"I used to get regular manicures weekly," said Robin Straff, a real estate agent who gets the most popular UV polish, called Shellac, painted on at Heaven & Earth Salon and Spa in Lafayette Hill. "Now I can go every two weeks. There is no chipping, and my nails look great the whole time."
Nail product manufacturer OPI, a salon favorite, introduced one of the first UV-lamp polishes, Axxium, in 2008.
But the gel systems didn't get much buzz until Creative Nail Design introduced its version, Shellac, in May at Jin Soon Natural Hand & Foot Spa on New York's Upper East Side. Upon entering the salon, beauty editors were told to throw their keys in a bowl and fish them out after the manicure. According to Shellac spokeswoman Charity Guzofski, their nails remained perfect. Manicurists said clients liked Shellac better than Axxium because it could be applied more smoothly.
Within four weeks of its 12-color launch, Shellac sold out. And only now are local salon owners saying they are restocked with the full range of colors and supplies. It's available in 7,000 salons nationwide.
But the supply issues during the summer opened the door for other manufacturers to get their own UV-cured polish into the hands of salon owners. NSI of California came out with a system, and Gelish, by California-based Harmony, was released in October. It's enough to convince some professionals that the end is near for polish as we know it.
"I've been in the nail business for some time, and I think these are going to replace nail polish soon," said Cindy Kolodziej as she applied Gelish on a model at Bernard's Salon & Spa in Cherry Hill. The salon offers both Gelish and Axxium manicures for $48 and $40 respectively. (A regular manicure at Bernard's is $15.)
I think Kolodziej is right. The UV nail lacquers are a strong alternative for women who wear their nails natural - like me - and are simply tired of the chipping. It is also a safer choice than the long-popular acrylics, which describes both the use of acrylic powder and a liquid mixture to paint a protective coating over the nail, as well as an adhesive to secure a fake nail. When the acrylic is removed - sometimes with a mini-drill - nails are left brittle and weak. UV lamp-cured gels are removed by soaking your fingers in acetone for 10 minutes, and the nail remains strong, said Lisa Kasmen of Heaven & Earth Salon.
Although there are fewer chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, or dibutyl phthalate in the UV gel polishes, some warn that exposure to repeated UV rays can cause the same kinds of cancers you can acquire from too many visits to a tanning bed.
This is why, experts say, the process should be conducted by licensed manicurists - although I'm betting Wal-Mart soon will be selling these lamps for the DIY set. You heard it here first.
In the meantime, I can't wait to try it out. Perhaps I can be as happy with my nails this holiday season as 39-year-old Jamie Liebowitz, a mother of two.
"I love it. My nails are so much longer now," she said. "Even if you break your nail, it doesn't get jagged, and the whole manicure doesn't get messed up. My nails always look great."
Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at ewellingtonphl.