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. I had gel and Nexgen several times over the last few months. The process for removal damages natural nails in both cases. I will not get either again. Old fashion polish never ruined my nails. So back to old school nail care 🙂

  2. I agree that it can be damaging. I am a nail tech and they do make products if used correctly does not damage your nails. Nail products are manufactured to work together, so mixing product lines is not the best way to perform the service in a professional manner. I use cnd products. The shellac is not as harsh on your nails as gel and nexgen. The shellac if soaked right with nourishing remover will come off smoothly in 5 to 8 minutes using only orange wood sticks. The trick is to find a nail tech that sincerely cares about the health of your natural nails.

    1. You are right, Mara. I have found a new salon, they only use CND shellac, and they are careful about how they remove it. I’m doing much better with it now. They also recommend using the CND Solar Oil 2x a day, which I’ve been doing, and that seems to help as well. If they seem too dry, she won’t put gel on, but after going to her regularly for a few months, I seem to be doing okay. YAY!

  3. Just had the one manicure, and it was gel, and it was wonderful! For two weeks. Then as my nails grew it started looking weird to me. I decided to remove the polish myself (I didn’t KNOW! My polish remover did nothing!). I finally went and had to soak my nails in harsh acetone and I could FEEL my fingers drying out. Then the scraping began. Oh, I hated the scraping. It felt like a weird medical procedure. I just don’t have time for that. I did LOVE the gel look but in the end it’s not worth it to me. Never again. I’m doing it myself.

  4. I wanted a shellac manicure for my wedding, and the manicurists recommended I do a trial run of the style I wanted before the actually application, just to ensure that I liked the look of it. I had been told that shellac was better for my nails than acrylic tips and would last just as long without looking dingy. Well, I didn’t take into account my nails don’t always tend to grow out straight. Due to trauma as a child [catching my fingers in car doors, for example], a few of my nails curl down a little bit when they grow longer. After about a week and a half of my first shellac, I noticed the polish looked cracked, almost shattered. But everywhere I looked said it was normal and not to worry. Well, when I got that polish removed about three days before my wedding for my next application, I was shocked to see that my actual nail under the polish was what was cracked! I had a LOOOOONG tear in my nail, almost half of my fingernail itself! Nothing the tech could cut completely without causing serious pain. She put extra coats of shellac on the cracked nails, saying it should support it until it grows out enough to cut it. Well… that’s both true and false. While it did support my nail for a few days, the shellac cracked again on a few fingers, and I was forced to use some serious nail polish to even hold my fingernail together! I was tempted to use super glue, the tear was so bad. I managed to get through my wedding day without ripping the nail off, and while on the honeymoon the polish chipped and cracked and peeled off; it hadn’t even been a week! I made an appointment to get the shellac removed, and I was shocked to see just how short my nails needed to be cut, thanks to the cracks and broken pieces. It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve gotten it removed and my nails are still incredibly short, taking forever to grow, and seem much weaker than before. I’m going to invest in a strengthening nail polish to try to help, but, as I’ve told my husband, if I ever say I want shellac again… to smack me.

    1. That’s awful! I’m so sorry that happened to you. I have found that the technician can make or break the shellac manicure. I’ve finally found one who can do it gently, and I do use cuticle oil to keep my nails strong. I hope yours are better soon.

