Nail Prep – DIY Gel nails, with Acrylic Powder

MAJOR, and I mean MAJOR contributor to this post: my dear, precious friend, Cat Ludeman. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping me from looking like a fool…and your ETERNAL patience with my ignorance. You are truly amazing!

Here is my nail prep process – I don’t have videos – that’s quite a project, and I’d rather leave that to the pros! I’m certainly not a nail expert, but I hope that my little journey here will encourage you if you struggle with your nails. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not a fan of the new dipping powders…I don’t like the thickness of them. I decided to do this myself for financial reasons, and because I find it difficult, physically, to sit still in a salon chair for the amount of time it takes do a good manicure. In fact, sitting down long enough to write this post is quite a struggle! Might happen in chunks! This allows me to get up and take breaks as needed without burning the valuable time of the nail tech.

So, who am and I why should you listen to me? Well…really, nobody 🤣. I just like a good DIY as much as the next girl… and I have a friend who has taught me SO MANY TRICKS to this process and talked me through EVERY step, EVERY product, like…she tells me things I can’t even comprehend…she doesn’t know it – but I’m actually going to send her this post to review before I post it…Here’s a picture of some of her work…She’s quite incredible… Did I mention that I was also going to ask her for a picture?

Today, just the prep. Next time, I’ll share with you the fill/repaint process. This is my second fill on my own. For my first DIY manicure, I just did a natural finish, much like I did last week for this fill. For the first fill, I did a red – because, well…February is for Red, right? National Heart Month, Valentines…all the red things…

Thank you for bearing with me as I walk through this process – if I leave something out, or you have questions, please let me know! Product list can be found at the bottom of the post. Most of the items I used can picked up at MANY different retailers and beauty supply stores.

Step One…Filing…you may have the option of soaking, depending on the gel you use, but I don’t like doing that…it’s never seemed to really do the job for me and I find it a bit harsh for the nails and fingers. So, I just sit down with a towel and a nail file…and get it done…red, or any dark color for that matter, takes a little extra time. I used a 100 grit Nail file for the start of the process, and then alternated between that and what is referred to as a polar block nail file. The pressure and control level is very different with a block. These will have four different grits/sides. I find it very helpful to have both a block and standard file on hand.

If you’re planning to reapply the same color, or a similar color, you don’t have to be quite as meticulous here…The colors won’t bleed together, but you don’t want to try to cover up a darker color with a lighter color. You DO need to MAKE SURE that you have a GENTLY filed surface on the nail for your gel & polish to grab onto. All you want to do on the natural nail is take off the shine. I was not planning to add color this round, so a lot of extra filing was required, which also led to a little extra gel & acrylic filling…more on that in a future post.

CAUTION: Take care not to file the surface of the natural nail too much – whether you are just starting, or doing a fill. Don’t file the natural nail smooth – This can weaken the natural nail and will shorten the lifetime of your enhancements – you just want to smooth out the ridges on any enhancements you already have in place, and ‘take off the shine’ of the natural nail to encourage bonding.

Step Two: Keep filing until all that color is gone, and you have no odd ridges or bumps – you want smooth nails. It was not my goal to remove the gel and acrylic from the original manicure and last fill from the nails, but in some spots…that happened…and I did have a little lifting, which we don’t want…

Lifting can ruin a good manicure and, well, it just won’t last any time at all. We’ll talk more about that on future posts. There are also sanitary risks…you don’t want any moisture or germs locked between your gel or polish and your nails…you just don’t…trust me. Here are a couple of photos of ‘not quite finished yet’. You can see that I’m filing a little more than I want to…this is part of the process, part of me learning AND being extra diligent and patient at EVERY step of the prep & application process. Remember, I am NOT a professional…

Step 3…and filing and all of those things…this is the part where I definitely need more practice…I lost a little length to the filing process, but it’s all good…they’ll grow back…I’m quite confident of that as I listen to the gentle click-clack of my nails on the keyboard…am I the only one that loves that sound? I used the 180 grit side of the black nail file, and the polar block for actual shaping. Random tip: Be sure to replace your file once it starts to wear out…mine is way overdue, and those edges won’t be helpful.

Here’s the picture I took when I thought I was all finished with this step…not quite:

Step 5 Your next task is THOROUGHLY scrub those nails…I recommend a nail brush to get all of the loose powder and residue OFF of your nails, and then actually wash them…yep, with water. You can skip the soap…alcohol coming soon…Get all that dust, etc rinsed off. Let them dry…and then we’re ready to move on to the next step…

Step 7 We’re almost there, y’all…ready for the fun part…but FIRST…once your nails are good and dry, take a swipe of alcohol and rub that over your nails to remove any oils or potential remaining residue…You can use a gauze pad, a clean, lint free cotton towel, or whatever you’d like – just make sure it’s clean and won’t leave anything behind…and will not soak up so much alcohol that none of it will get on your nails….

And, that’s where we will stop for the day, but not without a cautionary tale of a step I left out for you: Once I was FINALLY actually finished with all of the filing, I added a little of the protein cream that I love, here’s a picture of about how much I use on BOTH hands, so you can get an idea of how long this little jar will last. Skip this step. It’s really not a great idea in the middle of this process. I knew better when I did it…but, you know, sometimes your brain just lets you do things…that maybe…well…it knows you shouldn’t?

You’ll want to skip the cream – but you will want to dust off those nails so you have a clean working surface. I chose to use the cream just to protect that tender area around my nails a little bit…and I did wait an hour or so for the oils to soak in before I started on the next step. I should have done that the day before. You can do this when you are COMPLETELY finished with your nails…down to the last top coat…that’s when the oils are safe…that’s when you can add treatments.

Spoiler Alert: If you’re reading this because you just wanted to understand the PREP process, I hope you found this post helpful! But next is the fun part…the enhancements… the FIRST step to application is a high quality nail primer…DO NOT skip this step…it WILL make a HUGE difference in how well your gel adheres to the nail…I cannot say it enough…DO NOT SKIP THE PRIMER!

If you made it this far, please give my friend, Cat Ludeman a HUGE shout out for her contributions and edits to this post – without her, your nails would have been a DISASTER for following my advice. Wouldn’t you LOVE to see more of her work, and a few tutorials? Drop her a line in the comments, if so!

Much love, and I’ll be back with the next round of fill in a week or two! Because, you know, that’s when I’ll need to do my nails again. I look forward to your feedback and results if you do your own nails! I can’t wait to show you all the little tricks that my sweet friend has taught me!! You’re going to love it!

💜 Cindi

Tools and Resources:

Nail Files: I would recommend buying these in person – you want a good quality, firm file. If you choose to buy online, please read through the reviews thoroughly. This is not a very expensive part of the process, but can absolutely be a game changer. I have not tried a glass/crystal file…but I’d love to know if you have!

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