Already have an account?
Get back to the

Gel Manicures: Nail Artists Weigh In On the #1 Approach To Long-Lasting Nail Beauty

If you're not wearing SPF to your gel manicure, you should — new study reveals why

When we have a fresh manicure, we always feel feminine and confident…that is until the polish chips, which seems to happen days after painting our nails or getting them done in a salon. Enter gel manicures. What is a gel manicure? It’s generally a salon-based service (although you can also do them at home) that uses thicker polish than traditional manicures. The polish is encouraged to harden using a special lamp, and can look great for up to 3 weeks. Intrigued? We thought so. Whether you’re a gel manicure novice or an old pro, we have the information you need right here.

What is a gel manicure? 

Although gel manicures may seem like a newer nail technique, they have actually been around since the 1980s. “Gels have been popular since the ’80s but it wasn’t until the late ’90s and early 2000s that they started to become more accessible in salons,” explains nail artist Sigourney Nuñez. “By the 2010s, gel services became a nail menu staple.” By 2015, almost one in four women had had at least one gel manicure in a salon.

Their popularity makes sense because the approach produces excellent results. During a gel manicure, the technician will apply two to three coats of a gel-based polish that’s a bit thicker than typical polish. After each coat, you’ll place your hands under a special UV/LED lamp for 30 to 60 seconds. The drying process is called “curing,” and the polish “dries once being exposed to the UV rays in a professional LED lamp,” explains Tamara Di Lullo veteran nail artist and CND Education Ambassador. Basically, curing creates a protective barrier against chipping and stripping.

And unlike regular nail polishes, gel polishes are made from ingredients that adhere to the nail tightly and are strong enough to withstand daily wear without chipping. Long story short: gel manicures keep nails looking gorgeous much longer than a manicure that uses regular polish. 

Related: At-Home Gel Nails: Reap the Benefits of the Pricey Salon Treatment for $100s Less

Close up of hand with gel nails
Mariia Demchenko/Getty

Is gel the same as Shellac? 

A common misconception is that gel and Shellac are two entirely different treatments. Not so. Shellac is actually a specific brand of gel nails, created by the nail brand CND, which is the original gel polish that revolutionized the nail industry, says Di Lullo. So gel nails is like tissue and Shellac is like Kleenex.

While there are many different brands aside from Shellac that have their own gel polishes, one thing to note is that Shellac combines regular polish and soft gel (as opposed to just ‘gel’), so it tends to be more vulnerable to chipping than other gel brands. That said, since Shellac’s formula contains regular polish, it’s typically easier to remove with acetone when you’re ready to change your nail color or go bare.  

The benefits of a gel manicure

1. A gel manicure lasts 2 to 3 weeks

Arguably the best benefit of gel polish (either applied at home or in a salon) is that it lasts so much longer than traditional nail lacquer as the thicker polish doesn’t easily chip, break or peel. Although results vary depending on care, gel polish typically lasts 2-3 weeks, while regular polish rarely lasts more than a few days before chipping. 

2. A gel manicure dries fast 

Drying gel nails in UV lamp.
Sabrina Dima / 500px/Getty

While regular nail polish can take up to an hour to fully dry (which makes it more prone to accidental smudges), gel polish dries extremely quickly. This prevents the polish from forming manicure-ruining smears and smudges.

3. A gel manicure is a great choice for women over 50

Since our nails become weaker and more brittle as we age, they usually require a little extra strength and protection. “Gel nail services are a good option specifically for women over 50 because the manicure lasts long, they are low maintenance and are offered in a variety of trending styles and colors,” says Nuñez. “I also think having manicured nails can help boost confidence and self-esteem which is important at any age.” Even better? A gel manicure in a bold color or with nail art can detract from aging hand bothers like crepey skin and age spots.

Related: Top Manicurists: The Best Nail Designs of 2023 That Put Happiness At Your Fingertips

4. A gel manicure stays looking shiny

Manicures with traditional polish tend to lose their shine and color over time, but gel nails keep their glossy finish for weeks. Plus, the color doesn’t fade, so your nails stay polished and looking fresh until your next appointment or when giving yourself a new manicure at home.   

