Gel Manicure: Everything You Need to Know

Gel manicure is my favorite type of manicure to get. From aura nails to French tip nails, everyone appreciates a gel manicure for its long-lasting results and seemingly endless nail art options. 

If you’ve never heard of a gel manicure before or you want to know the pros and cons of getting one, read on! This guide will tell you everything you need to know about gel manicures.

What is a gel manicure?

A gel manicure is a manicure that uses gel polish that is cured under a UV or LED light.

A gel manicure requires a 48-watt UV light to cure properly and prevent peeling. Gel manicures require a gel base coat, 2-3 gel color coats, and a gel top coat to properly seal the manicure.

Is gel nail better or acrylic nails?

The main difference between gel nails and acrylic nails is longevity.

Acrylic nails generally last longer than gel because acrylic nails are created using a liquid monomer and powder polymer to create a paste that bonds directly to your natural nails. The resulting acrylic nails are hard and durable.

The drawback to acrylics is that they need to be filled every 2-3 weeks to look their best. Long-term acrylic nails can be expensive and cause damage to the natural nail. You will need to see your nail tech for proper removal.

Gel nails, on the other hand, are less damaging to your natural nails. They can be removed at home by soaking them in acetone. Overall they do less damage to your nails than acrylics.

It should be noted that certain gel polish products contain hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA) and can cause severe allergic reactions in certain individuals. Looks for HEMA-free gel polishes.

Always apply sunblock SPF 50+ to your hands prior to getting a gel manicure to protect your skin against the UV light used to cure gel polish. You can also wear fingerless gloves to protect your skin.

The gel manicure process

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You’ll find that the gel manicure process is similar to other manicure types. Your nail tech will remove any preexisting nail polish, then prep and trim your nails.

Your nail tech will shape your nails to your preference, buff them, and then trim your cuticles. If you want to add length to your nails your nail tech will apply gel tips (this will be an extra cost).

Once the tips have been glued onto your natural nails, your nail tech will paint your nails with the best gel nail polish, customizing them with any designs you requested.

After each coat of gel, your nails will cure under 48-watt UV light for 30-60 seconds. After three or four coats, your nail artist will add a clear topcoat and cure your nails one last time for them to be all ready to go! 

How much is a gel manicure?

The cost of gel manicures depends on factors like adding gel extensions, adding a design or artwork, and tipping. If you’re returning to the salon with remnants of a previous manicure, there could be a removal fee for that too.

Gel polish is not like regular polish, so it will be more expensive than what it would be for a basic manicure, an additional $10-$15. The base price starts at between $35 to $40, but where you live and where you go has an effect on that. It’s between $30-$50 for New York City and LA, for instance.

Gel manicures also have a removal fee. While inexpensive at $10 or less, one should keep this in mind if they don’t plan to remove the nails at home. 

Safety concerns with gel manicures

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Ask for fingerless gloves to protect your skin from UV light

UV light exposure is never recommended, which is why people worry about gel manicures. Though the exposure is short, for a few minutes during an appointment, it can be a problem if you get gel manicures regularly. 

This is why many salons are now switching over to an LED light to cure nails instead. There are still some UV waves in an LED light, but they are less concentrated than those from regular UV light.

Are UV nail lamps safe?

One thing that you can do to ease your worries about UV exposure is to use a hand cream with sunscreen.

Beyond UV exposure, consider the ingredients in gel nail polish.

Some people are allergic to certain ingredients in gel polish which can cause cuticles to become inflamed and itchy.

If you have sensitive skin or have experienced a bad reaction to gel polish or other nail enhancement products, stick to standard polish instead.

How long does a gel manicure last?

Gel manicures should last anything between 10 days to 4 weeks. If something happens where your nails chip before a week is through, call your salon as you can usually get it fixed for free.

Gel manicures have many different factors that influence how long the nails last. Do your nails grow fast? If so, your nails may grow out faster than you’d like. And if you’re not a stranger to picking or biting your nails, that can also compromise longevity.

Gel manicures will also have natural wear and tear; what you do in your profession also affects that. If you do outside work or are in a profession requiring frequent hand washing, you’ll be likely to see the manicure breaking down sooner.

You can prolong your gel manicure by using a strengthening top coat to keep your nails looking shiny at home. If you need to do some outside yard work, putting on gloves can provide a protective barrier to keep your nails from falling victim to the elements.

It’s best to be gentle with your nails and if needed, ask someone else to do certain chores during your manicure. 

Maintaining a gel manicure

Getting your nails done can result in a confidence boost. Who doesn’t love to get complimented on beautiful new nails?

So how do you keep your gel manicure looking great for as long as possible?

  • Avoid activities that will cause your nails to chip or break.
  • Wear gloves when cleaning and gardening
  • Don’t use your nails as a tool to pop open a soda can etc.
  • Avoid harsh chemicals like hand sanitizers that could cause your gel polish to lift prematurely

If you notice your gel nails chipping within a week, call your salon. 

