About two years ago, gel nail services took the professional market by storm. Promising up to three weeks of glossy, chip-free polish, women addicted to perfectly manicured nails quickly adopted the salon super-mani. But, there was one nail player obviously missing from the game: Essie. That’s changing this month with the launch of Essie Gel.

Why now? When L’Oréal acquired Essie in 2010, the focus was to build its business in the mass market, expanding into major retailers such as CVS, Walgreens and Target by early 2011. Now that that’s under their belt, Essie is laser focused on building their professional business. “Gel services are 38% of the total professional market and still growing at double digits. Now that we’ve established Essie in the mass market, the Essie Gel launch is a huge commitment to the professional market,” said Gerald Densk, General Manager of Essie, Professional Products Division, L’Oréal USA. Essie Gel is rolling out right now to their current nail distributors and salon-centric locations in the United States, which is more than 25,000 salons, as well as Canada. It will launch globally in early 2014.

Coming to the party fashionably late has some benefits. “We took the time to do extensive research and found that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the current gel systems. Women complained about the scraping and chipping required to remove gel color and how damaged their nails felt afterwards,” said Gerald. Essie Gel is formulated to reduce nail damage with a “keratin-care technology,” a blend of fortifying pro-vitamin B5 and hydrating vitamin E derivative, that’s incorporated into every step of the gel system, including the remover. Additionally, Essie’s gel color is less viscose than current competitors and therefore easier to break down with remover. The Essie Gel application process is similar to competitive systems, consisting of a prep step, base coat, two coats of color and a top coat, all cured with an LED light. Results promised are 14 days of beautiful color and amazing shine. Suggested retail for a manicure is $35.

So does that mean that you can now get Ballet Slippers on your nails for two glossy chip-free weeks? Almost. “Because gel color doesn’t have as many pigments as regular lacquer, it’s physically impossible to make gel shades that match our retail shades with 100% accuracy. Since we are a natural nail color authority and know that our customers would notice slight variations in color, we couldn’t use the same names,” explained Gerald. The solution: A shade chart that suggests gels colors based on Essie’s best-selling retail polishes. “If you love Ballet Slippers, then Dance Class is your new best friend,” added Gerald. Essie Gel will launch with 36 colors, and introduce 24 additional shades in January 2014 and 12 more in September 2014.

To support the launch, Gerald has pulled together a dedicated educational team, consisting of a director and 18 nail technicians to ensure clients are properly trained in using the new system. Additionally, there is a new advertising and marketing campaign, and in October, Essie will launch a new website with educational videos and tips on how to use Essie Gel. “We’re really excited to rededicate ourselves to the salon business,” said Gerald.

Is an at-home gel manicure system in the works for Essie? Not yet. “Right now we only view this as a professional service,” said Gerald.