7 Things You Should Know Before Getting a Gel Manicure

Updated: Jan. 31, 2023

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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Are gel manicures good for your nails?

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. At home, you can get healthy, gorgeous nails with these tips.

woman's hands with nails painted

The benefits of gel nails

“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.

hand in an ultraviolet light device

Be wary of UV light with gel manicures

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 nail 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.

manicurist painting a person's nails

Gel nails need to be applied properly

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.”

shaping nails with a manicurist's tool

Gel manicures may weaken your nails

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. People guilty of these everyday habits are also wrecking their nails.

hand with nails wrapped in foil

Remove gel polish gently

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.

close up of a manicurist working on a customer's nails

Don’t get gel manicures 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.”

manicurist spraying a substance on customer's nails

Moisturize your nails post-gel manicure

“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. Continue the rehab process with these 10 surprisingly easy ways to grow strong, beautiful nails.