Most salons have a policy where you can come in for them to get redone free of charge if they chip early.

Note: if you are getting gel manicures back-to-back, your manicures won’t last as long. This is because the nails become weaker with each new manicure. That’s why it’s important to take breaks so your nails can recover.

When you notice that first chip in your gel nails, you’ll want to try your best to fix it as best as you can. If the chip sticks up from the nail, trimming it will keep you from picking at it or it snagging on other things. If you have a similar color polish, you can use it to fill in your nails to extend your manicure a little longer.  

Whatever you do, do not pick off gel polish!

While it can seem fun or you can’t stand the broken look of the nails, picking off gel polish damages your natural nails. It’s best to schedule an appointment at your salon to have them removed for you to avoid further damage or to remove them properly at home.

Removing a gel manicure

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While it’s generally inexpensive to visit the salon to remove the remaining gel remnants of your gel manicure, sometimes you might prefer to take care of it at home. This is what you need to do if you’re contemplating an at-home gel manicure removal.

Can gel manicures be removed at home?

Gel manicures can easily be removed at home. All you need is a nail file to break down the hardened surface of your polish, acetone, cotton balls, a glass bowl, tin foil, and some gentle cuticle oil. 

For step-by-step instructions be sure to check out my guide on “How to Remove Gel Nail Polish.”

Be sure to prep your area as acetone can damage tabletops; the glass bowl can be used to hold your hands off of your countertop but if you don’t have one, layering the area with a protective tin foil sheet or plastic wrap will suffice. 

You’ll want to prepare your tin foil and cotton balls; while you can use the cotton balls as is, it’s better to not expose your nails to too much acetone. Cutting your cotton balls in half also minimizes the risk of overexposing your skin to acetone.

Trim your tin foil down to prevent wasting tin foil, as well as being overall more effective. 

After buffing your gel nails until they lose their shine, you can take cotton balls soaked in acetone and place them on your nail. Using tin foil, you can secure the cotton ball and then wait about 10-15 minutes. 

Be patient while removing a gel manicure at home. Going too fast can cause damage to your nails. You might hate having to sit still, but you can remedy this by having a friend sit with you or by putting a show on your phone while you wait for the timer to run out. 

After you have all your gel manicure polish off, cuticle oil is crucial to add moisture back into your cuticles. That exposure to acetone can severely dry your nails out, so adding that cuticle helps hydrate and replace the moisture that was lost. 

Keep hand cream around too, your skin will need some TLC after you’re done. 

Gel manicure FAQs

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Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about gel manicures.

Can you file gel nails?

Yes, you can file your gel nail manicure. 

Save filing for when you find snags or rips in your nail; smoothing them down helps you avoid further breakage and annoyance! Stick to the nail edges and avoid filing on top of the nail, as that will remove the shiny, hardened cured top coat. 

This top coat is responsible for protecting your nails from the elements and your day-to-day chores. Without it, the nails lose their shiny top coat and also become more vulnerable to chipping and breakage. 

How long should you wait between gel manicures?

It is best to wait anywhere between 2-3 weeks between your gel manicures. The reasoning for this is that it gives your nails time to recover from any inadvertent damage to the nail bed.

Taking a break from any type of manicure is essential to your nail health, so be conscientious that you’re not overdoing it.

After you remove your gel nails, at home or in the salon, you can put on a light, regular polish to help make them look nice. Or apply cuticle oil to your nails for a few days as a break between manicures. 

Does gel manicure ruin your nails?

Anything you do to your nails can harm them. Gel manicures are arguably one of the better alternatives compared to acrylics and dip nail manicures. Damage happens if you attempt to remove your gel manicure by picking at the gel polish or peeling it off instead of gently soaking it off. 

That’s why it’s so important to remove them slowly by soaking them or to visit the salon to have a nail technician remove them. 

Doing gel manicures frequently without letting your nails have time to rest and reset presents additional harm. 

What is a structured gel manicure? 

A structured gel manicure is a gel manicure that helps alter the shape of your nail while delivering more protection for your natural nails underneath the gel coat.

This structured gel manicure gives a prominent 3D quality and usually requires more time and effort to pull off the look. So if you have damaged nails and are prone to being a nail biter or cuticle picker, a structured gel manicure might solve your problem.    

Key takeaways on gel manicures

Gel manicures are wonderful for special occasions when you want your nails to look their best. They also won’t harm your nail beds as much as acrylic or dip powder manicures do, so you can enjoy them without damaging your nails 

Just as you would when picking a place for dinner, make sure you check out the reviews for the salons you’re considering. Gel manicures can be expensive so you want to make sure you’re happy with your manicure. Most places will fix your nails for free if there is any breakage before the seven-day mark, but check their policy to be sure. 

If you’re worried about UV exposure, don’t be afraid to ask the salon what lamps they use. Remember to use sunscreen SPF 50+ as a preventative measure. When in doubt, stick to getting gel manicures for special occasions only to limit exposure. 

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience with gel manicures!