Polygel Nails: The Pros, Cons, and How to Try It at Home

Look, you’re either one of two people: the person who considers their nails an essential part of their look, OR the person—like yours truly—who maybe has their nails painted once a month…and most of the time, it’s a shoddy DIY job with chips and dings galore. Few types of manicures can please both crowds, but I think we may have found a winner in polygel nails. Hear me out.

Polygel nails are a hybrid nail-enhancement formula that gives you the best parts of liquid and powder acrylics, plus LED hard gels. I’m talkin’ durability, flexibility, and customizability (yes, it’s a word), but with the bonus of an easier application. With help from a few YouTube tutorials and nail expert Morgan Haile from Gelish and Morgan Taylor, we’ll fill you in on all the details about polygel nails.

Are polygel nails better than acrylic?

Just like acrylic nails, poylgel nails can be used to sculpt, overlay, fill in, and extend the nails, but the similarities end there. Gelish PolyGel (the original, patent-pending formula) is roughly 23 percent lighter than acrylics and 16 percent lighter than traditional hard gels, but it’s just as strong. Haile also adds that it’s monomer-free, 7-free, odor-free, and doesn’t create airbone dust during the application process. So, yeah, I’ll let you answer that question yourself.

Does polygel ruin your nails?

Haile says filing or buffing too hard or too much can cause damage to the natural nail (understandably so), so you’ll definitely want to be careful, but the polygel itself doesn’t damage the nails when applied and removed the right way. It’s when people go rogue and DIY their removals (or go to a less-than-reputable salon) that can cause issues.

Do polygel nails break easily?

On the contrary! When applied correctly (keyword), polygel is actually sturdier than hard gels. Haile describes polygel nails as strong, flexible, and feather-light, which means they’re durable but still feel like natural nails. To prevent any lifting, you’ll want to make sure the nails are properly prepped first, which all goes back to the importance of the application, so if you’re not a nail tech or don’t fancy yourself as one, see a pro instead.

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What do you need for polygel nails at home?

  • Polygel
    Duh. Use just one tube if you want a solid color all over, or grab a few different colors to create ombré nails or a French manicure design.
  • Dual forms
    Depending on the application technique you use, you’ll need dual forms that fit the curve of your nails, but leave enough room for the polygel in between. These make the application easier and faster, but can be a hard fit at the cuticle, which gives it a less natural finish.
  • Nail forms
    Instead of dual forms, you can use paper nail forms to serve as the base that you sculpt on top of. With these, you can blend better at the cuticle and create more of a custom fit, but they’re more difficult for beginners.
  • Base coat and top coat
    These usually come with the kit to help prep and seal the nails.
  • LED light
    An LED lamp is essential (Haile recommends the 18G LED light) because polygel won’t harden until it cures under the lamp, which means more time for the nail tech to get the shape just right.
  • Spatula and brush
    Polygel has a thick consistency and comes in a tube, so the spatula will help you slice and place chunks of the product on the nail. A small synthetic brush will help you smooth it out.
  • Slip solution
    Rubbing alcohol will do, but you definitely need some kind of solution to wet your brush with to allow it to shape the polygel without sticking to it.

How do you use polygel for beginners?

Follow the first three steps below, then decide whether you want to use dual forms or nail forms (or skip forms completely!) and follow the rest of the instructions (and tutorials) accordingly.

  1. Push back your cuticles and clean the nail plate to prevent lifting.
  2. File your nails, and buff the surface.
  3. Apply base coat, then cure it under an LED lamp for 60 seconds.
  4. Finish and live your life, or continue on to one of the following two tutorials: dual forms or nail forms.

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How to use polygel with dual forms:

  1. Squeeze a small amount of polygel out of the tube, and use the spatula to apply the polygel to the inside of the dual form. Use the brush (dipped in slip solution) to spread it evenly.
  2. Place the polygel-coated dual form on your nail and lightly press to adhere.
  3. Remove any excess polygel that squeezed out the sides and smooth the product underneath the free edge of the dual form.
  4. Cure it in the LED lamp for 60 seconds.
  5. Pop off the dual form.
  6. File and shape your nails and smooth the edges.
  7. Finish with the top coat, and cure it once more.

How to use polygel with nail forms:

  1. Wrap the tips of your fingers with the forms so they fit underneath the free edge of your nail.
  2. Squeeze the polygel from the tube and use the spatula to place it directly to the top of the nail.
  3. Use your brush dipped in the slip solution to shape the polygel and smooth out the surface.
  4. Cure it for 60 seconds under the LED lamp.
  5. Continue adding polygel, shaping, and curing until you’re finished building the nail.
  6. Wipe them down with rubbing alcohol to remove sticky residue.
  7. File and shape the edges and buff the surface to smooth.
  8. Apply any embellishments or designs, then finish with the top coat, and cure it once more.

Can I use nail tips with polygel?

Yes! That’s actually one of the coolest parts of working with polygel. You can shape the formula with a dual form so that you don’t need nail tips to create extra length, or you can start with gluing tips and applying the polygel over the top to blend, reinforce, and shape them. Polygel gives you more options than a Cheesecake Factory menu, so don’t be afraid to try something different each time.

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Can you remove polygel nails with acetone?

Haile suggests filing polygel, starting with a 150-grit nail file (or 180 grit) and a 100/180-grit buffer to remove length and product, then gradually increasing to a 220/280-grit buffer to smooth it out. But you can also use acetone to remove polygel, similar to how you would with gel. If your polygel nails are past their prime, watch this video tutorial, grab your gel polish remover tools, and follow the step-by-step tutorial, here:

  1. Clip off any length. If you used polygel to create nail enhancements, use nail clippers from your manicure set to trim off the extra length.
  2. File down the majority of the product on top of your nails without filing the natural nail. If you built up the nails really thick, this will help save you some time with the soak-off.
  3. Soak ’em. Dip pieces of cotton in acetone and wrap each nail with the cotton. With nail clips or small squares of foil, wrap your nail to hold the cotton in place while the acetone breaks down the polish underneath. Queue up Netflix, because this process could 45 minutes to an hour.
  4. Scrape off the residue. Once the acetone has softened the product underneath, use a cuticle pusher to gently scrape the remaining residue off. Don’t force it! Repeat steps three and four until the product has loosened up enough to gently scrape away.
  5. Apply a nail treatment. With all that filing, soaking, and scraping, your nails and cuticles will likely need a little TLC with cuticle oil once you’re finished.

How long do polygel nails last?

Want your gel polish to last longer? Honestly, I’d definitely try making the switch to polygel. Because they’re so durable, polygel nails will still look good past the three-week mark, so add that to your list of polgel pros. And now that we’re at the end, go ahead and tally ’em up—I bet you’ll have more reasons than not to give polygel nails a try.


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About the Author: Tung Chi