When I first started telling my mom I was getting gel manicures on a regular basis and that I considered them the single best invention since eyeshadow primer, she raised her eyebrows and assured me they would be the death of my nails. Think about it, she warned me, anything that stays on that long is unnatural and can’t be good for you!
Did I listen? Of course not. Am I curious about the actual effects this so-called poisonous substance has on my hands? Yes. But as it turns out, we gel devotees can take a deep breath. There’s a bit of misinformation out there about gel manicures and what’s actually causing damage to our nails and cuticles.
“The term ‘gel manicure’ is often misunderstood,” says Dasha Minina, a certified nail technician and founder of strengthening nail care brand Maxus Nails. “There are two types of gel manicures: gel nails and gel polish. Gel nails are an artificial nail enhancement that can be applied over the natural nail and used to extend the nail to make it longer. Gel polish is a colored nail polish in a gel form that is cured under a UV or LED lamp. Gel polish cannot be used for nail extensions. Gel polish itself does not ruin nails. I would blame most of the nail damage due to improper removal, or carelessness.”
In order to reduce the amount of damage that can be done, Minina says she highly recommends removing gel polish at home before you visit a salon because you then have the luxury of giving it enough time to come off of your nail so that scraping doesn’t become necessary. “It’s the scraping of the polish that is still attached to the nail that is ruining the nail plate,” she says. “The natural nail plate is roughly 100 dense packed cell layers, and each time you scrape the nail plate with a metal object (or try to peel the gel polish!) you are removing nail layers, leaving the natural nail plate thinner, weaker and more susceptible to breakage.”
The best thing you can do to remove a gel manicure is purchase pure acetone in a beauty salon shop and soak nails in the liquid until the polish can be removed without a great deal of effort, Minina says. If you must, a wood stick can be used to gentle guide some polish off the nail, but Minina suggests applying oil or moisturizer to the nails and skin surrounding the nails in order to keep the area hydrated.
If you’ve ever wondered whether you should give your nails a “break” between polish sessions, Frank Busch, the lead chemist at Cutex Brands Nail Polish Removers, says traditional nail polishes don’t block moisture transfer from the nail and don’t require a mini vacation between polish changes. But UV-cured polishes, which he says aren’t as healthy as traditional polishes (also known as nitreous cellulous), present a greater risk of fungal infections and damage–so breaks are recommended.
“For UV-cured and acrylic nail polish, do not wear more than six weeks without giving your nails a week to rest,” Busch says. “Even six weeks can be too long for some people. I’ve seen so many severely damaged nails from acrylic being left on too long. You’ll see fungal infections develop in the nail and they’re hard to remove, so when they are removed in the salon it can cause even more damage. It takes a long time for the nail to recover from that.”