Chipping a perfectly good manicure is one of life’s most annoying frustrations. Since I’m constantly opening packages and typing stories, wearing gel nail polish has been a saving grace when it comes to preserving my mani. While I love the flexibility a regular manicure provides, gel polish is so much more durable—which is why I tend to stretch each manicure for as long as possible.
“With gel polish, your manicure can last from two to three weeks, but with regular polish you’re lucky if it lasts five to seven days without chipping,” Kristin Pulaski, owner of Paintbucket Nails in Brooklyn, tells SELF. According to Pulaski, in addition to staying power, another great benefit of gel is that it provides a harder layer of protection over the natural nail, which can result in increased nail growth.
Unfortunately, this durability and protection can be rough on your nails and make them weaker and prone to splitting. No one wants that, so there are a few things to keep in mind to maintain the health of your nails when you’re getting gels. We asked Pulaski, celebrity manicurist Skyy Hadley, and Christy Harpring, co-owner of Sea Salt and Sugar Nail Bar in Savannah, Georgia, to clue us in on gel polish mistakes to avoid.
1. You’re getting gel manicures back-to-back.
Since removing and applying gel nail polish can cause a lot of wear and tear on your nails, you should space out your manicures. “By getting gel nails every two weeks consistently, the nail plate gets extremely suffocated,” explains Hadley. This can lead to nail dehydration and eventually breakage, so make sure to give your nails downtime between gels. “It’s important to have a professional nail technician assess your nail health between applications to determine if your nails could use a sabbatical from polishes,” explains Harpring.
2. You’re leaving gel polish on too long.
Since gel nail polish can be worn for weeks on end without even the tiniest chip, stretching the life of your manicure is tempting. However, Hadley suggests removing a gel manicure after two to three weeks maximum to avoid damaging nail beds and cuticles. Harpring agrees, adding that overextending gel manicures can not only lead to weakened nails, but also introduce potentially harmful bacteria. “It is important to remember that once the gel begins to lift, it does allow for moisture to get under the gel and possibly lead to bacterial growth,” explains Harpring.
3. You’re removing an old gel manicure without professional help.
Once a gel manicure is on its last leg, you may be tempted to remove it yourself, but experts advise against it. “The safest way to remove gel polish is by a professional,” says Harpring.
If you absolutely can’t make it to the salon for removal, she advises you first gently file the top of the polish to remove the shine, which allows the acetone to penetrate and dissolve the gel easier. Next, soak cotton balls in acetone (a chemical commonly used in gel nail polish removal), apply a cotton ball to each nail, and wrap it in tin foil. Leave the wraps on for 10 to 15 minutes, and then, using a wooden cuticle pusher, gently push the gel off of the nail plates. To finish, lightly buff the surface of the nail with a buffing tool, and apply oil to your nails and cuticles to rehydrate.
4. You’re not using cuticle oil.
According to Hadley, you can assess nail damage based on their flexibility: Normal nails are somewhat flexible, but the harder and sturdier the nail, the more likely it is to break. Since cold weather tends to make skin drier overall, proper cuticle hydration can make a big difference. Additionally, acetone can be extremely drying to the nail bed, causing nails to break or become brittle over time.
To combat nail dryness, experts suggest keeping cuticle oil close at hand (no pun intended). “I swear by cuticle oil and personally love NCLA’s,” Pulaski tells SELF. “I used to think that cuticle oil wasn’t essential, but I started using it about two years ago and I always carry it with me now, especially in the colder months!” Adding a few drops of oil to your nails and cuticles in between salon visits will keep them hydrated.
Keeping my nails looking good, with or without polish, is definitely a priority. So while I probably won’t give up on gel nail polish altogether, I’ll definitely think twice before trying to stretch my manicure for longer than two weeks at a time.