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

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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 shouldn't weaken the nail bed — if applied properly.

If it's a pain for you to see your nails without a fresh coat of polish, it's fine to get regular manicures, so long as you go to the right salon. "When applied and removed correctly by a trained nail technician, gel manicures should never weaken your nails," Essie global lead educator, Rita Remark explains to Bustle. "In some cases, they can even be helpful for those of us who have peeling, weak or ridged nails to begin with. In these cases, gel manicures can actually shield your nails from further damage." However, she does explain that since moisture moves through the nail plate at a slower rate with any type of coating, they can appear to be softer or drier immediately after removing gels. "Your nails will slowly return back to their firmer structure after 24 hours," she says. Also, using cuticle oil daily can help combat dehydration.

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2. They can affect your nail health depending on how they're removed.

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 used for manicures are safe.

Gel manicures are cured with a UV lamp. While these lamps are responsible for these instant dry coats we love so much, many are under the impression that the UV radiation exposure to your skin poses a risk. However, Remark says that could not be further from the truth. "The bulbs in modern UV lamps are filtered and are completely safe," she confirms. But if you're still worried, wearing sunscreen on your hands can help combat any fears, 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. Additionally, Remark says you should never try to peel off your gel polish. "When people complain that gels ruined their nails, it's usually because they picked it off. Gel is formulated to last and grip the nail," she explains. "If you peel it off, you're also peeling layers of your nail with it."

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.

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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. During this time, Remark recommends using a treatment. "Use a nail strengthener for a couple weeks to a month," she says. "Essie's treat love & color line is a spectacular clinically proven nail strengthener that I give to my clients when their nails have weakened between gel manis." 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.

This post was originally published on December 31, 2015. It was updated and republished on August 30, 2019.

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