Bren Lee
May 13, 2016 11:37 am

Is there any better feeling than achieving the perfect manicure? Whether you do it yourself or you get it done at the salon, you know the manicure we’re talking about: evenly distributed color with no nicks, chips, or bubbles. It’s even better when it lasts a long time, which is part of the reason we love gel manicures. They have a lightning-speed dry time, they last much longer than a traditional manicure, and the shiny, glossy color doesn’t budge no matter what.

It sounds almost too good to be true, and well, it kind of is. Gel manicures can be prone to cracking or splitting, especially once the color starts to lift off your natural nail. A writer at Bustle decided to look into why this happens, and came across some great information from Nails Magazine, a trade magazine all about nails that’s geared toward industry professionals, such as nail technicians and artists. Nails Magazine tapped Melisa Hansen, an educator for Akzentz, a brand of products for the professional nail technicians, who gave some insight as to why your pricey gel manicure can sometimes crack.

There are 3 key reasons as to why it happens:

Structure & Placement

Your natural nail has a shape, and if your polish doesn’t follow this natural shape evenly throughout the placement of polish, cracking will happen on the side or in the middle of the nail. If too much polish is applied on the sides or on the base or tip of your nail, it will lead to lifting and splitting. You should apply your polish using the most product in the middle and thinning out toward the sides.


When nails are over-filed and/or overly shaped, it weakens the sidewalls of the nails. The weaker the nail, the less able it is to hold on to the lacquer, which can lead to cracking. When filing your nails (or getting them filed), make sure you’re only filing in one direction instead of a back-and-forth sawing motion. The latter agitates the free edge of your nail and makes it weaker and more prone to splitting. Filing in one direction feels better, looks better, and is better for your nail health as it won’t leave behind any jagged edges.

Type of Gel Polish

Some gel formulas are more flexible than others, which means some will work better for you than others. Those with naturally weak or soft nails will want a more flexible formula. If you have naturally strong nails, your nails will need a stronger gel formula. It can be tough to pick out on your own what kind of gel formula works best for you, but a good nail technician should be able to look at your natural nails and gauge the health of them. Once he or she does that, they can help decided on the right gel formula. Unfortunately, some nail salons only use one kind of gel brand, so you may need to go elsewhere for your manicure.

Some of this info can actually apply toward manicures with regular nail polish as well. If you apply the lacquer too thickly, it basically suffocates itself and can’t dry down properly. This can lead to bubbles and/or your nail polish staying tacky, which basically means a smeared, dented manicure is in your future.

Manicures also can break down when applied to an oily nail bed. Our hands and fingers have natural oils that can migrate onto our nail beds, and when you apply polish right over that, it won’t adhere correctly. To avoid this, wash your hands with soap and water before painting your nails. After you dry them, use a nail primer, like Deborah Lippman’s 2 Second Nail Primer, to remove any residue from your nail bed. This is not the same step as a base coat.

Finally, one of the most surefire ways to extend the life of your manicure to check the expiration date of the polish you’re using. If your polish is really old, the formula will start to break down. Make sure you’re using a polish that hasn’t expired or hasn’t been aerated. Lacquer formulas with to much air in them lead to bubbly manicures as well, and in general, using old nail polish means you’re going to end up with a sub-par manicure. If your polish smells funky, has started to separate, or you’ve had it for, like, 10 years, toss it and grab a new, unopened bottle. Hey, any excuse to buy new nail polish, right?

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