A closeup of nails painted blue

5. A gel manicure looks natural

Another benefit of gel nails is that they look and feel just like natural nails. Since gel polish is applied in 2-3 thin layers, this makes it more flexible unlike other manicure techniques like acrylics or dip nails.

Related: Polygel Nails: The Manicure That Makes Nails Look Longer, Stronger and Youthful

6. A gel manicure protects natural nails

The hard gel top coat from the curing process acts like a barrier to your natural nails, keeping them safe from harsh environmental chemicals, toxins and pollutants that can cause damage. And for those whose nails are prone to splitting, a gel manicure helps to prevent breakage thanks to its cured outer shell.

How much does a gel manicure cost?

The average cost of an in-salon gel manicure ranges from $25-$65 but can go as high as $100 if you add on intricate nail art. If you prefer to go the DIY route, at-home gel manicure kits are available, like Modelones Gel Nail Polish Kit (Buy from Amazon, $33.98), and come with everything you need to create multiple gel manicures yourself.

How to remove a gel manicure

Removing gel nail polish with tin foil and acetone

Since gel polish is designed to adhere tightly to the nail, it’s recommended to have the manicure removed by professionals. Why? “When removed incorrectly, the gel can unintentionally remove layers of keratin of your natural nail plate, causing them to get weak and brittle over time,” says Nuñez.

The process of removing gel manicures begins with filing the nail’s surface to help break down the top coat. Then, small pieces of cotton soaked in acetone are placed on each nail and covered with aluminum foil. After 10 minutes, the foil is removed. (The gel polish will look like it’s crinkled.) Next, the polish is gently removed with cuticle stick, revealing clean and even nail beds. When all is said and done, the removal process usually takes no more than 15 minutes.

To see how a gel manicure can safely be removed at home, watch the below tutorial from YouTuber Tree Ma.

Precautions to take with gel manicures

Although gel manicures are long-lasting and look beautiful, they can be a bit tough on nails. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, gel manicures can cause nail brittleness, peeling and cracking. In addition, frequently getting gel manicures can increase the risk of premature skin aging and possibly cancer on the hands. This is because the majority of gel manicure lamps emit UV radiation. Fortunately, there are things you can do to keep your nails (and skin) healthy before, during and after a gel manicure.

1. Wear SPF for your manicure

Prior to getting a gel manicure, apply a SPF of 30 or greater to your hands. This will protect skin from the UV radiation used to seal gel polish to the nail, preventing damage the skin cells and the risk of cancer. You can also wear UV-protective fingerless gloves to shield skin on the back of hands from the UV light.

2. Apply moisturizing products to hands and nails

Woman applying moisturizer on hands.
Anna Efetova/Getty

The UV lamps used for gel manicures can also leave hands, especially the delicate skin surrounding nails feeling dry. To reverse this and keep nails and hands looking their best, apply a hydrating hand cream on hands and nails daily. Even better? The added moisture will thwart gel polish from cracking.

3. Avoid picking off gel polish

When it’s time for a new manicure, it might be tempting to pick and peel the gel off. But it’s best to avoid the temptation. Instead, as mentioned above, properly removing the polish at home or at a nail salon to ensure nails stay healthy.

4. Take breaks in between gel manicures

The gorgeous results of a gel manicure might make you want to always have one, but it’s important to give nails time to breathe. Back-to-back gel manicures subject nails to chemicals and UV light, which can result in brittle, easily broken nails. So a little downtime between gel manicures is good for your nails and will keep them in tip-top shape.

For more nail inspirations and tips, click through these stories:

12 Red Nail Designs: Easy Ways To Add Even More Flair To This Classic Nail Color At Home

Acrylic Nails for Beginners: Everything To Know About the Popular Nail Enhancement

14 Natural, Classy Short Acrylic Nails To Make a Gorgeous Statement

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.