish?

FairyGlo 24 Piece Set

What is gel nail polish, what is gel polish, what is soak-off gel polish


Mermaid polish has an iridescent pearly finish that resembles fish scales or mother-of-pearl. It’s really gorgeous.

What is Mood-Changing gel nail polish?

Modelones 6-Piece Set

What is gel nail polish, what is gel polish, what is soak-off gel polish


Mood-changing polish changes color depending on the temperature and creates a lovely gradient effect on the nails. It usually changes between 2 or 3 colors. Some of them are activated by the cold temperature and some are activated by the hot one.

What is Cat Eye gel nail polish?

Modelones 9D Galaxy Chameleon Cat Eye Set

What is gel nail polish, what is gel polish, what is soak-off gel polish


Cat-eye aka magnetic polish is has iron powder mixed in. And when you hold a special magnet near it the magnet attracts the iron particles and makes them rise toward the surface, which creates the mesmerizing cat-eye effect.

What is Neon gel nail polish?

Beetles Neon 6-Piece Set

What is gel nail polish, what is gel polish, what is soak-off gel polish


Neon products have super-bright and vibrant colors. These colors look best under the sun and are a perfect choice for summer. Neon pink, lime green, yellow, and orange are especially chic.

What is Glow In The Dark gel nail polish?

Vrenmol Glow In The Dark 6-Piece Set

What is gel nail polish, what is gel polish, what is soak-off gel polish


Glow in the dark polish is fluorescent and works in the same way as glow in the dark toys, stickers, clock dials, etc. It starts glowing in a nice-looking color when the lights go out.

Types of top coat finishes

Beetles Gel Base And Top Coat

Beetles Gel Nail Polish Base No Wipe Top Coat -...


Glossy Top Coat

This is the most common type of top coat. It creates a beautiful glossy finish on the nails and protects your gel manicure from chipping.

Matte Top Coat

This top coat creates a nice velvety matte finish on the nails after it’s cured under the lamp. Matte gel polish doesn’t exist, and the effect can only be created using this kind of top coat.

Types of gel nail polishes

What is 3-Step gel nail polish?

The most common gel nail polish is the 3-step one. Almost all the products on the market are 3-step ones.

It means that you need to apply it in 3 steps: the base coat, the color coat, and the top coat.

Each product is cured as a separate layer and is sold in a separate bottle. So you need to buy all three to do your gel manicure

What is 2-Step gel nail polish?

Kiara Sky Colorbase

What is gel nail polish, what is gel polish, what is soak-off gel polish


This kind of polish usually has the base coat and the color coat mixed in one bottle. While the top coat is packaged separately.

What is 1-Step gel nail polish?


What is gel nail polish, what is gel polish, what is soak-off gel polish


This kind of polish is an all in one product. It contains the base coat, the color coat, and the top coat mixed in one bottle. So you don’t need to use these products separately.

1-step and 2-step systems are easier to use and speed up your manicure process. However, they don’t last as long as 3-step polishes, so many brands don’t even make them.

Types of pigmentation

What is Highly Pigmented gel nail polish?

Highly pigmented polishes are opaque and often provide full coverage of the nail plate without streaks or sheer patches in one or two layers.

Highly pigmented products require a more powerful lamp (from 48W), or they may fail to cure.

What is Sheer gel nail polish?

Sheer polish is not too pigmented and is semi-transparent. You often need 3-4 coats of it to get good coverage. If you only paint it in 1-2 layers it will leave streaks and bald spots.

Sheer products get cured well under just about any lamp.

What are the types of gel nail polish base coats?

Clear liquid base coat

Gelish Dynamic Duo

Gelish Dynamic Duo Foundation Base & Top It Off...


This kind of base coat is the most common one. It’s needed to help the color polish adhere to your natural nail plate better and to protect your natural nails.

Rubber base coat

Kodi Rubber Base Coat and Rubber Top Coat Set

No products found.

No products found.

This is a new generation of gel base coat that is more thick and flexible than the clear base coat.

It helps to smooth out any bumps and ridges of the natural nail, helps the coating to stay on thin nails, improves the longevity the manicure.

Rubber base coat can also be used for building nail extensions.

Camouflage base coat

Kodi Professional Camouflage Rubber Base Coat in Tea Rose

No products found.

No products found.

Rubber base coat often comes opaque and has a natural pink, peach, or milky white color. This kind of product is called a camouflage base coat.

What are the types of gel nail polish top coats?

Wipe-off top coat

This is the ordinary and the most common type of top coat.

It stays sticky to the touch after you completely cure it under the lamp.

You need to wipe the tackiness off with 99% Isopropyl Alcohol after you’ve done your manicure.

No wipe top coat

Pretty Diva No Wipe Top Coat

PrettyDiva No Wipe Top Coat - 0.5 Oz Gel Top Coat...


This top coat is not sticky after you cure it.

So you don’t need to wipe it after you’ve done your manicure. This lets you perform your manicure a bit faster.

However, no wipe top coat is less flexible than the ordinary top coat and doesn’t work well with the rubber base coat.

But no wipe top coat works great with mermaid powders.

Rubber top coat

Rubber top coat is a flexible kind of top coat that matches the rubber base coat. It’s recommended that you use the rubber top coat if your base coat is of the rubber kind one too.

This top coat is always a wipe-off one. As no wipe top coats are more rigid and less flexible.

What’s the difference between gel nail polish vs other nail products?

Vs gel and polygel

UV gels and polygels are builder materials for nail extensions.

