Gel manicures give us everything we want from a nail salon visit: a high-shine finish that’s long-lasting, chip-free and low-maintenance. It’s a no brainer to opt for a gel manicure over a traditional nail polish – if you can spare the cash upfront, that is, and it can work out as value for money in the long term.
But while they look good, are they doing good? Do gel manicures damage your nails and what can you do to limit that damage if you can’t ditch the habit?
HuffPost sat down with nail experts to find out what they had to say about where to go for gel manicures, how they should be applied and removed – and whether it’s ever advisable to do it yourself at home.
Yes, Gel Manicures Can Be Damaging
A gel nail manicure uses UV liquid gel polish that’s applied over a clear base coat, and finished with a top coat, at each stage nails are ‘cured’ – or set – under UV lights.
Any manicure or artificial nail treatment has the potential to leave your nails thin and brittle, says Dr Deidre Buckley of the British Association of Dermatologists.
Even the simple act of pushing back or trimming your cuticles can lead to infection, nail fold swelling and nail plate damage if carried out carelessly.
“To minimise damage to your nails, you should allow your natural nails time to repair between artificial nail applications and go to a professional for both application and removal of the artificial nails,” Newman tells HuffPost UK.
Always go to a qualified manicurist
She advises to check your salon is using a high-quality brand for its gel manicures that’s legal in the EU – ask them – and make sure the products they use are from the same brand to ensure the best finish. “It’s also important that the UV lamp used is properly calibrated to cure the UV gel polish,” she adds.
Her go-to brand is CND (or Creative Nail Design), which she describes as a hybrid between traditional polish and a gel, and which looks sleeker on the nail. She also says it’s the “fastest to remove”, compared to other UV products on the market. You might know it by its brandname, Shellac.
A good gel manicure should last two to three weeks before you’ll need to have it safely removed at a salon. To keep gel nails looking their best between visits, apply a nail oil daily, advises Newman.
We love Nails Inc Superfood Repair Oil, £15, a handy jar you can keep at your bedside and apply each night. “Nail oil will penetrate the gel coating to keep it flexible and also keep the surrounding skin healthy”, explains Newman.
Avoid doing gel nails yourself
Doing your own DIY gel nails at home is possible, with sites such as Amazon selling kits of polish and UV lamps. However, it’s not something that Newman recommends. “Even though they are sold to the consumer, UV gel polishes should be for professional use only,” she says.
The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) last year identified that (meth)acrylate chemicals – the key ingredients in acrylic nails, gel nails and gel polish nails – were causing a ‘contact allergy epidemic’.
The study raised concerns about all three options, even when professionally applied, but advised the public to be particularly wary of gel polish home kits,
“It is when the uncured products come into contact with any part of the skin that sensitisation to the chemicals can occur. This is very likely when people apply a product themselves, or if insufficient training has been given to the nail technician.”
Those suffering from allergies are mostly consumers using the products, Newman believes. It is easy to under-cure UV gel polish, she says – this is when your nails feel dry and ready to go, but actually need longer under the lamp. There is a higher risk of allergic reaction in this situation. It is also easy to leave nails under the lamp too long and this in turn can damage the nail bed.
“Consumers treat them like traditional nail polish and very often with the wrong lamp,” she says. “Unfortunately, some brands have been very greedy by selling these to the public.” So keep the DIY to your home, not your nails.
Make sure your gel polish is removed correctly
While it is the most satisfying feeling to peel off your gel nails one by one, it’s no good for your nails. You knew that, right but here’s Laura Southern, founder of House Of Lady Muck, to remind you. “You should never pick your gel off as this will damage the nail bed – always make the time to get these removed at a salons.” Dr Buckley at the British Association of Dermatologists confirms this: “People may be tempted but it’s likely to remove the top layers of the nail bed.”
Typically, gels are removed by buffing them off with a nail file, which sounds easy enough but again, it’s imperative you got to a certified professional, says Krisztina van der Boom, co-founder of salon of the moment, DryBy.
“There is a concept called no-buff Shellac, which means your technician does not have to buff the nails to remove the gel polish. Damage to the nails occurs when during the take off process nail technicians ‘over-buff’ the gel touching the natural nail plate, taking off layers of the natural nail together with the gel.”
Van der Boom implores gel fans to steer clear of electric files, otherwise known as drills, which while may be quicker (and sometimes cheaper) but can cause a lot of harm. “Using an electric file can cause nail trauma that can take up to nine months for your nails to recover from,” she says. Noted.
What can you do if your nails are damaged?
If you’ve given in to temptation and picked your gel or Shellac off, or had them poorly removed, the damage is not irreversible and there are treatments available that can remedy the effects.
The best professional treatment available on the market, according to Newman and Van der Boom, is IBX, which penetrates the nail and gives it support and strength from within. The clear solution is applied to dry nails, sealed by putting them under gentle heat followed by a UV lamp, before another clear layer is applied to strengthen the nails, and then sealed again under heat. Prices for an IBX treatment in a salon start from £15 and with regular use, it provides a protective shield to prevent nails from breaking and ridges from forming.
For an at-home treatment, CND Rescue RXX, £11.15, came recommended by all the nail experts we spoke to. The oil-based formula is a two-week treatment that’s applied to bare nails and massaged in.
“Its active ingredient is keratin that will penetrate the nail plate and support the natural keratin in the nail,” explains Newman. And now you have that nailed, all that’s left is picking your next colour.