Just Say NO to Gel Manicures

You’ve heard of it, right? Gel? Shellac? The nail polish that dries with a UV light and stays on for two weeks?

I’ve even been known to sing the praises of the gel manicure.

gel manicure

But not anymore.

Gel manicures have ruined my nails.

(I have also tried Shellac — I do not find a big difference between the two. When I say “gel manicure,” I am referring to gel or Shellac.)

At first, it wasn’t so bad. I mean, I knew it couldn’t be good for you. I’ve heard that the UV lights may be a cancer risk, and if the nail polish itself doesn’t wreck havoc on your delicate nails, the removal process sure does. (To remove gel nail polish, they soak your nails in acetone for about 15 minutes and then if it doesn’t peel right off – as it is supposed to, but rarely does – then they use a sharp instrument to pry it off, and then oftentimes file your nails down, trying to remove all the remnants.)

Every time I go through this process, I sit there and think, This can’t be good.

But oh, the lure of a manicure that lasts for two weeks . . .

So I kept going back.

When I started getting gel manicures, I could get a few in a row, and my nails would be gorgeous for a few months. Then I’d take a break and let my nails recover. I didn’t mind. I could go on a vacation or get through holiday season without having to worry about chips and splits, and it was wonderful.

But then the last few times I got a gel manicure, one time was all it took. It would come off and leave my nails thin, peeling, splitting.

And it did this nasty thing to my nail beds — they would recede and the white part would go deep into my nail, almost halfway down towards the cuticle. I am so mad at myself for not taking a photo to show you how horrific my nails have looked!!! I kept meaning to and never got around to it.

The last time I had a gel manicure taken off, and my nails were like paper, and the whites were receding, I had a regular manicure at a blogging event. She looked at my nails and said, “You’ve been hard on your nails!” We got to talking, and when I asked her about the gel manicures, she wasn’t a fan. She told me the receding whites of my nails is due to “trauma” and they just had to grow out. She determined that it was probably from the way the nail technicians removed the polish so roughly. She said she sees it all the time and basically confirmed to me that the gel manicures were ruining my nails.

That was it for me. I quit the gel and FINALLY, after 2 months of going without any polish, my nails are almost back to their typical healthy state. I’m finally not embarrassed to show my hands in public!

I am done with gel manicures. I will use regular old fashioned chip-in-a-day nail polish or nothing.


5/18/2016 UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, I have started going to a high end nail salon where they do gel manicures properly. They are still hard on the nails, as the gel polish tends to be drying, but with faithful use of CND Solar Oil and a nail tech who uses proper gel removal techniques, my nails can withstand gel manicures now. YAY!

Some of my favorite CND nail polish colors right now are: Studio White, Winter Glow, and Creekside. They are available in Vinylux (not gel) as well as the Shellac.

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77 thoughts on “Just Say NO to Gel Manicures

  1. Some other teachers and I were just talking about this last week! I can’t stand for people to touch me, so I’ve only ever had one manicure and it was just regular polish. But, after one girl told us how hard it is to have a gel manicure removed, we all decided against them! Sounds painful!

  2. I agree..they LOOK beautiful and they last a super long time. But…by the time the gel was off my nails were in shreds and I vowed never again. It just can’t be healthy in the long term.

  3. I go to a friend for manicures about once a year. She recommended the gel so I went for it. I am ultimately low maintenance so a manicure that lasted 2-3 weeks sounded awesome. After 3 weeks with no chipping but space from the grow out, I removed it. It took forever. Also almost all my nails were cracked where it turns from pink to white. So, not only were my nails stripped I also had to trim them way down. It took about 3 weeks for them to grow out.

    I am really fortunate my nails are quite white and grow well. I usually just file off the rough parts and they look nice. So back to my low maintenance methods.

  4. I’ve never had a gel manicure. I’m very low maintenance when it comes to my nails – I do them myself at home – a simple file, buff, and clear or light polish. After a terrible bout of nail fungus (which I’m still battling) that my dermatologist says was most likely from getting a salon pedicure, I avoid nail salons all-together.

