If you spend a lot of time on TikTok (*raises hand*), you may have noticed there's a lot of buzz about gel-curing press-on nails right now. It's garnered hype for (allegedly) being an easy way to extend the wear time of your press-on nails (translation: They won't pop off right after you apply them). But is gel curing press-on nails right for you? And are there any risks? Here's what you need to know, according to nail artist Aaliyah Smith and dermatologist Dana Stern, MD.
Meet the Expert
- Aaliyah Smith is a Las Vegas-based celebrity nail artist with over 15 years of experience.
- Dana Stern, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and nail specialist with two decades of experience.
What Does It Mean to Gel Cure Your Press-On Nails?
If you get your nails done often, you're probably familiar with the concept of "curing" gel polish under a UV lamp when you're at the salon. This sets and dries the gel for a long-lasting manicure. And according to TikTok, the same act of curing with a UV lamp can make press-ons last longer. Here's how it works: Apply a layer of soft gel polish beneath your press-on nail right before you apply it to your natural nail. Once adhered to your nail, cure the manicure under a standard gel UV lamp to make it better-adhere to your nail, resulting in a longer-lasting press-on manicure.
Benefits of Gel Curing Your Press-Ons
Gel-curing press-on nails provides better adhesion, so they'll typically last much longer than press-on nails applied with glue or adhesive stickers. "Gel-cured press-on nails can last up to three weeks," Smith says. "However, I don't suggest [keeping them on] past two weeks without a new application."
Gel-cured press-on nails take a bit more work to apply and remove. There are also some fairly significant safety concerns with gel-cured press-on nails. Here are four risks to keep in mind:
Infection is a possibility when gel curing press-on nails. "If gaps exist where the press-on is not entirely in contact with the nail, moisture can enter and lead to infections," Stern says. "Even if the nail is properly prepped with alcohol before application of the press-on, if there is an opening or entry point, infections can occur."
If the gel isn't cured correctly or completely, there is a risk of developing an allergic reaction like contact dermatitis when the gel is in contact with the skin. You could experience swelling, pain, inflammation, and separation with this contact allergy.
Stern explains that the UV light must penetrate the press-on to cure the gel. But if the nails are a dark or opaque color, the UV light might not be able to penetrate and cure the gel, which could contribute to a potential contact allergy. When the gel is fully cured, this is no longer a risk. "Once the gel is cured, it can no longer cause allergy or potential irritation to the nail and surrounding skin," Stern says.
When press-on nails are gel cured, you can't just pop them off. Instead, you'll need to soak your press-ons in pure acetone. "Popping them off or forcefully removing them can cause damage to the nail plate and nail bed," Smith says.
Most nail damage from enhancements takes place during the removal process, Stern tells us. "Prolonged acetone soaks can dry the nail and surrounding skin and lead to nail brittleness," she says. Additionally, aggressively scraping to remove the press-ons can damage the nail, cuticle, and nail matrix, which is the nail's growth center.
The UV exposure involved in gel curing press-on nails is potentially damaging to health, although the research on this topic is limited. "Over time, UV radiation can cause damage to the skin," Smith says. "Like skin wrinkling, age spots, and skin cancer with prolonged use." She points out that gel-curing press-on nails with LED light is safer than UV light.
Stern says there's a need for additional research on the possible risks of gel manicures. "In addition to the potential risks for skin cancer, we also know that UVA rays greatly contribute to photo-aging," she says. "UVA rays penetrate the skin to a deeper depth than UVB rays, and as a result are responsible for many of the changes in the skin known as photo-aging: thinning and wrinkling of the skin, visible blood vessels, uneven skin tone, skin laxity, volume loss, hyperpigmentation (brown spots) and hypopigmentation (light spots)."
How to Gel Cure Press-On Nails
Some gel-cured press-on nails should only be applied by a licensed nail technician, Smith says. But others can safely be applied at home. Here's what that might look like, according to Stern:
- Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to your hands thirty minutes before exposing them to the UV. "You can also wear a fingertip-less UV glove to protect the skin at your hands and fingers," Stern says.
- Prep your nails just like you would for a manicure, including filing, pushing back the cuticle, and moisturizing the cuticle.
- Some manicurists recommend "roughing up the nail" and the underside of the enhancement to create more surface area for adhesion. "This can damage the nail, so I prefer to skip this step," Stern notes.
- Apply the gel to the underside of the press-on and apply the nail bonder or glue to the nail plate.
- Apply the press-on to the nail, pressing it down, ensuring there aren't any obvious gaps or bubbles.
- UV cure the nails for 30-60 seconds.
The Final Takeaway
Gel curing is a worthwhile application method for press-on nails as it ensures they last longer. However, there are some potential drawbacks to keep in mind, like potential nail damage, UV exposure, allergies, and infection. If you try gel-curing press-on nails at home, follow Smith and Stern's tips carefully to ensure the best results.