How can I Protect Myself During a Gel Manicure

Blanche Palasi
Blanche Palasi9 Mar 2023

Gel manicures are a durable, inexpensive, and fashionable way to do your nails. These manicures can be tough on your nails and hands. Protecting and hydrating your cuticles are key to nail care. Because the skin on your hands is very delicate, you can invest in proper tools, lamps, and sunscreens to prepare your nails for gel polish. Fortunately, there are simple measures you can take to keep your nails as healthy as possible. 

Nail Preparation

If you’re doing your gel manicure at home or in a salon, there are steps you can take to ensure the health of your skin and nails. Take the following steps to protect yourself through every stage of your manicure, from nail preparation to removal.

Clean and disinfect nail tools. 

The skin on your hands and around your nails is very delicate. When scraping at the nail plate or treating cuticles, you might cut yourself and expose your body to bacteria. You can prevent infections by ensuring your nail tools are cleaned and sterilized. This can be done quickly by washing your tools with soap and water, followed by disinfecting them with isopropyl alcohol. This step is essential at nail salons where nail artists see multiple clients daily; to prevent the spread of infections and fungus, ensure your nail tools are clean. 

Push, don’t cut, your cuticles. 

Cuticles are important protective barriers to your nails. You may want to cut off dry and damaged cuticles before applying nail polish. Removing overgrown cuticles before a manicure is necessary to ensure the gel nail polish sticks to the nail plate. However, pushing the cuticle back works just as well as cutting them. You can achieve this with a wooden or metal cuticle pusher, gently pushing at the cuticles bordering your nail to expose more of the nail plate. This will give you a larger surface area to apply nail polish while eliminating the risks of inflammation and infection.

Don’t skip sunscreen.

Regular direct exposure to UV and LED light during gel manicures can damage the skin on the back of your hands. This increases the risk of wrinkles, skin thinning, and skin cancer. A study from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons showed that the hands are one of the first body parts to reveal signs of aging. One of the best ways to retain elasticity and volume in the hands is to wear sunscreen, especially underneath a gel lamp. 

Another protective measure to consider is to invest in fingerless gloves. Dermatologists recommended wearing a physical barrier to minimize the effects of carcinogenesis and photoaging caused by UV lamps.

Choose the right lamp. 

Gel polishes are cured by either LED or UV lights. LED lamps have lower radiation levels than UV and are less harmful to your skin. In addition, LED lamps can harden polish in as little as 30 to 45 seconds, while UV lamps take two minutes.  

After Your Gel Manicure

To ensure the health of your hands and nails, you can continue to care for your hands and nails. These steps will prevent your gel polish from chipping and minimize unnecessary damage to your hands caused by your manicure. 

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Hydrate your nails and hands.

Keeping your hands moisturized when you have a gel manicure is essential. Regularly applying hand cream after washing your hands prevents dryness and keeps your gel nail polishes from lifting. 

Key ingredients in your lotion can protect your hands and nails. Retinols and retinoids promote cell turnover, collagen production, and hydration. Vitamin C helps slow signs of aging and wrinkles. Including BHA and AHA exfoliants in your hand creams can minimize sun damage and fine lines. Incorporating healthy foods into your diet is also important for protecting your skin’s natural moisture barrier.

Apply cuticle oil daily.

Cuticle oil nourishes the skin around your nails. Applying cuticle oil promotes not only nail growth but also ensures the longevity of your manicure. After regular application of cuticle oil, you should notice less nail chipping and fewer hangnails. Keeping your nails hydrated is crucial to the durability and health of your gel manicure.

Removing Your Gel Manicure

Gel manicures are very durable, further evidenced by the rigorous removal process. When taking your gel manicure off, it can be very easy to damage your nails. Harsh chemicals and nail tools used to remove your gel polish can damage your nails. 

Do not pick or peel off gel. 

If you see lifting from your gel manicure, you may be tempted to pull the polish entirely off your nail. This improper removal process can cause nail brittleness and breaking. When gel polish is cured with a lamp, the polish is bonded to the topmost layer of your nail. Removing the gel polish with too much force also removes this layer of your nail, making your nail plate thinner. 

