How to Strengthen and Heal Your Nails After a Gel Manicure

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What’s not to love about gel manicures? They last for weeks without chipping—and stay shiny that entire time. Oh right: Without the proper care, they can leave your nails brittle and thin. Here we outline your pre- and post-manicure plan for keeping your tips healthy through it all.

First of all, what is a gel manicure?

Let's clarify something here: There is "Shellac" and there is "hard gel." It gets confusing because some salons refer to Shellac as gels, but Shellac is actually just the trademark name of CND, the first nail company to invent and register this type of polish. It's commonly found in salons and is similar to hard gels in that it's also cured and hardened onto your nails with a UV light. Where it differs is its softer than gel and soaks off with acetone.

Gel or "hard gel,” can be applied over natural or fake nails. The main difference from Shellac (or soak-off gel) is that you can extend the length of the nail, which can be sculpted and shaped just like acrylic.

How long does it take for your nails to heal after gel?

When applied and removed properly, ideally by a skilled technician, gels shouldn't cause damage to your nails. Most damage occurs during the removal process, if you don't follow the necessary steps and time to remove them. Our number one tip: Don't pick or peel off your gels. It never ends well.

If you notice white spots, lines or an unevenness on your natural nails, it can take anywhere between three to six months for them to go away, as that's typically how long it takes for your nails to grow out completely. In the meantime, you can use a ridge filler to smooth the appearance of your nails (sort of like how a makeup primer would help fill in pores or fine lines before your foundation).

If you're just experiencing some peeling or flaking after removal, we've got you: Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting them strong and healthy again.

1. Trim Your Nails

Longer nails are more prone to breaking with everyday activities (like trying to pry that stubborn lid off your Tupperware). Keep your nails short to prevent them from snagging on things and chipping. Plus, it’s better to start off with shorter nails so you have some leeway as they grow.

2. Keep Them Rounded

Gel polish can thin out nails over time, which makes them prone to snagging and breaking. Skip pointy or square tips for rounded ones to keep them strong.

3. Gently Buff Them

Lightly run a buffer over any uneven edges or ridges to smooth things out. This will help prevent further peeling—especially at the tips.

4. Moisturize Often

Massage a cuticle oil into your nails and the skin around them several times a day. Then seal everything in with a thick hand cream or salve. Oils absorb better into the nail beds, and creams create an occlusive barrier so that moisture doesn’t escape.

5. Keep Your Hands Dry

As in, limit exposure to water whenever possible. Washing a few plates bare-handed? Fine. Anything longer than that, wear gloves to keep moisture out (which can cause polish to lift).

6. Use a Nail Treatment

Take a break from polish for a couple weeks and swipe on a nail strengthening treatment instead. (This one from OPI has proteins to fortify weak tips.)

7. Leave Your Cuticles Alone

Resist the urge to cut or trim them. Your cuticles are there to help protect the new nails that are growing underneath (which is yet another reason why it’s important to keep them well moisturized).

8. Don’t Pick At Your Polish

Again, because it bears repeating: If and when you decide to get another gel mani once your nails have healed, resist the urge to pick and peel the polish off. When you do this, layers of your nail can come off with it. Get yourself to the salon for a proper removal—or buy a removal kit to do it yourself.

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Jenny Jin

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...
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