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nailbasics’ history of Acrylic vs. Gel Nails

I met my future wife in 1986 and in 1988 I quit my job as an automotive mechanic to be a receptionist at my wife’s nail studio in downtown Edmonton, Alberta.  I’ve watched how the nail technician industry has evolved ever since.

My wife Kathi Rochemont is the founder of nailbasics.  Kathi was also co-founder of Amore International and the Institute of Nail Technology.  Kathi started doing acrylic nails in 1975 at nails and lashes, one of only two places in town. Gel nails did not exist at the time, and even acrylic supplies were hard to come by.   At one point Kathi was purchasing her acrylic nail supplies at Best Dental supplies out of Leduc, AB.

Right from the beginning, Kathi developed ergonomically friendly work habits to reduce the ailments associated with the repetitive motion of hand filing.  A big part of this was to employ the use of an electric nail file and use an overhand rather than underhand grip.  At the time Kathi was using a Bell Hand Engine, that was until she met Ed Tausch from Erica's, manufacturer of the Erica's MT20 electric nail file.

Kathi was very health conscious for both the client and herself.  On top of ergonomically friendly work habits, Kathi used a desk vent for dust control, made sure her work space was clean, and always preserved the integrity of the natural nail.

It did not take long before Kathi was in demand to teach others how to become a successful Nail Technician.  

How Kathi's Salon became the first Gel Nails only shop in Edmonton

Not a client

In 1988, a lady booked an appointment to see Kathi.  Kathi assumed she was a new client. When the new client came in she was carrying a bag of stuff.  She was not a client, she was a salesperson! Although not impressed with the tactic, Kathi gave her the opportunity to show us her stuff.

What this lady brought Kathi was a UV Gel Nail system from Germany.  After the demo Kathi said “Leave me the UV Curing Lamp and the product and get back to me in three weeks”.

Well three weeks went by and it was Kathi’s clients that loved the “new stuff.”  Everyone loved the new “gel nails” except for me. Having to buy lamps at $500 each  for 4 stations (8 total) as well as gel for each station — more than doubled our cost for what we paid for acrylic for an entire year!

This was an important first step in developing our own gel line, as many clients preferred the look and feel of the new gel nails.

Developing our own line helped us bring the costs down considerably. Lowering cost made it much easier to convince others to switch to gel.  Kathi experimented with different techniques to find the best way for using gel on nails, as the techniques used are not at all similar to acrylic nails.  Within 5 years Kathi had switched her entire clientele over to gel nails. Our shop was the first in Edmonton to offer “Gel Nails “only!

Acrylic Nails Stink

I have always hated the smell of acrylic nails being applied, as did some of our clients.  Kathi on the other hand was so desensitized to its pungent odor and always told me I was overreacting, until 1998 after taking a two month holiday.

Kathi took off 8 weeks in 1998 to spend time with our daughter at my father’s place in Quebec.  I took off three weeks, came back to work for two, and headed back to Quebec for another three. A fellow Nail Technician named Heidi took care of Kathi’s clients as well as her own at Kathi’s desk.  Heidi was primarily an acrylic nail tech at that time.

It had been at least a couple of years since I had been exposed to the odors associated with acrylic nails.  When I came back for two weeks Heidi was doing acrylic and WOW DID IT STINK!!!!!

I told Kathi that if Heidi wants to work at our salon, she can no longer use acrylic.  Again Kathi told me I was overreacting until she got home and Heidi was at the shop doing acrylic.  Now that Kathi had not been exposed to acrylic for a couple of years, she smelled what I did, and now she agreed – IT STINKS!

I vote for Gel Nails

After being intimately exposed to the artificial nail market, from raw material to finished product, I favour Gel Nails for one and one reason only; little to no odor.  I know you can do everything with acrylic that you can with gel at a lower overall cost, with less of an investment, but I still have yet to smell acrylic nails that don’t stink when applying.

Acrylic is more versatile in that you can do it anywhere.  You can’t do gels outside unless it is night time, (ruined a pot of nail gel figuring that out) and thought the shade would be fine.  If the power goes out, you can’t cure gel nails!

Also with gel the dust is finer BUT you should always have proper extraction for nail dust, whether you are filing gel nails or acrylic nails.  Wearing a mask may prevent you from breathing in excessive dust during the service, but if you do not have some sort of nail dust management, you could develop allergies and illness as that dust floats throughout your work environment, which ultimately will shorten/end your career as a nail technician.

So there you go.  If you have a well ventilated work space that extracts odors and contains dust, you should use whatever you like.  If your work area is confined and the odor may be offensive to others, gel nails may be a better choice.

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