  5. I had one gel manicure. It was awesome! But…..I was too cheap to pay to have it removed so I did it myself…what a pain!!! I don’t typically paint my fingernails a lot anyway so I will not do again. Not a fan!

  6. I have done it once and after the removal I vowed to never do it again. I do however, think it depends on the type of salon you go to. My sister works at an upscale salon and was horrified when I explained to her how my polish was removed (which was just as you described). My sister said where she works they have special nail sized pads that they apply and the polish comes right off. No soaking for 15 minutes, no tools used, just wipes off. Of course manis and pedis where she works are 3 times the cost of a “normal” salon…I guess in this instance too you get what you pay for.

  7. Nay to gel nails. I, too, had this same experience. I have restored my nails to a healthy state using a product called NAILTIQUES nail protein. It is to repair damaged nails due to artificial nails.

  8. I got a gel manicure twice and both times I removed it myself with acetone but no scraping. The removal process was such a pain that it just wasn’t worth it. I just wear clear on my nails and save my manicure splurge money for my pedicures.

  9. So glad you posted this. Gel manicures are aweful. I get Vinylux now and it’s SO much better and lasts just as long. My nails aren’t weak and brittle after.

  10. Glad you posted this. I had actually thought about doing the gel just hadn’t. I have done the solar in the past cause I like them for a while but then hate what it does to my nails so stop. Have been trying to find a good solution. I tried the NexGen nails last month cause they were not suppose to be as harsh on your nails and last. They did last for 3 weeks. They were ok, but pricey. I ended up just taking them off and doing a regular manicure just cause I stink at painting them myself

  11. I’ve had them done twice now and I loved it while they were pretty. Taking it off is another story. It really does take the layers off your nails and soaking in acetone just feels awful! I’m glad you posted this too because I’ve been tempted slightly to go have it done again for the holidays.

  12. I’ll never do it again, either! Same experience as you, Jo-Lynne. Tried the press- ons, too. Did the same damage. Think of the money AND time we’re saving!

  13. I’ve had about three gel manicures and, like you said, loved them at the time. But i hated the removal process and the way they left my nails. I’ve never had even two in a row, so mine have always had time to “heal.” But I don’t like the fact that they have to “heal!” So even before reading this I had already decided “no more gel manicures!” I totally agree!

  14. You know, it’s odd how we all function sometimes. With your heart-felt emphasis on health, real non-processed, non-chemical food, sensitivity to your body, etc. … it’s crazy to me that you’d be into gel nails, as you describe them. (I’m an old fogey and don’t bother much with my nails, so what can I say?) But you also love fashion 🙂 So there’s an obvious contradiction here for you. I’m glad to see you come down on the side of health over fashion 🙂

  15. I had gel manicures for over 2 years. I might have continued them but the polish started lifting and peeling so i just had it taken off. My nails were very rough and ridged. It took a couple of months to grow out. Won’t do it again but won’t give up my nail polish and certainly won’t give up pedicures. Nothing looks worse than long unpolished toenails with sandals.

  16. I have had two gel manicures. I don’t know the first brand and the second one was an OPI I got done at Ulta. The first time I got the manicure on the morning before I went out of town for a long weekend. I had a chip in two nails the next day. The thing I had been doing that was so hard on my nails? Reading my kindle on an airplane. I hadn’t even done the dishes the night before we left or done anything else that could chip my nails–oh wait I did wash my hair that morning. How horrible!

    The second one lasted 3 days before chipping. OPI was no better than the brand I can’t remember. Which is funny because OPI regular polish lasts on my nails the longest if I use Orly bonding base coat and a quick dry top coat. And both times I was able to peel them off in huge chunks without any real effort. I have to admit, once my nail polish starts chipping it isn’t long before I’m picking at it. They didn’t damage my nails, but they sure didn’t last either. What a waste of money!

