We know picking the gel polish off our nails is not recommended, but sometimes we can't fight the urge. Two or three weeks after getting a flawless gel manicure, we notice some serious nail growth. A corner starts to lift, we annoyingly peel at the nail, and soon, all ten fingers look less-than-perfect.
"When we pick off gel nails, the gel polish—which is very securely attached to the natural nail — can peel away the top layer of the natural nail as it's removed, causing damage," shares Dr. Dendy Engleman. "Over time, this will make the nails more prone to rough texture, patchiness, cracking, and breaking. In addition, it will make it more difficult for the nails to hold polish and gel in the future." The good news? There are methods you can follow to ensure healthy-looking nails all year round. Ahead, two dermatologists share five tips to help keep your nails strong after the gel comes off.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Rachel Nazarian, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology in New York City.
- Dr. Dendy Engleman is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology.
Remove the Gel Properly
It's important to remove gel polish correctly. Improper removal, such as picking or peeling, can increase the extent of damage to the nail plate. To preserve your nail health, manicurists recommend gently buffing your nails with a grit file and then soaking the nails with acetone.
However, it's important not to expose your nails to acetone for too long. "Long-term exposure to acetone can [cause damage]," adds Dr. Nazarian. "Too little exposure to acetone makes it harder to remove the gel, and too much exposure weakens and damages the nail over time."
The best solution? Head to the salon to ensure professionals do your gel nail removal correctly and safely.
Moisturize and Soften Your Cuticles
Keeping your cuticles and nail beds moisturized following gel removal is super important. Dr. Engleman recommends applying oil to your nails, nail beds, and cuticles between manicures for hydration. "Dry, cracked, or nonexistent cuticles can lead to bacteria entering the nail bed, which can cause infection and weakening of the nails," she says.
Dr. Engleman recommends Lano 101 Dry Skin Super Cream ($17) because it's formulated with shea butter, vitamin E, and almond oil, making it deeply moisturizing. "I also love that it is backed by studies and dermatological-sensitive skin testing," she says.
Take Breaks Between Polish
Dr. Nazarian believes in "nail polish holidays." Nail polish can dry out and weaken the nails, and taking a break allows them to recover.
Dr. Engleman agrees, emphasizing the importance of maintaining strong, healthy nails as they serve as a defense against external factors. "When you don't take care of your cuticles or nails, you can expose yourself to harmful aggressors such as bacteria and toxins, and leave them prone to possible infection, breaking, and stunted nail growth," she says. "Taking poor care of the nails and cuticles can also cause the overall health and appearance of the hands and nails to suffer."
Keep Your Nails Covered
Keeping your hands covered is one way to preserve nail health after a gel manicure. Dr. Engleman recommends wearing rubber gloves when doing household tasks (think: washing the dishes, cleaning your house, and opening packages). This helps you avoid direct contact with harsh chemicals, preventing unintentional nail peeling or chipping. You should also remember this tip when you get your nails done since constant exposure to harsh soaps and chemicals can dull your gel polish's color and shine.
SPF should be a part of your nail care routine. Because gel nail polish requires curing with ultraviolet (UV) light, Dr. Nazarian recommends applying broad-spectrum sunscreen on your hands before placing them under the UV light at the nail salon. You should also slather it on your hands in between appointments. "UV light has been linked to the development of skin cancers, and it's important to protect your skin—even at the nail salon," she says.