So Your Gel Has Started Peeling Off—Here's What to Do

Updated 07/03/19

We've all been there: You spend ages working out exactly which gel nail polish color will go with your spring wardrobe (because it has to get warmer soon, right?), but then just a few days later, you take a look down at your keyboard ready to marvel at your fine fingertips and notice that something isn't right. Right there, at the tip of your forefinger on your hand, your gel has started to peel. Nightmare.

First you'll go through a phase of denial, pretending that everything is fine, but then a huge wave of utter disappointment comes crashing over you when you realize it won't be long before the rest of your nails follow suit and start flaking. And if you're anything like us, stage three is full of temptation to pick, peel, and bite the polish back down to the bare nail. And if you didn't know already, that isn't a great idea. Keep scrolling to find out exactly how to fix peeling gel polish. 

How to fix peeling shellac: model with red nails
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What Makes Gel Nails Different?

While regular nail polish can just be painted on, gel requires a little more care before application. Natalia Urbina, head nail tech at Local Honey in Brooklyn, says that "Most of the steps are similar to regular manicure. However, removing natural oils and dehydrating the nail plate is required for a long lasting gel manicure." After each coat of polish, the gel is cured with a LED/UV light instead of just air-drying, making the manicure extra strong and sure to last at least two weeks. Here's how to make sure your gel nails don't chip.

01 of 06

Whatever You Do, Don't Pick

If you like nothing more than picking at a two-week-old manicure, let this be a warning to you. "Our nails are made up of about 25 layers of keratinised skin cells, and peeling off gels will take off those top protective layers, causing the nail to become thinner, weaker, and uneven," says nail expert and manicurist Cherrie Snow.

Urbina reiterates how bad picking is for your nails. "When you peel off any nail enhancement you rip off layers of your nail plate and make your nail weaker and cause your nails to chip more. It's a vicious cycle," she says.

Do not pick or peel the polish. Jeopardizing the strength of your nails in this way can lead to white spots and stress breaks.

02 of 06

Put a Layer of Topcoat on Chipped Nails

So in short, if you do notice your manicure has started to peel, do not start picking. Urbina's three-step method? "File nail where the chip happened, don't pick nails, and seal with topcoat." It's as easy as that.

After filing near the chip, apply a thin layer over the top of the polish, and seal in the edge by painting over the tip of the nail. This will help your manicure hold out until you can get to the salon to have the gels removed.

Aprés gel nail polish topcoat in black bottle with gold handle.
Aprés Top Gelcoat $15
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How to fix peeling shellac: Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat
Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat $10
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How to fix peeling shellac: Smith and Cult Above It All (Top Coat)
Smith and Cult Above It All (Top Coat) $18
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03 of 06

Prevent Chipping When You Can

As with many things, prevention is far better than attempting a cure. Snow recommends wearing gloves when washing up and cleaning, as well as avoiding opening boxes or cans (good luck if you're a Diet Coke addict) to increase the longevity of your gel manicure.

"Don't use your nails as tools!" Urbina echoes. She also says to avoid super hot water when washing hands and showering. If you haven't gotten a chip yet, she recommends a quick topcoat, just in case.

04 of 06

Keep Hands Moisturized

"Apply hand cream after EVERY hand wash, and regularly massage cuticle oil over the gelled nail to encourage flexibility and prevent chipping," Snow adds. It's also worth considering the brand of gel. Snow uses Bio Sculpture Gel, which doesn't require the use of primers, bonders, or harsh buffing to be removed. Perfect.

If you do end up picking at your nails, make sure you still keep your hands and nails moisturized. Urbina's personal favorite cuticle oil—which she recommends using twice a day—is the Famous Names Dadi Oil, which is full of nourishing ingredients like jojoba oil and vitamin E.

05 of 06

Have Professionals Remove Your Gel

Although it's tempting to just rip off the rest of your polish, it's better to leave gel removal to the pros. "The removal at a salon will probably go quicker and presumably more safely. Tools and techniques that quality nail technicians use will remove the top coat more thoroughly allowing acetone to soak color gel quicker," Urbina says.

06 of 06

Take Care of Your Nails After

To help your nails recover after peeling gel off, moisturizing is still key. Try to stop picking at your nails and the skin around them while they both heal. Since picking off gel weakens the nail, it'll take a while for your nails to grow back to their regular strength. To prevent more breakage and weakness, keep your nails short while they grow back and give them some extra TLC, too.

So, if you do pick, it's not the end of the world. Just remember to hold off if you can, and always take time to moisturize and protect your hands to keep your nails looking fresh.

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