Phone (541) 526-5570
406 SW Umatilla Ave.
Redmond, OR 97756, USA

Chemistry 101: Gels and Acrylics

Gel and Acrylic comparison overview

Each system has its strengths and weaknesses. McConnell Labs gels are typically more flexible and stronger than but not as hard as acrylics. Even though gels are more flexible, they can crack when flexed beyond their stretching point. Because acrylics are harder than gels, they have less flexibility and are typically thought of as being stronger.


Acrylic Systems—a short chemistry lesson

Acrylic systems use monomers in the liquid component. This monomer blend can be tinted with dye in order to reduce the yellow color of the monomers and create a brightened acrylic polymer; McConnell Labs acrylic liquid has a violet tint. Each monomer serves a function; some monomers give good adhesion (HEMA, HPMA), others react quickly (EMA), while others create flexibility and reduce allergenic tendencies (HGMA). Acrylic systems use a polymerized MMA or EMA in the powder component to give the mixed liquid/powder (LP) “body” so it can be placed on the fingernail and formed into an enhancement. The powder also contains benzoyl peroxide, which initiates the liquid’s reaction to form the polymer nail. While the liquids are reacting, they’re also wetting out and partially dissolving the polymer powder—this is why the clear powders don’t look clear in the container but become clear when mixed. The level of benzoyl peroxide can affect the reaction rate for the acrylic system. The more benzoyl peroxide, the faster the system will react. Also, the more EMA in the liquid, the faster the system will react. With the LE Acrylic system, Pretties can be mixed with the powder to create various colors and effects.


Gel Systems—a short chemistry lesson

McConnell Labs uses a combination of oligomers and monomers to create each gel. Each of these oligomers is chosen for their strength, hardness, flexibility, clarity and allergenic tendencies. A single di-functional monomer is often used with these oligomers but on certain occasions, other monomers are used to increase adhesion, decrease the strength of the gel, affect the durability, or to reduce the viscosity of the finished system. Gels also use chemicals called photoinitiators (PI). PI is used to start and continue the polymerization reaction on exposure to UV light. Each PI has a specific task; some work well in clear systems while others work well with white tinted gels. Some give deep curing abilities while others only cure at the surface. Some cure under visible spectrum light and others do not react at all. Each McConnell Labs gel product is optimized to react under certain specific conditions.



Monomers can be used in acrylics and gels. Some monomers have two reactive sites (di-functional monomers) and some only have one reactive site (mono-functional monomer). McConnell Labs normally uses monomers in its gels that wouldn’t work well in the acrylic systems. McConnell Labs gel monomer reacts very quickly under UV light and it is much less allergenic than acrylic monomers. Typical gel monomers that are not used in acrylics are: TRPGDA and TRPGDMA. Typical acrylic monomers that can be used in gels are: EMA, HEMA, HPMA, PMA, GMA and HGMA. The monomer that should never be used in gels or acrylics is MMA.




Oligomers are resins that have been reacted with other resins to form a larger resin close to being fully polymerized. McConnell Labs gels use a lot of oligomers because they are so large they have difficulty getting into the bloodstream and therefore are much safer to use. Some oligomers are flexible while others are not. Combinations of these oligomers can result in gel systems that are hard and flexible, thin and rigid, or somewhere in between. These oligomers—when coupled with the monomers—can help us to produce gel systems with greatly varying properties.



LED lights

LED lights are wonderful and will be the lamp our industry uses in the foreseeable future. LED at 405 and 420 nm lights are visible spectrum wavelengths that penetrate pigmented systems very well. However they are not UV and won’t cure most hard gels well. LED lights penetrate amber glass jars as well as some plastic containers. If you have a gel that cures under the 405 nm visible spectrum lights, it will cure inside the container unless precautions are taken. McConnell Labs has a new, better lamp in development and available soon. At that time we will no longer offer the Easy Cure or CFL lamp.


CFL lights

CFL (compact fluorescent lamps) have been the mainstay of the gel industry for decades. They use mercury to produce UV light. Most of the CFLs are now being produced in China and do not produce a reliable source of UV light; CFL lamps stop producing UV light over time. As the CFL is used in the salon, less and less UV light is produced. We suggest replacing the CFL after 300 hours of use; McConnell Labs recommends the Phillips lamp.