  17. I don’t think they were really meant to be a permanent thing — remove then immediately add another. I think are nails need time to recoup in between any kind of nail products we use. I actually don’t like having the same color for two weeks and change them often. But I try to give my nails a break of a day or two in between. One of my favorite top coats is Julep’s Freedom Polymer which is really thick and dries really fast. When I use it people always ask me if I have gel nails. It gives the illusion without the pain of 15 minutes of acetone — There would be no way I could do that. I once had a reaction from only five minutes, it looked like the tips of my fingers had the top layer of skin peeled off.

  18. I have to admit that I like the look of gel manicures but can’t afford to keep them up. I also know that my skin is super sensitive anyway and soaking even just my finger tips in acetone for 15 minutes makes me cringe. I prefer cheaper manicures….just because I’m cheap. 🙂

  19. I recently had someone suggest L’oreal Colour Riche nail polish. They say that this polish, used with the base & top coat, will last for 10 days. Haven’t tried it yet.

  20. I had the same thing happen with my nail beds and guess what, two and a half years later (after having gel nails done twice) one nail still has not reattached! I will NEVER do this again and I highly discourage anyone from having them, even once. I am not hopeful at this point that it will ever reattach and according to my dermatologist, there’s not much you can do to get it to grow back.

  21. I did my own gel at home using the Sensationail system and cringed every time I did it (but I did it anyway). I’ve since started using Sephora’s Formula X system which is a total godsend. I actually wore a color for 6 days last week with no chips. I plan to do a review soon and there are some good ones on YouTube. Slightly more expensive than regular polish but it feels worth it to me. I also like Sally Hansen nail strips but there aren’t enough options (or solid options) for that to be a real solution. Cheers to healthy nails!

  22. I used to get them religiously about a year ago..and then I stopped, completely. They yellowed my nails with scratches from the filing on it. I hated it, so I let it be for a while, so that my nails would grow back, and have never gone back to gels again.I like it natural or just with simple nail lacquer..

  23. Been going through the same thing for 6 weeks trying to let my nails grow back to normal!! Nails still breaking and splitting. 🙁 have cut them as far back as I can to try to prevent breaking. No more gel nails for me!!

  24. I have been getting gel manicures with CND or OPI bi-weekly for the past two and a half years. My manicurist soaks them off but barely has to do much except barely push what’s left after the soak off with a cuticle pusher. I love mine! After years of acrylic nails, the gel nails are just easier for me, and since I keep them short and am rather rough on my hands, most always look nice and neat. My fingertips feel a bit dry after the soak, but I combat that with a good hand cream. My nails are normally thin and break and peel easily, and regular polish doesn’t even last through the day for me. I guess I’ve been a lucky one with my good experiences.

    1. LUCKY! It sounds like your manicurist does a good job with the removal. I think that it is the removal that killed my nails, more than the polish. Although those UV lights do scare me.

  25. I am a nay. I rarely do my nails anymore since it chips so easily while gardening and cleaning the house. Plus, the cost is one of those things that we trimmed when deciding that I would stay home. I think you made the right decision to not do it again.

  26. It’s a No for me, I use to get them done religiously every two weeks but saw an expose on the long term effect and stopped. Now I just learn to take care of my nails and its growing back slowly but surely.

  27. I stumbled on this website doing some research on these nails.
    All I wanted to add to clarify several comments being made is that the fingernail takes anywhere from 6 to 7 MONTHS to replace its self and not “weeks” as some are saying in their posts. Just thought that might be helpful information to add.

  28. I love gel polish IF anyone knew how to remove them!! You find very few people who know how,and you get the wrong person doing it and your nails are wrecked for months. The last time I had them done, the guy was prying and filing and wow..just horrible….I stopped him part way through it and told him he was ruining my nails,but by that point it was basically too late. I think the issue is many supposed nail techs do NOT know how to remove the polish properly and are giving the gel polish a bad name. It is so simple,yet basically no one seems to do it right. All you need to do is to buff off the top layer of the polish (not the nail,just the polish) and once the ‘seal’ is buffed off, take a cotton pad soaked in acetone and place it on the nail and wrap with foil for about 15 minutes. It should basically melt/flake off with a wood stick with little to no effort. There should be no filing or prying. So to prevent this I need to either basically school every new person I come in contact with in regards to my nails,or do it myself.Both are a

