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7 Things You Should Know Before Getting a Gel Manicure

Gel manicures offer a long-lasting, mega-watt shine. But are they safe? Do they destroy your nails? Here’s what to know.

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is a gel manicure safeImage Credit: Shutterstock

Keep your nails healthy and polished

Opting for regular nail polish sometimes seems like a waste since the color easily chips off. One alternative, gel manicures, lasts much longer and generally costs more, too. It could be worth the investment if you avoid common mistakes and remember these things before your first gel manicure. (Also, learn if gel manicures are safe.)

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is a gel manicure safe gel polishImage Credit: Shutterstock

The upside of gel polish

“The perks of a gel manicure include its longevity (often ten days or more!),” says Mabelyn Martin, creative director at Paintbox nail studio in New York. Unlike regular polish, which can chip after two to three days, they’re borderline indestructible, which makes them ideal for weddings, special occasions, and vacations. Plus, gel manicures cure in seconds, Martin explains, so you can leave the salon without worrying about smudging your manicure. She also adds that while the gel is on your nails, it’s like wearing a layer of protective armor that keeps your nails from breaking. (Prefer regular polish? Here’s how to make your manicure last.)

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is a gel manicure safe uv lightImage Credit: Shutterstock

Be wary of UV light

The application of gel is not totally different from the application of a traditional polish, with the exception of the curing process under the UV-emitting lamps, according to Chris G. Adigun, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and nail specialist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And therein lies the potential problem. “These lamps are not to be underestimated, even though the exposure times are brief,” Dr. Adigun says. “They are very powerful and are emitting UVA rays far more powerful than those emitted by the sun.” She recommends purchasing a UVA-blocking sleeve, such as the YouVeeShield, and bringing it to the nail salon to wear while your gel polish is curing. LED lights are actually no safer than traditional fluorescent UV lamps. In fact, according to Dr. Adigun, they emit exponentially more powerful UVA rays, which is why the curing times are shorter. And forgetting to shield your hands is one of the sunscreen mistakes we all make.

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is a gel manicure safe damaged nailsImage Credit: Shutterstock

Know how nails get damaged

It’s not just the UV light that’s potentially damaging. While an experienced nail tech will always make sure the correct lamp is used with the proprietary gel polish for the recommended amount of time, it’s easy to mess up the steps. “Any alteration in these variables can lead to polish that is over-cured to the nail plate that becomes very difficult to remove,” explains Dr. Adigun. “A properly applied gel should literally ‘float’ off the nail with the acetone soak. However, when a gel is not properly cured, it will not come off, and needs to be manually chipped off, which is very traumatizing to the nail plate.” (Psst: Here’s why you have white spots on your nails.)

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is a gel manicure safe weaken nailsImage Credit: Shutterstock

Gel manis can weaken your nails…but it’s mostly due to the removal process

There is evidence to suggest that the gel manicure process can lead to dehydration and thinning of the nail plate. “In one study, nail plate thickness was measured both before and after a gel manicure, and thinning of the nail was observed,” notes Dr. Adigun. She says that acetone is known to thin the nail plate but the gel polish may contribute to the thinning as well. (Learn why you have peeling nails.)

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is a gel manicure safe removing gel maniImage Credit: Shutterstock

There are gentle ways to remove gel polish

Removing gel polish doesn’t have to mean complete nail destruction. For the most part, nail technicians remove soft gels with an acetone soak-off process. “Gently file the surface of the nail to initiate the break down of the outer coat of the gel,” says Jin Soon Choi, founder of Jin Soon Hand & Foot Spa, New York. Next, place a small piece of acetone-soaked cotton and cover with tin foil. Pro tip: Placing nails into a nitrile glove will speed up the process. After 7 to 10 minutes, the gel should be crinkling up. Finally, take a cuticle pushing stick and gently push back the debris. (Psst: Learn what the natural colour of your nails says about your health.)

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is a gel manicure safe too oftenImage Credit: Shutterstock

It’s possible to go too often

According to Dr. Adigun, it’s absolutely fine to get gel manicures every once in a while. “I simply recommend to my patients that they take gel manicure detoxes intermittently to allow their nails to rehydrate and repair.” (Here’s the best nude polish to wear when you choose to go back to regular polish.)

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is a gel manicure safe rehabImage Credit: Shutterstock

You have to rehab your nails post-gel

“You need to do major moisturizing after you remove a gel manicure,” Choi says. “Soak your nails in a warm lotion that contains vitamin E and use cuticle oil as often as possible.” Choi also suggests indulging in a salon paraffin treatment to aid in recovery. This will help repair any damage and strengthen nails.

Next, learn why you have ridges on your nails.