  5. Was just searching for anyone else who had had problems with Nexgen nails.
    My own nails have always grown beautifully and I have been lucky they have been strong. We got married in November last year so in September I had my first manicure at a local beauty college. The technician did a nice enough job but to be honest I would have been better shaping them myself. I asked her to put clear strengthener on to help them grow a bit longer for my wedding. I did not plan on having them done, just paint them myself.
    However, they didn’t grow… cue a friend who has her nails done very regularly. I went to have my hair done with her and I commented on how nice her nails looked. I was amazed that she said they were her own nails but with Nexgen on – which is supposed to be better for your nails. As my wedding was in 5 days time she booked me in straight away and I went to the salon not knowing what to expect. Anyway, you all probably know how it goes. Filed nails, acrylics glued on then the new Nexgen system etc.
    They looked beautiful but I have to say that the young Asian guy was over-keen on the filing though. He didn’t speak English and the salon itself has good reviews and friends use them a lot but I found it frightening rather than relaxing.
    The acrylic tips/Nexgen nails lasted 3 weeks but my nails in the meantime were growing really fast and you could see the beds of my own nails. They were on so tight that I think they would have stayed on for at least another 2 weeks but they were annoying me. So I did my research on how to get them off and followed the procedure at home. I live very rural and it would have been a 150 mile round trip and with a toddler it did not seem viable.
    Anyway, my nails are ruined. They were painful and sore. He actually must have filed away over 1mm! When you look at my nails from the side you can visibly see the ridge. I have been putting on strengthening nail polish but after a day or so it comes off the nail sections that were filed.
    I will never ever have another manicure or false nails put on. They did look amazing for my wedding day but I think it i a dangerous slippery slope because with the state of your nails afterwards you have 2 choices:
    1. To continue doing them forever because otherwise they would look so bad without your falsies
    2. Let your nails look bad for however long it takes then look after them. I am 41 so after having lovely nails for so long I wasn’t taking the choice lightly, but I am gutted that my nails are now very bad. The ‘whites’ of the tips are no longer even. Like a PP said I think they were traumatised. I just hope that they will heal fully, it has been 2 months so far and they just peel and split and are so short. I cannot pinch things with them as they just split.
    My advice: DON’T do it.

  6. So true about Gel. I had the strongest nails, but after 3 years of Gel,my nails became brittle. I would wash my hair and they would break! I am giving them a two month break at the advice of a new nail salon, and using Julep. I just thought my tough nails would never become weak! They did.

  7. I was really glad I came across this post. Heads up: I do sell Jamberry. But I am glad I read this because there was so much I didn’t know. After my boys were born, I never had time to go to the nail salon anymore, but that was good for my nails because acrylics- or the nail techs- had really done a number on me. I had never heard of gels until Jamberry released their gel system last year. I really appreciate this post and comments for the education on shellac and Nexgen… and it makes me feel better about myself- I thought I had done something wrong with the acrylics because everyone always seemed to love them and be fine with them, and now I know that it wasn’t just me, that it wasn’t my fault like the nail techs said all those years ago.

  8. As a professional nail technician and artist I must put my two cents to this article.
    You’re wrong. The gel manicure it’s self doesn’t ruin your nails. It’s how you take it off.
    A) no one should be submerging your nails in acetone to take off gel polish. There is a special nourishing remover for it and if the place you’re going to doesn’t use it go to a new place.
    B) uv lights for manicures are not harmful. The wattage is so low it’s crazy it’s no where near the strength of a tanning bed or anything you’d get from the sun. You’d need to sit under a gel manicure light for a week straight non stop to see anything happen to your skin.
    C) DO NOT GO TO ORIENTAL NAIL SHOPS! No I’m not racist but these shops and technicians are not properly trained or licensed by the state. When you go to a place to get your nails done, do not be afraid to ask to see their nail lisence issued by the state you live in. I’m not talking about a business license from the owner. The shop should have on file a nail technician license for each technician working in the shop. These places will have the owner go to school, obtain their license, open a shop and tech others to do what they do but working without a license is illegal and incredibly dangerous.
    Bottom line, do your homework in the shop before you get chopped.

  9. As a licensed nail tech who takes my job seriously I can say that the majority of problems people face with nail salons is the salon itself. As long as customers continue to seek services based on the lowest price, they will find they get what they pay for. Most nail techs are not qualified to do such services, many are not trained or educated in the states and a good number hold no license at all.
    Gels are not what is damaging your nails, the process in which they are applied and removed is where the problem lies. First, I don’t use a damaging UV light, I use an LED light which does not damage the skin. I do not file nails down, only the slightest swipe with a 400 grit file (most techs use very gritty files which destroy nails). I personally use Essie Gel which has some actual nail improving elements. When removing I use specific removing wraps which apply acetone just to the nails, no soaking. It takes 15 minutes, but it all comes off in that time, no scraping or prying. I then recommend jojoba oil as a regular hydration tool. It’s molecule is so tiny it penetrates the nail bed and all skin layers, it can go right through polish.
    Going to a ‘chop shop’ or place where protocol is not respected will not only expose you to poor skills and sanitation, but sometimes inferior product purchased illegally or from distributors who care nothing for health and environment.
    Lastly, I say this to all nail customers, the next time you have an experience where you feel your health or well being is being compromised by careless salons, contact your state health board and file a complaint. If you simply leave and never go back, nothing will ever be done to improve your experience, that place will keep doing the same thing and their price will keep people coming.

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