First off, let’s get things straight – Essence The Gel Top and Base Coat is NOT a gel product. Gel products have small plastic particles called monomers or oligomers, which link together and form a durable coating when a chemical called a photoinitiator is activated by light. There’s a full explanation of the gel polymerisation process here, but in short, it’s like the monomers are chocolate chips spread over a tray, and the photo initiator makes them melt and harden together as a single sheet. Usually the photoinitiator is activated by UV light from a lamp, such as in Shellac or other salon or home gel products.
Recently though, a few gel products have come out which are activated by exposure to normal light – Sally Hansen Miracle Gel is the most successful one. The top coat contains a light-activated gel – in other words, a photoinitiator and some oligomers. Here are the ingredients:
Ethyl Acetate, Butyl Acetate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Cellulose Acetate Butyrate, MEK, Adipic Acid/Neopentyl Glycol/Trimelliticanhydride Copolymer, Nitrocellulose, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Sucrose Benzoate, N-Butyl Alcohol, Ethyl Trimethylbenzoyl Phenylphosphinate, Etocrylene, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/IPDI/PPG-15 Glyceryl Ether Copolymer, Aqua/Water/Eau, Diamond Powder, Alumina, Methyltriethoxysilane, Platinum Powder, Silica.
The key ingredients here (as far as I can tell, anyway!) are ethyl trimethylbenzoyl phenylphosphinate, a photoinitiator, and hydroxyethyl acrylate/IPDI/PPG-15 glyceryl ether copolymer, which are oligomers that are linked up by the photoinitiator (I think – the FAQs from Sally Hansen say “oligomers”, but it doesn’t say how long any of the polymers are in the ingredients list so this is my best stab). The coloured polishes also contain this oligomer, so when the photoinitiator starts linking the oligomers together, the top coat will theoretically bond with the colour coat too, making the whole manicure more durable.
Essence’s version though, does not contain a photoinitiator, so it can’t undergo a polymerisation reaction to make a plasticised layer. Here are the ingredients for the top coat:
Ethyl Acetate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Butyl Acetate, Cellulose Acetate Butyrate, Acrylates Copolymer, Trimethyl Pentanyl Diisobutyrate, Triphenyl Phosphate, Polyester/Polyamide Resin, Alcohol Denat., Shellac, Dimethicone, Benzophenone-1, CI 60725 (Violet 2).
Instead, it’s a normal top and base coat with a “gel look” finish. It’s a little dodgy how prominently they feature the word “gel” and the fact it’s housed in opaque packaging, but it’s a pretty awesome product, and most people would be able to tell the difference anyway.
The base coat dries matte and is a tad lumpy, but flattens out once you put nail polish on top. However, it’s the top coat that’s really got me gagging for more! It dries as fast as a quick-dry top coat (more about those magical quick dry top coats here), but lasts longer than most with minimal chipping and tip wear! Here’s what it looks like after a week of wear, with the matching base coat (please excuse my thirsty skin):
Essence The Gel Top and Base Coats are $5.10 each – I think they’re a great, easy-to-find alternative to Seche Vite if you want a longer lasting mani. They’re my go-to top and base combination at the moment!
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