They are only used for creating nail extensions and overlays, but not for painting nails in a specific color and not for drawing nail designs.

While gel nail polishes provide a color coating only. You can’t build extensions with them.

What gels, polygels, and gel nail polishes have in common is that they all need to be cured under a UV/LED lamp.

Vs acrylics and dip powders

Acrylics and dip powders, like UV gels and polygels, are materials used for building nail extensions and not for painting nails.

Another difference is that acrylics and dip powders come in the form of a powder that is bonded with a liquid monomer.

Acrylic and dip powder extensions air dry and don’t require a lamp.

Vs regular polishes

Just like regular polishes, gel nail polishes are painted on and coat your nails with a nice-looking color.

But the drying process is different. Regular polish air dries. You shouldn’t dry it under the lamp.

And with the regular one, you can often skip the base coat and the top coat application steps.

Regular polish is much easier to remove and doesn’t have the longevity of gel nail polishes.

Vs no light gel polishes

No light gel polishes are actually regular polishes that are formulated to last about one week, or even more.

They also air dry and are easy to remove.

How to apply gel nail polish?

As I’ve said above, you have to apply most gel polishes in 3 steps: the base coat, the color coat, and the top coat.

But first, you need to prepare the nail plate.

Some manufacturers recommend buffing the shine off the surface of the natural nail. This will make the base coat stick better.

After that, you need to cleanse the nails with a cleanser or rubbing alcohol.

It’s also necessary to de-oil the nail plate with a dehydrator.

Some brands require the use of a primer. You can apply it to the tip of the nail for better adhesion.

After applying each layer of the color polish, the base coat, and the top coat, you need to cure every individual layer in the lamp.

The base coat is the first step of the gel manicure. Apply it in one layer only.

Then goes the color polish. Apply it in 1-3 layers, depending on the pigmentation.

And finish the manicure off with the top coat. Wipe it off if it’s sticky after getting cured.


Gel nail polishes cure only under UV rays, and natural UV rays from the sun are not powerful enough to cure them.

You will need a UV/LED lamp that emits UV rays for curing gel polish.

UV lamps

MelodySusie 36W UV Lamp

MelodySusie 36W Nail Lamp for Resin, Professional...


UV lamps are the original kind of lamps you can use for curing gel nail polishes. They have UV bulbs inside.

These bulbs emit a pretty wide spectrum of UV light and can cure any kind and any brand of soak-off gel nail polish.

However, UV-only lamps are less powerful than LED lamps and need more time to fully cure the product.

LED lamps

SUNUV 48W LED Nail Lamp

Gel UV Nail Lamp, SUNUV 48W UV LED Nail Dryer...


LED lamps have LED light diodes that emit UV rays. However, these lamps emit a narrower spectrum of UV rays than UV-only lamps.

So there used to be UV-only gel polishes that couldn’t be cured with LED lamps.

Today nearly all polishes are LED-curable.

LED lamps are more powerful than UV-only lamps. They can polymerize the polish in 30-60 seconds.

How long can gel nail polish last?

It can last for up to 2-3 weeks.

Some people wear it for a month or even more, but I don’t recommend this. It’s too long.

How do I remove soak-off gel nail polish?

All these polishes are soak-off products. You can remove your gel manicure by soaking it off with an acetone-based remover.

SIQUK Nail Polish Removal Tools Kit 

SIQUK Nail Polish Remover Tools Kit Including 750...


You just need to soak it off for about 10 minutes.

That means you need to keep your fingertips wrapped in pieces of foil holding a cotton ball with acetone against each of your nails.

After that, you can push the softened product off.

To make this process faster you can file the top layer of the polish off with a nail drill without digging into your natural nail plate.

How to store gel nail polish?

This kind of polish reacts to UV light. So while natural light is not able to cure it, it still can thicken it and ruin it.

That’s why gel nail polish, unlike regular polish, almost always comes in opaque bottles.

Even though the bottles are opaque, you should still keep them away from the lamp you use to cure them.

It’s also a good idea to keep them away from heat.

Don’t shake the bottle too much before application or you’ll get bubbles when you apply the product.

I hope that this guide answers the question: what is soak-off gel nail polish.

Recommended reading:

Best Professional Gel Nail Polish Brands Used In Salons

Best Gel Base And Top Coat: The Updated List Of The Best Gel Nail Base And Top Coat Sets

Rubber Base Gel 101: The Rubber Base Coat And Rubber Top Coat Ultimate Buying Guide

How To Apply Gel Nail Polish Perfectly At Home And How To Use Gel Nail Polish Like A Pro

Best No Wipe Gel Top Coat: An Honest Review Of 12 Best No Wipe Top Coat Gel Brands

Non-Toxic Gel Nail Polish Brands 101: Choose The Safest Gel Nail Polish

Matte Gel Nails Ultimate Guide: Best Matte Gel Top Coat Brands List [Updated] Plus Gorgeous Matte Gel Nail Designs

Most Popular Shellac Colors – The Ultimate List Of 15 Best Shellac Colors For Fantastic Manicures

Kupa ManiPRO Passport Nail Drill Review: The KUPA E-File That Nail Techs Swear By

Best Nail Dehydrator And Primer: The Ultimate Guide

Mermaid Gel Nails 101: Best Mermaid Gel Polish And Mermaid Nail Powder

Best No Light Gel Polish — Gel Nail Polish Without UV Light

What Is Gel Nail Polish? All Your Questions Answered!

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