Nail Polish: Myths vs. Facts

Understanding Gel Manicures

Gel manicures start like regular ones, with nail cutting, hand soaking, cuticle trimming, and cleaning. The magic begins with the polish: a base coat preps your nails for the gel, which dries under UV light. Each coat's baked under the UV lamp for about half a minute. A gleaming topcoat finishes it off, also set under UV light.

Gel manicures outlast and outshine regular ones, lasting up to two or three weeks with proper care. Avoid picking or peeling the polish to keep your nails healthy.

Gel manicures cost $5 to $10 more than regular polish. Some salons charge up to $20 for removal, while others include it with your next manicure. Proper removal takes time and patience.

  1. Cover each nail with acetone-soaked cotton
  2. Wrap in aluminum foil
  3. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes

The polish should slide off without filing or scraping. Use a wooden stick gently on stubborn spots.

Gel manicures don't inherently ruin your nails. Damage often results from rushed or improper removal, like filing the nail bed or picking at the polish. Applying cuticle oil between appointments keeps nails and surrounding skin healthy and moisturized.

The UV light used for setting gel polish carries risks, including premature aging and increased skin cancer risk. Applying sunscreen to your hands before a gel manicure offers protection.1

A close-up view of a nail technician applying gel polish to a client's nails, with the UV light in the background ready to cure the polish.

Common Misconceptions and Myths

Vertical ridges in nails often come with age rather than health issues. Horizontal ridges, however, can signal underlying conditions and warrant a dermatologist visit. White spots result from minor trauma, not calcium deficiency, and grow out with the nails.

Nails don't need to "breathe" as they're already dead by the time they're visible. They get nutrients, including oxygen, from your bloodstream. However, breaks from polish can prevent over-drying and damage from repeated use.

Yellow nails usually result from wearing dark or highly pigmented polish. Using a good base coat can prevent this. If yellowing accompanies thickening or crumbling, a fungal infection or other condition could be the cause.

A close-up image of hands with yellowed, thickened, and crumbling nails, indicating a potential fungal infection or other nail condition.

Safety Concerns and Potential Risks

The UV rays used to set gel polish are much more intense than typical sun exposure and can lead to skin aging and a heightened risk of skin cancer. Applying high-SPF sunscreen to your hands before each gel manicure can significantly reduce harmful UV impacts.2

Incorrect gel polish removal can damage nails. Avoid excessive filing or buffing of the nail bed, as it can cause cracks and uneven texture, leading to long-term damage. When removing gel at home, soak nails in acetone-soaked cotton, wrap in aluminum foil, and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Use a wooden stick gently on stubborn spots without heavy scraping.

Picking or peeling off gel polish removes layers of your actual nail, making them thinner and prone to breakage. This also affects how future polish or gels adhere, leading to a less durable manicure.

Nurturing nails with cuticle oil between manicures keeps the surrounding skin hydrated and maintains nail strength and flexibility, reducing the risk of damage.

Regular breaks from gel manicures can prevent over-drying and allow nails to recover from harsh chemicals and processes.

A person applying a generous amount of high-SPF sunscreen to their hands before receiving a gel manicure to protect against UV damage.

Comparing Nail Treatments: Gel vs. Acrylic

Gel manicures cost less than acrylics due to their quicker, simpler application. Expect to spend $5 to $10 more for gels than regular polish. Acrylics have a higher price tag and upkeep cost, often needing fill-ins every two to three weeks.

Gel Manicure Process:

  • Prepping nails
  • Applying a base coat
  • Multiple layers of gel polish
  • Setting each under UV light for a hard, shiny, durable finish

Acrylic Nail Process:

  • Mixing a liquid monomer with a powdered polymer to create a paste
  • Brushing the paste onto natural nails or tips
  • Shaping and hardening in the air
  • Allowing dramatic alterations to nail shape and length

Gel nails are easy to maintain between appointments, being durable, chip-resistant, and keeping their shine for weeks. Acrylics require more frequent attention, with gaps at the cuticle needing fills every two to three weeks and being more prone to lifting and breaking.

Both treatments have potential drawbacks for nail health. Improper gel removal can strip natural nail layers, making them thinner and more fragile. UV light also poses long-term risks like premature aging and increased skin cancer risk.

Acrylics are chemically harsher, involving stronger adhesives and more extensive buffing, leading to thinning and brittleness. Improper removal can cause significant nail damage.

Your choice between gel and acrylic should be based on your priorities, whether it's a natural look with low maintenance (gels) or dramatic nails (acrylics). Both can be enjoyed safely with proper care, breaks between applications, and following best practices for application and removal.

A nail technician applying acrylic nails, showing the process of brushing the acrylic paste onto nail tips and shaping them.
  1. Markova A, Weinstock MA. Risk of skin cancer associated with the use of UV nail lamp. J Invest Dermatol. 2013;133(4):1097-1099.
  2. Curtis J, Tanner P, Judd C, Childs B, Hull C, Leachman S. Acrylic nail curing UV lamps: high-intensity exposure warrants further research of skin cancer risk. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2013;69(6):1069-1070.

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