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Gel Nail Terms

Gel nails offer a plethora of wonderful art and design options, yet diving in might seem overwhelming due to the plethora of terms involved. This guide simplifies the complex terminology into digestible sections, ensuring you're well-equipped, whether you're at the salon or exploring DIY nail art at home.

Gel nails can be categorized in several ways. One of them is whether it can be “soaked-off” (removed with acetone soaked cotton) or not.

Soak-Off Gel Nails:

As the name suggests, soak-off gel nails can be removed through soaking-off. Soak-off gel is used interchangeably with soft gel.

Non-Soak-Off Gel Nails:

Gel nails that cannot be soaked off, also known as hard gels, demand more effort for removal, typically involving filing down the product. They're chosen for their durability and longevity in nail designs.

Another way of categorizing gel nails is through their hardness.

Soft Gel:

Soft gels are, well… the softest. Unlike their harder counterparts, they can be soaked-off in acetone, making them much more convenient to remove.

Hard Gel:

Known for their robustness, hard gels are ideal for extensions and sculpting. They're a go-to for lasting nail art but require filing for removal, which can be a deal-breaker for some.

Semi-Hard Gel:

Semi-hard gels have the strength between soft gel and hard gel, making it ideal for reinforcing natural nails. Also, by using it as a top gel, you can give it both shine and strength. Additionally, it makes nail jewelry less likely to come off.

Gel Polish:

Gel polish is thinner than the other types of gel nails and resembles traditional nail polish. These typically last up to two weeks.

So remember, soak-off gel = soft gel and non-soak-off gel = hard gel.

When someone says Japanese gel nails, they typically mean soft gel nails that are made in Japan. These gels are known for their superior quality. Japanese Brands like Vetro and Ageha are amongst the most popular.

Potted Gel Nails:

Comes in small pots or jars and are generally thicker than bottled gel. It requires a gel brush for application. Potted gel nails are favored by professionals because you can choose what brush to use and it is stronger than bottled gel nails.

Bottled Gel Nails:

Comes in bottles with a brush attached to the lid, similar to traditional nail polish. Thinner than potted gels, which makes it easier to apply in evenly. It's ideal for those looking for the durability of gel with the ease of application of traditional nail polish.


The process of hardening gels using a UV/LED lamp, transforming them from liquid to solid.

Base Coat: 

This is the first layer applied in the gel nail process. It prepares the nail surface for color application, improving the adherence of the gel polish to the nail. At the same time, it acts as a protective layer for your natural nails. Base coats ensure that the polish lasts longer and provides a smooth canvas for the color. 

There are also various types of base gels that can be used according to the condition of the nails.

Sanding Free Base Gel:

A type of base gel with excellent adhesion without the need to do any sanding (the process of lightly smoothing out the nail surface to improve gel retention), which is a necessary process when applying normal base gels. These are recommended for those with thin or painful nails.

Peel-off Base Gel:

This is a peelable base gel that does not require filing or acetone for removal. This base gel is recommended for those who do not want to put as much stress on their own nails as possible, or for those who can only have nails done for a short period of time (2 or 3 weeks).

Color Coats:

The gel polish applied between the base coat and the top coat that provides color. Two coats are usually applied to achieve an even application of color. 

Top Coat: 

Applied as the final layer in the gel nail application, the top coat seals in the color polish beneath it, adding a glossy finish and a protective barrier. This layer helps ensure that the manicure stays pristine and shiny for longer.

Non-Wipe Top Coat: 

A variant of the standard top coat, the no-wipe top coat does not leave a sticky residue, known as the inhibition layer, after curing under a UV/LED lamp. This eliminates the need for wiping the nails with alcohol or a cleanser after curing, making the process cleaner and faster. It provides the same level of shine and protection as a regular top coat but with added convenience.

Gel Nail Preparation


These are products that enhance the adhesion of gel polish to the natural nail. They are gentle and non-corrosive. Bonders include base coats and PH balancers.

Pre-Primers:Used before primer, this product removes oil and moisture from the nail surface. It helps gel nail polish adhere to the nail surface and improves the finish and durability.


Primers are applied to the natural nail before the base coat to improve gel adhesion. There are two types of primers: acid and non-acid. Acid primers work by etching into the nail to create holes that the nail polish can grab on to. Non-acid primers are less corrosive than acid primers and works like double sided tape to stick the nail and gel together.

Builder Gel: 

Builder's Gel: Builder's Gel is a high viscosity gel that is ideal for extending and thickening nails. Builder gels are ideal for creating nail extensions (lengthening and thickening) due to their high viscosity.


Gel-X extensions are considered "soft extensions," as they provide an artificial lengthening of the nails while maintaining flexibility. This method is popular for its natural feel and is recommended for small extensions.

That's all for now! We hope this guide becomes your go-to resource for navigating the world of soft gel nails. We know you might have more questions, and that's why at J Flow Nail, we're developing resources and courses tailored for aspiring nailists like you. Our aim is to equip you with the skills to become a proficient soft gel nail technician. Stay tuned for the course release and remember to check back often for updates!

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