Nail Talk: Gel Manicures

I am one who has always been proud of my strong, fast growing nails, having swore off acrylics after the age of 17 (and my last prom). That was until a few months ago when I decided to try a gel manicure. I actually had no clue such a thing existed (I hadn’t been into a nail salon in years up to that point), but was all in when the nail tech told me they would last for up to 3 weeks. For a girl whose manicure is usually chipped the next day this was like handing me a million dollars (okay not quite).

For the first two weeks I was over the moon about my impermeable nails. I could wash dishes, type, and work without worrying about my nails! Then came week three and as per usual I was itching for a change. Unfortunately the tech failed to tell me that the manicure would be nearly impossible to get off (I had to buy pure acetone and a nail file) and that when I did finally manage to find my nail bed again… it would be virtually destroyed. For weeks I had to deal with brittle nails that were so thin they were peeling instead of cracking and not mention the ridges!

Apparently I am not the only one to encounter the negative “side effects” of the gel manicure. seeks the advice of a dermatologist and nail expert when it comes to these sturdy manicures in their article “What Your Nail Technician Doesn’t Want You to Know About Gel Manicures.” So if and when you need to resort to the gel manicure (like if you are going to hit the red carpet or get married) you at least know how to go about it!

If we know anything from years of experience with commercial tanning beds, it’s that UV light exposure is definitely not good for you. And there’s some direct evidence that the UV light exposure you get from nail procedures is potentially dangerous. Dr. Heidi Waldorf, Director of Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, told us, “There are two reported cases of skin cancers of the hand that were associated with regular UV nail dryer use.” A study commissioned by CND (yes, the nail polish company that makes the gel polish, Shellac) refuted the results of that study, but Dr. Waldorf still recommends taking precautions. “The problem is that UV damage is cumulative. So if you use the UV dryers now and again, it may not add up to much,” she said. “However, if you start with them on a regular basis in your 20′s or 30′s and continue, the risk will be higher.”
To avoid any unnecessary exposure, Dr. Waldorf recommends you apply a water resistant sunscreen before you go for a treatment. “However, remember that it will not be fully effective–part of the gel manicure process is cleaning the nails and therefore the skin around the nails and the fingers with acetone,” she told us. “If they have to remove the prior gel manicure, fingers are soaked in acetone for at least 10 minutes. No sun protective product will last through it.”

Dry, brittle nails post gel is not an uncommon complaint apparently. Jin Soon Choi, an expert manicurist and designer fave who just launched her own line of nail polishes, isn’t a huge fan of gels. “I don’t like the fact that they dry out the nail bed tremendously which, over time, makes your nails very brittle which makes them break off easily,” she told us.
However, she acknowledges that the durability is definitely a plus. Both she and Dr. Waldorf recommend saving gels for vacations or special occasions. And to prevent your nails from becoming a total mess, Choi told us, “Be sure to moisturize your nails and cuticles with Vitamin E oil constantly while you have gel on your nail.” To protect from the harsh, stripping effect of the pure acetone, use cuticle oil first to protect skin, then soak your tips afterwards in a bowl of vitamin E oil or coconut oil for some quick rehydration.

By Kristianne Young

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