I'm a serial gel mani wearer, and this is what I do to keep my nails healthy
As a beauty writer—not to mention someone who has meetings with beauty brands on a near-daily basis—I feel it’s my responsibility to look the part. While I don’t always have the energy to blow dry or curl my hair, shave, or even regularly apply makeup, I always make the time for a gel manicure. Why, you ask? Unlike my freshly curled fine hair that can fall flat within minutes or makeup that can become smudged within hours, gel manicures are built to last. Plus, skincare and sleek, middle-parted buns are a thing now, so I can sneak by.
But back to gel nails. There’s just something about picking a color or design and plopping down for an hour while you watch a beauty statement—one that doesn’t have to be washed away at the end of the day, the second day, or even the seventh day—come to life. And that’s precisely why for the past three years I’ve gotten more gel manis than I can count. With a gel nail appointment booked every two or so weeks, not to mention the growing concern over frequent gel appointments, you might wonder how I have any nails left at all. And trust me, we’ll get to that. But first, let’s start with the basics.
What is a gel manicure?
Put simply, gel manicures are a high-shine, rock-hard nail finish that won’t chip for weeks on end. The crack-proof formula is to thank for that. Unlike traditional nail polish that, at most, requires a base, two color coats, and a topcoat, gel manicures require the extra step (or steps, rather) of sealing each coat (base, color, and top) with a UV or LED light. While the extra work may seem off-putting, the fact that it ensures your nails will look fresh out of the salon for up to 21 days is well worth the effort of doing it yourself (there are kits for that!) or sitting patiently while a professional manicurist does it for you.
What are the downfalls of gel manicures?
The long-lasting effect of gel polish is undoubtedly swoon-worthy, but the side effects can be less than inspiring. That’s because, if you don’t have your gel removed with extra care, it can peel off the top layers of your nails along with it. The result? Brittle, ultra-thin nails that seem like they simply won’t grow, no matter what you do. Trust me, I speak from experience. What’s more, since UV lights radiate harmful ultraviolet rays, without proper protection it can lead to premature aging of the hands—no fun (but you can use LED light to get manis, so ask your go-to nail salon what they use). This leads me to the next section…
What are the tricks to maintaining healthy nails?
When it comes to loving the convenience and polished appeal of gel nails as much as you value the health of the beds underneath, there’s only one option: to learn how to care for your nails so well that, despite getting potentially damaging gels, they remain in tip-top shape.
Depending on who you ask, you may hear that this is impossible—but fret not. After being nothing short of addicted to gel manicures, I’ve developed an easy-to-follow routine that ensures the nail technique won’t demolish your nails in the process.
Here goes: Before walking into my gel manicure appointment, I slather my hands with SPF-infused hand cream like Supergoop! Forever Young Hand Cream With Sea Buckthorn SPF 40 ($38). After the last layer of gel is fully cured, I generously coat my cuticles with Olive & June’s Cuticle Serum ($30) and go on my merry way. From there, I attach the habit of applying the O&J goodness to my lip balm routine, so that every time I hydrate my lips, I grab my little pink pen and cater to my nails and cuticles too. Once I begin to notice chips, I do my absolute best to not pick and peel the gel (as, just like with pesky pimples, that’s the worst thing you can do). Once the chips become too much, if it’s a soft gel manicure, I’ll soak my nails one at a time in the Olive & June Nail Polish Remover Pot ($8) for five minutes each and gently scrape the polish off. I’ll then use the Dr. Dana Nail Renewal System ($49) to give my nails a little extra TLC before heading right back to the salon. If, however, it’s a hard gel (which means that it’s harder (duh) and more tightly-bound to the nail), I’ll head back to the salon for removal so as to not seriously damage my nail bed and then hop right into my next gel appointment.
But there’s a caveat…
How long of a break should you take between gel manicures?
Some people will say getting back-to-back to back gel manicures is a nightmare waiting to happen but, with a well-planned break, that’s not the case. Every three months or so I take a week or two off from gel polish, rehab my nails with the Dr. Dana system, and either use the ZOYA Naked Manicure Gelie Cure System ($65) (which is a gel-like treatment designed specifically for gel and acrylic-damaged nails: “The Naked Gelie is latching onto the Rescue Serum and Repair Base, so it isn’t actually being applied onto the nail plate,” explains ZOYA’s Creative Director Rebecca Isa) or apply a few thin coats of Olive & June 7-Free Nail Polish ($8) (which, mind-blowingly enough, has lasted a straight week with no chips).
I’ve followed this process like clockwork for the past two years and, believe it or not, my nails aren’t awful. They’re no model-level almond-shaped length, but they’re clean-cut and pain-free, so it’s A-okay by me—especially since, ICYMI, short, well-kept nails are in.