Protect your nails from acetone.

Acetone is the most common way to remove your gel manicure. However, soaking your nails in acetone can thin your nail plate, causing weaker nails that are more prone to breaking. To minimize the drying effects of acetone, protect your cuticles with a layer of petroleum jelly or cuticle oil.

Remove your manicure properly.

Although acetone can be damaging to your nails, proper removal techniques will reduce nail brittleness. You can go to a nail professional to remove your gel manicure, or you can follow these steps to remove your polish at home:

  1. To use acetone most effectively, use a file to break through the top coat to make the acetone easier to penetrate through the layers of nail polish.
  2. Using cotton balls approximately the same size as your nails, soak the cotton in acetone and place it on your nails.
  3. Cover your nails and cotton balls with aluminum foil or plastic wrap to avoid acetone from dripping onto your hands.
  4. After 10 minutes, remove the cotton balls and gently remove any remaining nail polish with a wet washcloth.
  5. Lastly, protect your nails with petroleum jelly or cuticle oil.
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Take breaks between manicures. 

If you consistently apply gel polishes to your nails, consider giving your nails a break to heal and recover from the damaging effects of gel manicures. Having gel manicures on for extended periods can cause your nails to discolor and thin. 

It takes nails up to 6 months to grow back completely. However, experts suggest even a week break at least once every eight weeks is beneficial to allow your nails to recover between manicures. Skin screening can help determine the health of your nails and skin and detect early stages of skin cancer or other potential dermatologic diseases. 

What is a gel manicure?

Gel manicures use a UV or LED light to cure nail polish. Gel polish can be applied over natural or fake nails. The polish will set and dry upon exposing your manicure to a gel lamp. This eliminates the lengthy drying process of traditional nail polishes, as gel manicures are fixed as soon as they are cured underneath a light.

Compared to traditional nail polishes, gel manicures are much more long-lasting. Gel manicures retain their shine on nails regardless of when they are applied. Conventional nail polishes often chip after 2-3 days and quickly lose their shine. Gel manicures are more resistant to chipping; they can last two to four weeks with proper care. 

The price of gel manicures can range from $25 to $65, depending on your location, design, and length of nails. While this may be more expensive than a regular manicure, people may prefer gel manicures over regular polish to save themselves multiple trips to the salon and for their extended longevity.

Despite these benefits, gel manicures can still be harmful to your nails. If you have been getting gel manicures done routinely, you might experience nail brittleness, weak nails, and cracking. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, consistent exposure to the gel lamp’s UV or LED light may increase your risk for skin cancer and premature aging on your hands.

Gel Manicures Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When applied and removed correctly, gel manicures are a perfectly safe option for a manicure. Here are some frequently asked questions about the safety of gel polishes.

Are there any healthier alternatives to gel manicures?

A popular alternative to gel manicures is press-on nails. Press-on nails have been increasing in popularity due to their convenience, inexpensive cost, and design range. A user-friendly approach to manicures, press–on nails can be applied at home in as little as 10 minutes and can last up to two weeks.

Is it safe to get a gel manicure if I am pregnant?

Gel manicures are safe when pregnant with proper care, application, and removal. The effects of UV lights on pregnant women have not been widely studied, so doctors recommended using a LED lamp instead. 

When receiving your gel manicure, it is important to be in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling fumes from chemicals that may induce nausea. Pregnant women may have more brittle and weak nails, so take preventive measures when using acetone to remove gel polish.

How can I prevent my nails from breaking?

Nails are prone to breaking and chipping after gel manicures without proper attention. This can occur during manual labor, typing, or biting. A shorter manicure can also help prevent your nails from snagging and breaking.  

Bottom Line 

Gel polish is an excellent way to create a long-lasting and shiny manicure. While the chemicals, lamps, and tools used may damage your hands and nails, proper hydration and sunscreen are the best ways to protect yourself. Taking these preventative measures during a gel manicure can minimize the risk of wrinkles, nail breakage, and skin cancer.

Blanche Palasi

Blanche Palasi is a 2024 PharmD. Candidate currently attending St. John's University. A Queens native, she is passionate about helping patients identify and navigate social determinants of health.