What Exactly Is a Gel Manicure?

A manicure which stays shiny and chip free for weeks that also dries in the matter of seconds? It’s just what your DIY manicure dreams are made of. But what exactly is gel polish made from? Is it safe? And how long does it last? 

We’ve compiled the most common questions that DIY manicure lovers are wondering. Read on for the ultimate guide on gel manicures and polish.

So what exactly is a gel manicure?

Gel polish is made up of acrylic monomers and oligomers that bond together when placed under a UV or LED light. This process is called curing, and in a matter of seconds, the once-liquid gel turns into a hard, chemical-resistant coating. 

Can gel polish dry like normal nail polish?

No. Gel polish is completely unlike regular nail polish and needs the UV or LED light to form a hard layer.

Does it last longer?

On average, gel manicures last two to three weeks. 

What is the average cost of a gel manicure at the salon? 

It ranges from $25 to $50 for a basic manicure, depending on where you go. For nail art, expect to pay more. 

Are gel manicures safe?

Generally yes, two things you’ll come across often are gel manicures are unsafe due to the use of UV/LED lamps and gel polish formula causing weak and brittle nails. Let’s look at the research behind both.

UV and LED lamps

UV and LED lamps both emit UV radiation and UVA rays have been linked to increased risk of skin cancer. However, According to the Cancer Council “UV and LED lamps emit low levels of radiation and exposure times are short” meaning that there is minimal to no risk using a nail lamp.

The difference between a UV and LED lamp is that UV lamps usually require you to leave your nails under the light for two minutes, while an LED lamp generally 60 seconds or less. Using an LED lamp instead of a UV lamp is preferable as the time spent under UV radiation is almost half.

For those who want to be extra cautious, apply a broad spectrum SPF30 (or higher) sunscreen to your hands prior to placing them under the lamp.

Gel Polish Safety

A common misconception is that gel polish is bad for your natural nail but in most cases, it’s unlikely to be the gel polish itself. When following proper preparation & removal procedures, your natural nails should not experience any staining, thinning or breakage.

While improper prep work and removal is the main culprit for damaged nails, this doesn’t mean you should dismiss the ingredient list entirely. Here are some things to keep in mind when searching for a formula:

  • HEMA is a popular ingredient used in gel polish, it’s what gives it that hardened, shiny finish we all know and love. Unfortunately, it’s also a very common irritant. As long as you are not painting directly onto your skin or removing it quickly after it touches your skin, you should not develop any allergies.
  • Ensure that the gel polish that does not contain toxic ingredients. Some common ingredients to look out for are dibutyl phthalate (DBP), triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), toluene, formaldehyde. These are known carcinogens.

How do I remove gel nail polish?

The ability for gel polish to remain on your nails chip-free for weeks on end is thanks to its chemical resistance. However this means that gel polish can’t easily be wiped away with regular nail polish removing solution but must be soaked off with pure acetone for several minutes. In this process, the hardened gel loosens from the nail and you will be able to scrape it off safely without damaging your nail.

Does gel polish hurt or feel different?

The good news is that gel nail polish itself will not hurt your nails when applied and removed properly. It applies and feels just like regular nail polish but better. The only difference is that it dries under a curing lamp rather than by air.

So, with all your questions answered. Will you be making the switch from regular nail polish to gel?