Some salons advertise Gel manicures and charge extra for them when indeed all you are getting acrylics or a "glue & powder application" with a UV dried top coat. See: What's the Difference? for more information.
The term Gel Manicure has been hanging around the nail salon for several years now, but in 2010 the term took on a slightly different meaning.
The nail industry developed a new type of gel that will replace nail polish in the salon as you know it today. This new generation of gel is very thin, flexible, is available in a wide range of colors (for French, nail art and regular polish look effects). The big bonus to you is while regular polish starts to chip and peel within 2-5 days, Gel Polish will last for 2 full weeks or more without chipping. Additionally, for most women, a Gel Manicure application will reduce breaks and tears of your nails, keeping them looking great in-between salon visits! Great news for weekly manicure clients, great news for the occasional and special occasional manicure client!
This application should be performed by a professional nail technician to avoid long term allergic and other reactions.
Prior to application, a regular or modified manicure service will be done by cleaning up and maintenance of the cuticle area. The nail itself (nail plate) itself needs little to no prep work - some brands recommend "removing the shine" with a light grit file or buffer block. The application typically will be done in 3-4 layers - a base, 2 coats of color and a top coat. Since the product is a gel, you will "cure" each layer in a UV lamp for 10 seconds to 3 minutes per layer depending on the brand and which layer is being cured. (See Are UV lamps safe? for more information.) When the application is complete each nail is wiped with a cleanser solution, and you are done. Your nails are completely dry, so very shiny and you can immediately dig in your purse for your cars keys!
Several different companies are manufacturing this new type of Gel Manicure/Polish, there are many similarities and differences from brand to brand.
The entire application or removal of old color and application of a new color should take 30-45 minutes
Some brands have a nail polish like smell. That is because one of the ingredients is nail polish. Those who are allergic to nail polish (rare but yes there are some people who are allergic) should not receive this type of service.
The brands that are not formulated with nitrocellulose solvent (nail polish's main ingredient) are gel resin and gel pigment. Customers who are allergic to acrylic or gel might or might not have a reaction to these products.
Primer for almost all these products is optional, it can make the application last even more than 2 weeks, but it might also increase the removal time.
All of these brands of Gel Polish can be applied over acrylics or traditional gels, but need to be filed off, not soaked. See Are drills safe? for more information.
As with any other nail service, the product should not come in contact with your skin - this can cause allergic reactions after repeated exposure.