    1. I think you are right – they always do that awful filing thing to mine. And a friend managed to get hers off without doing that and her nails were fine. I’m not sure I want to try it again tho. What a pain! LOL. 🙂

  29. Hello, I came across this post after googling another product. I am a licensed nail technician myself. I just want to say that its NOT the gel manicure that damaged your nails. Its an uneducated nail tech that damaged your nails. You are not supposed to have to scrap off gel polish. If done properly soaking it should be sufficient, it should just lift off the nail. Soaking them in acetone may not be the best for it but thats where a proper manicure and proper hydration comes in. Lotioning and oiling up your hands cubicles DAILY also plays a part in proper maintenance. Im sorry you had a bad experience but it’s not the gels fault, its whoever does your nails fault. As far as the uv light goes you get more uv/sun damage driving to the salon than you do the 2 to 5 minutes your hands are under the light. I hate that good nail techs get a bad rap because of the crappist ones that dont bother with educating themselves. There ARE places you can go where they actually know what they’re doing and care about you and your nail health. F done the right way gel polish and acrylic both should do ZERO damage to your natural nail. Just wanted to throw that out there. You just have to find the right tech. 🙂

  30. Amber is correct it isnt the products that damage your nails, also with the uv gel polish the only time a file should be used is in shaping the nails and not on nail bed. also when removing them theyshould lift easily with the acetone, I have them and doing courses for nails techs you learn the right way and wrong way of doing nails, My nails are fine good condition i do like to give them a rest for a few weeks but this is through choise and not because there a mess. If you dont like the way your nails have ended up try a different nail tech till you find one who does it correctly…. I hope you have a better experiance next time x

  31. I tried acrylic nails once, and it took over a year for my nails to recover, so I will never EVER get those again. I also tried the gel once as well, but it didn’t look natural to me, and I was concerned about damaging my nail beds, so I went back to just standard manicures with nail polish. I was frustrated with this, because it didn’t seem to matter how careful I was, it would inevitably chip by the end of the week. I then did the shellac for 3-4 years, and found after about 6 months of repeated manicures, my nails did seem more prone to splitting than they were before, so I’d let my nails “rest” for a month before I’d go in again. Last year, I found Nexgen, which costs $5 more than shellac, and not all salons offer it. With Nexgen, your natural nails are buffed, the bottom coat applied and then you dip your fingers in the powder (color of your choice), and a top coat is applied. It takes about 5 minutes to dry but unlike gel or shellac, no UV or LED lights are needed. It doesn’t chip, flake, peel, or split, and makes my natural nails virtually indestructible.

  32. Sounds like you guys need to try Vinylux by CND… It is a form of gel that dries like nail Polish and comes off the same way with an acetone based nail Polish remover… no soaking for 10 mins… Nice and fast and lasts for two weeks.

  33. Forgot to add that if you dip your nail in the same bottle as another person or 100’s of people you can still get fungus as that container can not be sanitized if missed. Some salons are not sanitary so please beware of their cleaning habits.

  34. I’m a licensed manicured and have been doing nails for 20+years. I Will say this, you will need to do your research to find a reputable manicurist. Not all the manicurists you find in these budget salons necessarily know what they are doing never mind most aren’t even licensed. I beg you to find a place that uses quality products and a salon that properly follows the sterilization and sanitation guidelines from the state. Find a place that does nails PROPERLY. Ask questions on how they remove product and at any point you feel uncomfortable or of the tech is hurting you in anyway, say so. I see so many women keeping their mouths shut and allowing these places to completely ruin their nails. If their using a drill, ask to see their certification from the classes they have taken to learn how to use it properly. If they can’t answer any of these questions, leave. It’s not worth the risks. I’m horrified at what does on in some salons. Educate yourselves.

