Gel Pedicures Are a Mainstay on Spa Menus—But Are They Actually Worth it?

A woman's bright red toenails in heeled sandals


If you've ever had a gel manicure, you know how convenient they can be. A mani that keeps its gloss and color (chip-free) for more than two weeks? Sign us up.

Though ubiquitous on nail salon menus, the gel manicure's sister—the gel pedicure—is less frequently discussed. While the gel pedi certainly has its devotees, many folks are still unsure. Is it really worth all the curing and the comparatively laborious removal process? (Especially when regular pedicures often last longer than their fingernail counterparts?) We spoke with celebrity manicurist Julie Kandalec and Nails.INC founder Thea Green to find out. Read on to learn all there is to know about gel pedicures.

Meet the Expert

What Is a Gel Pedicure?

A gel pedicure is the use of gel polish on the toes following the selected spa pedicure of your choice. Gel polish is designed to last longer on both nails and toes and is typically secured with a UV light. Kandalec breaks down the steps of a gel pedicure as follows:

  1. For starters, "gel on toes should be applied in reverse, before soaking and scrubs, etc.," says Kandalec. "This way the gel isn't trying to adhere to a damp nail plate." In terms of a first step, she shares, it's as simple as removing any current polish and trimming and filing the nails.
  2. The cuticles are pushed back gently and safely.
  3. The cuticle area is then gently exfoliated using a cuticle stick, with loose skin trimmed as needed. For this step, Kandalec recommends the GERmanikure Cuticle Stick ($14).
  4. The nail plate is buffed with a fine or medium-grit buffer.
  5. Dust, lotion, and oils are then removed from the nail plate using isopropyl alcohol (90 percent or above) and a lint-free wipe.
  6. After the prep work is done, the gel base coat is applied according to the manufacturer's directions. If you're giving yourself a gel pedicure, be careful not to get product on the skin, Kandalec emphasizes. Then it's time to cure.
  7. Gel polish is then applied to each nail. For extra precision when DIYing, Kandalec notes, use a detail brush to get the perfect cuticle line every time. Cure.
  8. Then the top coat is applied according to the manufacturer's directions and cured. "Note: Some top coats have a tacky layer that will need to be removed with alcohol," Kandalec says. "And always prep, base coat, add color, and top coat the free edge of the nail for the best longevity too."
  9. Then the spa portion of the pedicure commences: The soak, mask, scrub, etc.—all of the good stuff.

How Long Do Gel Pedicures Last?

Gel pedicures can last anywhere from two weeks to a month—similar to gel manicures—as long as you take care of your toes. "They can last up to four weeks depending on your choice of shoe, what kind of activities you’re doing, and how fast your nails grow," notes Green. "If you’re spending lots of time at the beach or in chlorinated pools, your pedicure is more likely to chip."

That said, gel pedicures can handle more than you think, including intense life experiences. "I had foot surgery in October and my gel pedicure lasted through it and the healing process and still looked as shiny and perfect as the day I did them a month prior," Kandalec shares. "I'm really rough on my feet as a New Yorker and [was] spinning and working out four times a week. Gel pedis are my new favorite thing."

How Much Do Gel Pedicures Cost?

Like many self-care and cosmetic-related treatments, the cost of a gel pedicure can vary dramatically depending on location and artist. "This does range quite a bit as most salons offer multiple levels of the service, too, but I would say between $40-$65 for a basic [gel pedicure], and $60 to $100-$150 or more for deluxe versions, plus more for nail art," says Kandalic.

How Do You Remove a Gel Pedicure?

Before anything else, Green notes, you should always have your gel polish removed by a professional at a salon to ensure nail health.

Kandalec shares her step-by-step removal process below:

  1. The top coat is filed down to allow the acetone to penetrate faster and better. Some top coats are acetone-resistant, so filing off the top coat is required or it will not soak off, Kandalec emphasizes.
  2. Then, a hearty amount of cuticle oil is applied to the cuticle area and under each toe to prevent the skin from drying out. 
  3. A cotton ball is soaked in 100 percent pure acetone—not an acetone-based polish remover.
  4. The acetone-soaked cotton ball is placed on each toenail and wrapped in a small square of thin aluminum foil. After the foil is squeezed into place, it rests on the toe for 15 minutes.
  5. If the gel doesn't flake off with little effort, the toenail is re-wrap and you'll wait another 5 minutes. Acetone evaporates fast, so the cotton may need to be re-soaked in acetone.
  6. An orangewood stick is then used to gently nudge the gel off toward the tip of the toe. If you're doing this yourself, it's important that you do not go against the grain and push the gel back like you are pushing your cuticles back.
  7. If needed, the rest of the gel will be gently filed off with a fine 220- or 240-grit nail file. 
  8. Then the dust will be washed off your feet, and the removal process will be finished with an extra dose of cuticle oil.

The Final Takeaway

So, are gel pedicures worth it? It all comes down to preference, the experts share. "This is entirely dependent on what you want out of your pedicure," Green notes. "If you want your pedicure to look perfect and last for at least two weeks for a special occasion or a holiday, then a gel pedicure is perfect for this purpose. Otherwise, a nail polish pedicure is a quick and easy way to freshen up your toes, and you can remove it at home."

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