7 Gel Manicure Truths To Know Before You Make Your Next Nail Appointment

A little piece of me dies inside every time I successfully paint my nails to perfection and ruin it the instant I make a bathroom run. Even worse is that walk of shame back into the nail salon when I actually pay for a top notch mani then nick the polish as soon as I leave. That's what makes a gel manicure a godsend! They last for weeks, chip-free, and not even the most smudge-prone mani fanatics could ruin them with their ability to dry instantaneously.

With all the hype behind them, I think we can officially call gel manis a sensation. You can now purchase your own kits and try doing them yourself, plus there are gel-like polishes that don't even require a UV lamp to set. For those with a not so steady hand (such as myself), the semi-permanent manicure is truly a life saving (or, at least, nail saving) invention.

However, as perfect as a gel mani sounds, all that glitters is not gold, no matter how much that polish sparkles. There are still some need-to-know truths about a gel mani every woman should remember. Before rushing out to the salon for this magical polish, check out these seven gel mani truths.

1. They weaken the nail bed.


It may pain you to see your nails without a fresh coat of polish, but regular trips to the salon may lead to weakened nail beds. As celebrity manicurist Miss Pop told Seventeen.com, that thick coat of gel polish does not allow your nail beds or cuticles to breathe much. Routinely getting gel applied — and regular polish too, for that matter — can dehydrate your nails and thin out your nail plate. A gel manis' long wear also makes drying out your cuticles possible. Using cuticle oil daily helps combat dehydration, but ultimately, even just a one-time set of gel polish weakens the nail a bit.

2. They can affect your nail health.


As with regular polish, gel manicures can begin to lift and peel. When this happens, water can seep under the gel. As the polish locks in this moisture, bacteria and fungus can form underneath, celebrity manicurist Jenna Hipp told Teen Vogue. In some cases, you may risk infection. Keep in mind that it's also important to not pick at your gel polish when it lifts. Layers of your nail can come off with it, further thinning the nail plate.

3. UV lamps have risks.


Gel manicures are cured with a UV lamp. While these lamps are responsible for these instant dry coats we love so much, any kind of unnecessary UV radiation exposure to our skin always poses a risk. Your nails may not spend much time under the UV lamp during the manicure process, but frequent trips to the salon make a difference. Dr. Lyndsay Shipp told NPR that UV lamp exposure varies from one machine to another, and with a lack of regulation on these devices, it's difficult to asses the full extent of their damage. Wearing sunscreen on your hands helps, but you may want to opt for an LED lamp if your salon offers them as alternatives.

4. The removal process can be damaging.


Gel polish is applied just like regular polish, with the addition of UV lamp curing to harden the product in between each coat. However, the removal process of gel polish requires far more time and careful attention. Technicians generally soak cotton in acetone and wrap them around your nails with foil to soften the polish. The technician will then gently scrape off the gel after about 15-30 minutes of soaking. This process is harmful for two reasons: Acetone dehydrates your nails and if a nail tech is not gentle enough when scraping and buffing off the product, this can weaken your nails further. Repeated use of acetone causes the nail to become brittle and peel, according to Dr. Susan Taylor. Your nail plate will definitely need a strengthening formula or moisturizer to rehydrate and repair them once the removal process is complete.

5. Gel and Shellac are practically the same.


CND Shellac, invented by the Creative Nail Design company, is another product offered in salons that works just like gel polish. So then what's really the difference between the two competitors? Like gel polish, Shellac is cured under a UV lamp and lasts for weeks. However, from my experience, Shellac seems to have a glossier finish and the coating is a bit thinner. Both polishes are soaked off with acetone, but I did observe that the removal process was a little easier when I opted for Shellac over gel for a few months. I also observed less damage on my nail plate after letting my Shellac nails go. According to The Apprentice Beauty Blogger, Shellac is more of a permanent nail polish while gel is simply that: a gel in the form of a polish. Nevertheless, both have beautiful finishes and can do their fair share of damage if not treated properly.

6. You can do it yourself.


If you're anything like me, you may not trust yourself to do your own gel mani. But it can be done! Sally Hansen, SensatioNail, Kiss, and a host of other reputable brands have at-home gel polish kits you can try, LED lamp included. Be sure to follow their instructions to a T, however, if you want to ensure that your pretties last. Doing it yourself may save you some cash in the long run, but they may not hold up for the full two to three weeks that salon quality gel manis can guarantee.

7. Breaks between manis are key.


The best way to be sure you're keeping your nails healthy is to give your gel manicure a vacation. Back-to-back appointments won't give you a chance to properly asses your nail damage. Yes, you may cringe a bit if you're not accustomed to seeing your pointers without a fresh coat of paint. However, your nails will thank you when you give them time to heal. Take it from someone who went months without seeing her natural nail only to find a horrid green spot under her lifting polish (still recovering from that one)!


Gel polish is probably the closest we've come so far to the perfect mani that's almost impossible to ruin, so I can see why they're so coveted. Still, maybe a gel mani isn't as safe and impenetrable as we once thought. Though it may take a little effort and care to maintain healthy nails while frequently getting a gel mani, I think it can be done.

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