  35. I am looking for a NexGen salon near Chicago!
    I had a NexGen mani done 3 1/2 weeks ago at a salon when I was visiting my daughter in Dallas, TX and other than my nails growing out, they look AWESOME!

    1. Me too Kathy. Same experience exactly. Visiting my daughter in the Dallas, TX area–she’s been doing NexGen for a while. I’m going on my 4th week and other than them growing out, no problems. But…no one in the north AL area does them:(

  36. Definitely nay! Did Shellac just once and now my nails are totally ruined!! I’ve never had brittle nails before 🙁
    Strong chemicals on your nails is probably not a good idea and stuff can be absorbed into your system….

  37. You need to do your research! I’ve been a nail tech for 30 years and pride myself on doing quality work and using quality products. Uv lamps do NOT cause skin cancer . If a uc gel is removed properly it causes no damage to the nail. The nail tech is responsible for the damage if any is caused. Not only do you need to go to reputable salons but make sure they are sterilizing their implements. I’ve had on acrylic or gel for over 30 years and never had a problem.

  38. I know this post is old, but I just had to chime in with my experience with gel nails. I have been doing mine at home with professional soak off gel products (CND Shellac and Essie Gel), for 6 months. I have no damage to my nails due to this process. The comments about how the nail technician are removing the gel are spot on. If the gel is properly soaked for the right amount of time (approx. 20 minutes) it should require almost no effort at all to remove. Most of the time, it flakes off completely on its own. I soak my gel with either a cotton pad soaked in acetone and a foil square, or a gel nail remover wrap made specifically for this purpose that I buy off of Amazon.
    Soaked in acetone, and wrapped for 20 minutes. I have never had to file or scrape my nail bed to remove this gel. It seems as though there are a lot of improperly trained nail techs responsible for ruined nails. What a shame.

    1. I do think you are right. The nail technicians I’ve been to are too rough. I have just settled for regular polish for now and I’m trying to go to better (read more $$$) places :-))

  39. i have to disagree. I’ve been regularly getting gel manicures about every two to three weeks for a little over a year now. My nails are naturally too thin to grow out because they bend too easily but the gel gives my nails enough strength for them to grow out so i can finally have long nails and i love it! If you remove them yourself of course there will be damage, just like acrylic nails. But if you get them removed by a professional theres very little damage, if any at all. Ive never had to wait between polish changes for my nails to heal, so if you can get the right salon that knows what they’re doing, gel manicures can be enjoyable. Just thought i would share 🙂

  40. That would be a NAY for me. I am experiencing pain in my nail from the gel manicure. They would use an electric file to remove the gel polish, but I knew that was not the correct way of removing the polish. I would feel pain from it, so I stop getting the gel nail and went back to just polishing my own nails. The gel nail also damage my nails, I am taking a Biotin to get them back healthy.

  41. I’ve read your article, and as a salon owner, educator and nail tech for the last 28 years, I must comment. First off, gel Polish does not ruin your nails. Uneducated nail techs do. UV light has never shown any proof of their 9’watts of light damaging skin or nails, but any good nail techin the year 2015 should be using LED light, like I have for the past 4’years. It’s quicker, gives no heat spikes and is more economical and modern. What wrecks the nail plate, which is a dead protein, is the scraping of the gel polish prematurely. If done correctly, it should only be pushed off with an orange wood stick, plastic pusher, or steel safety bit on an electric file. There is no need to scrape the nail or soak it indefinitely. Unfortunately, as in most industries, the bad outshine the good. So please, next time you write another disparaging article, talk to the successful, professional nail techs first please.

  42. I’ve been a nail tech for over 30 years and I can tell you that it is not the product that damaged your nails. It was the nail tech. Improper removal of any enhancement can cause damage to the nail. Do your research and go to a reputable salon not a discount salon. Uv lamps do not cause cancer ladys.

  43. Gel manicures look fantastic but i just had mine taken off today and it left my nails looking horrible and it also hurts really bad (left my nails really thin and with cuts in the middle of them down to the skin under my nails).

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