What is Japanese Gel | Update

After so many years of using Japanese Gel and being both a certified gel nail technician and instructor in multiple Japanese gel nail brands, I’ve always desired to simplify what Japanese Gel is to my students and you, my community members so that you can dive into and enjoy it just as much as I do.

So what is Japanese gel?

The key factors boil down to just 5.

  • #1 Gel that is made in Japan
  • #2 Gel that retains the traditional method of application from pots
  • #3 Gel that is primarily soak-off
  • #4 Gel that is solvent-free
  • #5 Gel formulated to ease various art form styles

In a general, most basic sense, that is what Japanese gel is. At least the three brands that you often hear me or see me use, are Kokoist, Leafgel, and Vetro, which are the ones I am certified in.

So, let’s talk about these 5 key factors and get into the nitty gritty of what Japanese Gel is.

Key Feature #1 Gel that is made in Japan

Yes, we really can’t start calling something Japanese gel if it’s not manufactured in Japan. The higher-end brands will also have their gels made with domestic Japanese resins and materials.

Again, made in Japan means that this is where the production occurs, mostly with domestic, Japanese raw materials.

In rare cases, at least that I know of, some brands will export raw Japanese materials and craft their own gels in a different country to reduce cost or for other reasons- that I don’t know of.

This is the case with the brand MAP Gel based out of Washington. Their products are made elsewhere, with the raw material being imported from Japan.

Key Feature #2 Gel that retains the traditional method of application from pots

If you and I could be transported and dropped in the middle of the show floor on one of the world’s biggest nail-only trade shows, the Tokyo Nail Expo, you will no doubt predominantly find potted gel at the booths. Every brand is pretty much a potted gel line. 

Part of what embodies Japanese gel is the tradition of applying your gels from pot vs bottle. In Japan, applying your gel overlays from a bottle, I’m told, is more for DIY. 

Key Feature #3 Gel that is primarily soak-off

Unless otherwise noted, all Japanese gel is intended to be ‘soak-off.’

Soma brands, however, will incorporate carefully developed hard gels to be used along with their soak-off gels.

For example, the Japanese gel brand Presto offers most of their base gels and colors as soak-off and their builder gel as a hard gel. Typically, most Japanese gel is soak-off. So, this brand is more of an exception. Do read or ask the brands what their products are before committing to them.

Another exception is one of Leafgel’s newest top gel, Supreme. Supreme is not soak-off, but it is compatible with the rest of their soak-off line.

Woo! We are learning so much about soft gel today. What better time than right now to introduce you to our channel merchandise?

I virtually sat down with one of the best nail tech merch designers, to design a super lovely graphic for our channel merch.

(I figured you didn’t want to wear my name all over you.)

So,… Introducing our first PPN copyrighted design, “Soft Gel Is My Jam”!!

Like, oh my gosh. Look at some of these samples, now available for ordering here.

Y’all, I’m so excited.

Your purchases support us continuing to make these videos and blogs and also I hope that they make you smile and be really enthusiastic about the niche nail artist that you are. This is a beautiful career if you allow it to be.

Alright, back to the topic!

Key Feature #4 Gel that is solvent-free

So without getting too technical…

If you’ve been in the industry since like 2009, then you may well remember the gel polish boom. Gel polish is not the same as nail gel.

Gel polish is gel that not only applies from a bottle but also has polish-like ingredients like acetates or other thin, liquid-y ingredients that are not resin.

Take, for example, our Nail Thoughts bottled gel. I would never call this gel polish because these formulas are 100% gel or resin.

It does not contain solvents or polish-type ingredients—the more common being ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, and sometimes some cellulose.

If you are unsure, simply ask the Japanese gel brands you are interested in if their products are solvent-free.

Products with solvents are great for DIY use, as they are not strong full gel, which can diminish the possibility of allergies.

Solvents also evaporate quickly even when you have a lid on your products, which is why so many times when you were using regular nail polish, you found that they got goopier and goopier. That is because their solvents have evaporated.

This was also the case with gel polishes; their consistency started changing and even deteriorating the bristles on bottles that just sat on shelves for many months or a couple of years.

This actually is something newer that I’m seeing in Japanese gel, the use of solvents in their gels. Not all brands, but for example, Lily Gel by Leafgel and even the Sanding Free + base from the main Leafgel Brand have solvents. It’s not a terrible thing, and Lily gel is marketed as a cost-effective, DIY, or entry-level high-end Japanese Gel Brand, and that’s wonderful that they marketed this way.

I personally don’t prefer solvents in my gels because my gel’s consistency can change or degrade after time when there is a solvent in the formulation, and I don’t want that as a professional. As a professional, I want top-tier, long-lasting, high-performance, full-strength products that are 100% gel because I am a trained technician who can use them with all safety precautions in mind.

Not only this, you’ll notice that all Japanese gel, from base to top gel, has a little viscosity to it so they create beautiful structure gel overlays. Some exceptions are Vetro’s Base Max and Kokoist Stain Barrier Top. These are very thin, even though they do not contain solvents.

The solvent-containing brands again, are a better option for DIYers, as they are not a full strength 100% resin gel nail product. This can reduce the risk of allergies. All gel must still be properly cured in its calibrated curing unit.

In the past, I’ve heard that some gel polish brands were also nail polish color mixed with gel in fact, there used to be these DIY kits, I remember now, that were marketed as turning any of your nail polish (or nail lacquer (however you refer to it) into gel polish by mixing gel and any of your nail polish… uhm no thanks.

So, #4 was a long one, but I think when it comes to trying to explain chemicals and safety, these conversations tend to go longer than I would like them.

Key Factor #5 Gel formulated to ease various art form styles

Now, this one is the big one in Japan, and these key factors are ranked in order of most defining characteristics of Japanese Gel, so for us actually in the US, nail art is not a huge thing, not for most of the consumer population in the US, it is not.

Japan leads with nail art.

In fact, maybe if you asked someone in Japan what is Japanese Gel they may just say… it’s nail art.

Their nail shows are full of nail art demos. They’ve got exclusive nail art magazines. And their gels are formulated with nail art in mind.

For this reason, in Japanese gels, you’ll often see art gels like mixing gel, ombre gel, or 3D gel, and even their colors are classified under texture level.

Japanese gel nail brands want to ensure that their gels are your answer to any nail art technique you envision or desire.

Bonus characteristics of Japanese Gel:

  1. No primer or dehydrator needed
  2. Most often also Vegan, cruelty-free, toxic chemical-free, but those aren’t really the biggest factors that define or make Japanese gel.

So let’s review these 5 factors one more time.

They are…

  • #1 Gel that is made in Japan
  • #2 Gel that retains the traditional method of application from pots
  • #3 Gel that is primarily soak-off
  • #4 Gel that is solvent-free
  • #5 Gel formulated to ease various art form styles

Thank you so much for hanging out with me, and please please check out our merch store.

If you want to learn Japanese gel with me, I created a non-brand specific course called the Master Gel Nails. You can learn more about it in the free masterclass link below.

Thanks and I’ll see you next week!

Content written by Paola Ponce.

Loved this blog? Then I think you’ll love learning more about my journey as a specialized gel nail solopreneur in the nail industry. Click here to get instant access to my free masterclass. These blogs are copyrighted material, and any use of this blog is not permitted without written concern first. Some of these blogs contain affiliate links that give us a small commission when qualifying purchases are made. Thank you for being so supportive, which helps us to continue creating valuable resources and content like this.

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