To Gel Manicure or Not to Gel Manicure? That Is the Question.

To Gel Manicure or Not to Gel Manicure? That Is the Question.

Posted by Matthew Smith on

Listen, gel manicures are great for many, many reasons: the extra shine and the way they last without chipping, just to name a couple. But have you ever really thought about the science behind a gel mani and the effects it can have your nails? We thought so. But that’s where we come in because we love helping you figure out ways to have your healthiest, most beautiful nails—whether you use gel polish or not.


What is a gel manicure?

Gel polish technology is unique because it paints on like traditional nail lacquer, but the gel has a chemical composition that enables it to harden—or cure—to a glossy finish using a UV light. This means you don’t have to sit and wait while your polish dries. In addition, gel manis typically last two to three weeks and are much more chip-proof than a regular manicure or pedicure.


How much are gel manicures?

Prices will vary on gel manicures depending on where you live and the type of nail salon you choose. But they are typically about $5-$10 more expensive than a regular manicure. This often lands around $35.


Will getting gel nails cause damage?

Yes, gel manicures can result in a thinning of the nails. The Miami School of Medicine conducted a study that used ultrasound technology to demonstrate that that this was a possible side effect of gel manis. However, the authors of the study concluded that it was unclear whether the source of the thinning was due to the acetone soak required to remove the gel or the actual chemical composition of the gel polish itself.

Another cause may be if the gels are incorrectly removed. Over the many years of her dermatology practice, Dr. Dana Stern has observed that most of the damage from gel manicures occurs during the removal process which can be highly variable.


What is the proper method of gel removal?

If you are at a salon, ask how the product will be removed and make sure they won’t be using a gritty file, sander, or another similar tool to vigorously scrape the product off. These methods can cause tremendous—and sometimes irreversible—damage to the nail, as well as the cuticle and the nail matrix, the area where your nail starts to grow.

The companies that make these gel products have very little control over whether their products are being removed properly. Gel polish should come off easily after soaking in acetone. If it is not easy, something is wrong. Remember that acetone is also extremely drying to the nail and surrounding skin, but it is necessary in order to remove gels and many other artificial nail applications.


How often should I get gel manicures if I want to keep my nails healthy?

Dr. Dana’s advice is to enjoy the occasional gel manicure or pedicure before a big trip or a special event where chips are going to be a nuisance. But you should avoid doing them every two weeks, as this will lead to nail damage and dehydration. Dehydration also occurs from the long acetone soaks required to remove the product.


Okay, but what if I do continuously get gel manicures?

Dr. Dana reports that she sees tons of women in her office who get regular soak-off gel manicures, and many have the damage mentioned above like thinning of the nail plate or dehydrated and brittle nails. But some seem to tolerate these gel manicures and acetone soak removal with very little negative effect. The removal process is key here and we want to reiterate that this is often where significant damage can occur.

You also want to make sure you’re caring for your nails in between gel manicures. Just like we need to deep condition our hair from time to time, to help it recover from all the heat and chemicals we apply to it, we need to do similar treatments to ensure healthy, beautiful nails.


How can I get my nails back in shape if they have suffered damage from gel manicures?  

First, you will want to take a break from gel manis and regular polish altogether. This is the perfect time to take care of what Dr. Dana refers to as our “nail canvas”. When you do resume polish or gels or dips, the underlying nail will be healthier and stronger.

While you’re on a break from the salon, you can do a lot to bolster the health of your nails.  Anytime is a good time for Dr. Dana’s 3-step Nail Renewal System, but especially when you’re giving your nails a rest from gel polish and looking for an effective nail rehab solution. The easy-to-use system creates a glossy, natural nail in just 10 minutes—no polish required. This way your nails can look beautiful and presentable, as if you’ve gotten a natural nail mani.


What else should I be looking for in products to help rejuvenate nails that may be damaged by gel polish and acetone soak removal?

When taking a break from manicures, it is vital to have a good understanding of product ingredients so that you know what products to look for to enhance nail and cuticle health. There are loads of products on the market that claim that they help brittle, weak, dry, and dehydrated nails and cuticles.

Here are a few ingredients that will help your nails:

  • Emollients and moisturizers that are rich in phospholipids such as sunflower oil, and Brazil nut oil.
  • Keratolytics like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid
  • Strengthening agents like Pistacia lentiscus

Just like you care for your skin, don’t neglect your nail health.  Your nails are a significant part of your appearance and regular maintenance will give you great results, whether you decide to start getting gel manicures again or not.

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