The Chemistry of Gel and Shellac Nails


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Gel and Shellac nails are different sorts of polish and fake nails that can be put on finger nails of anyone. Gel is a stronger more flexible fake nail while Shellac is a stronger and thicker nail polish that doesn’t break or crack as easily.

I choose this as my Chemistry of because I have Gel nails and I get them done quite frequently. In getting them done I was curious to how they worked and looked so nice at the same time. There actually is a lot of chemistry involved in Gel and Shellac nails, and if I ever end up doing nails i’d like to know the chemistry behind them.

My life is affected by my project because like I said before I get my nails done and they affect how my nails look. Gel nails are a big part of my look and i’ve had them for about 2 years now.
Composition of ...
I will start by explaining the composition of Gel Nails, Gel nails are formulated with several different combinations of oligomers. Oligomers are a molecular complex that has many monomers included in it. The two main ingredients of Gel nails are the Photoinitiator, which jump starts the polymerization process and the other main part to Gel nails is the Ultraviolet light. The UV light starts the polymerization process when the Gel is put under the UV light. So pretty much the PLS (photoinitiator) takes the UV light in a creates the energy needed to start the polymerization process. The Polymerization process is when all the little molecules in the gel are going crazy and moving all over, when they get put under the UV light they can’t move anywhere making the Gel harden, and then become the nail. The composition of the Shellac nail polish is very similar but just a little different since it’s just a polish and not an actual nail. Shellac nail polish is a mixture of methacrylate monomers and radical initiators (Benzoyl peroxide). When these two mix under the UV light they create a Radical polymerization process. This is a different process because the polish is thinner and not as thick as the Gel.

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

The two main components of Gel nails are the Photoinitiators and the UV light.

  • Photoinitiators are the oligomers and the monomers. With this mixture, when put under the UV light it starts the polymerization process.

  • UV light is the other main component and controls how the Gel will stay on the nail and makes the Gel connect onto the nail. The UV light starts the polymerization process when the Gel is put under the UV light. The UltraViolet light also lands on the light spectrum at about 400 wavelength and in between X-ray and Infrared. Also UV lights are an electromagnetic radiation.

Shellac’s two main components are Radical initiators and Methacrylate monomers.

  • Radical Initiators are a substance that can produce radical reactions under mild conditions. The radical reactions, is the Shellac connecting to the natural nail, under the UV light.

  • Methacrylate are monomers that easily form polymers because the double bonds are very reactive. Its used on nails because it gets hard and dry fast when put under the ultraviolet light.

Chemistry's Role

The Chemistry/Chemistry Reaction of Gel’s are when the Gels are placed under the UV light and the chemistry takes place. When the Gel’s are put under the UV light the polymerization process takes place while this takes place the oligomers and monomers in it that are in the photoinitiator, harden from the UV light. The photoinitiator gets the energy from the UV light so the molecules can’t move any more and they have to be still therefore forming the Gel nail. When the Gel nails come out of the UV light they are still a little sticky so you rub some Isopropyl alcohol (which can also be used to keep infections away from an open cut) on them when they're finished and they should be very dry and not sticky anymore.

Then the Chemistry/Chemistry Reaction of Shellac is about the same. The polish for Shellac is thinner and has dye in it so it has the same reaction when put under the UV light but comes out thinner and has color while Gel is clear (Shellac can be clear too but who wants clear nails?). The methacrylates monomers are a little different than the monomers from the Gel because the Gel monomers make the gel thicker while the monomers in Shellac make the polish thinner. Theres a lot of Chemistry in nails period even just regular nail polish so it was a cool project to do, and find out what was actually happening to my nails while they get done.

Background Research

In Gel’s components The Photoinitiators are found in both nature and in industry’s. Photoinitiators are found all over the atmosphere. In industries photoinitiators are used mainly to promote polymerization processes. (that’s funny cause that’s the main reason on it’s used on nails)

Background on the UV light is mostly a lot about the sun and how it comes from it. UV light is found in sunlight and emitted from electric arcs and specialized lights such as mercury lamps and black lights. UV lights are somewhat natural because their found in the sun and tanning beds where people tan.

Shellacs components like the Methacrylate refers to a methacrylic acid. Methacrylates are common monomers in polymer plastics, forming the acrylate polymers. Methacrylates are man made as far as I could find. Recently, organic−inorganic hybrid nano building blocks of methacrylate-functionalized polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxanes. These were easily prepared and separated in their pure forms, which are helpers to monomers to prepare any hybrid polymer. This was some weird background information I found on methacrylates.

And then Radical Initiators
are utilized/made in industrial processes such as polymer synthesis. Some examples are halogen molecules, azo compounds, and organic and inorganic peroxides. These all have to be man made to be what they are. I found a lot of background information while looking into all of these components of the Gel nails and Shellac Polish!


Talking about how the gel stays on the nails

How the gel cures to the nail

Talks about how Shellac differs from regular nail polish

How Shellac forms and what makes it different

Talks about what makes Gel different than Acrylic nails and how it doesn’t smell

More about how the Gel works on the nail

Basicly what Shellac is and how long it lasts

How Shellac is different than gel

How to get Shellac off if you need the polish off

Talking about Acetone

Nail polish remover/Shellac remover


Talking about the main components in Shellac nail polish

What they are and how they work

Talking about the main components in Gel nails

What they are and how they work

Wikipedia also helped me find a lot of stuff under the Chemistry’s role but mostly just for Gel nail stuff

About the Author

Maddy Evenson is a Junior at Billings Senior high and is involved in choir, piano and private voice lessons. Maddy likes to hangout with her boyfriend Chance a lot, and go out with her girlfriends too. Maddy enjoys the beach and plans to go to college in California and learn about Psychology. Her interests include nails (of course) ,clothes, shopping, skiing, swimming, and having a good time wherever she may be. :)