The Truth About Gel Manicures, Are They Really That Bad for You?

There’s been a lot of negative press lately on gel manicures (let’s face it, people need to sell magazines), but truth is they haven’t been around long enough to really know what could happen.  Since I’m a fan, I wanted to present the facts, so I chatted with Celebrity Manicurist, Deborah Lippmann and Dr. Marina Peredo to get the scoop. When really dissected they’re not that bad for you the benefits outway the negatives (two weeks of chip-free polish?).  Decide for yourself.

UV Lamps

Yes, it’s true the UV lamps used to harden the gels during gel manicures are like mini tanning beds, which everyone should avoid at all costs.  However, they only produce about 60 watts of power whereas tanning beds produce about 1200 watts or more.  “I do not think these lights are harmful, however the long term effects of the UV lights are not known,” comments Dr. Peredo.  She recommends using a hand cream with SPF 15 or higher before getting your nails done.  Try Boots No. 7 Protect and Perfect Hand Cream with SPF 15, $14.  To play it fair, many nail salons use UV lamps to help dry polish after a regular manicure too.


Make sure you go to a credible nail salon to get gels.  Some salons may be purchasing cheap gel products from manufacturers with little quality control. One particularly dangerous ingredient, is a chemical called methyl methacrylate.  It can cause shortness of breath and irritate the eyes and skin.

I’m a fan of Creative Nail Design Shellac (which doesn’t use the chemical) and OPI Axxium.  There’s also a DIY system now I love called Sensationail, $59.99.  The manufacturers of these products are super credible.


“Just like acrylics, gels, and nail enhancements in general, a lot of the potential for damage is in the removal process, or more specifically the improper removal process,” states Lippmann.  “A lot of people get impatient with the amount of time that it takes for the gel to dissolve, and they end up pulling the product off and that’s what damages the nail.”

You can either go to the salon and pay to have the gels removed (by soaking in acetone and having them file a bit away) or you can soak them off at home by applying an acetone soaked cotton ball to each nail and wrapping them in tin foil for about ten minutes or you can try Deborah Lippmann’s The Stripper To Go Nail Lacquer Finger Mitts, $12 for a pack of 6 mitts. This helps the gel loosen up and slide off.  Still, you may have to file some off.

When you or your manicurist does the removal process right (it shouldn’t hurt), you don’t damage your real nails and yes, your gel manicure does last from 10 days to two weeks so the soaking is worth it.  Long term effects of acetone are still not clear, but it is drying.  After removing a gel manicure, Lippmann recommends soaking your nails in cuticle oil to replenish any moisture lost.


23 Responses to The Truth About Gel Manicures, Are They Really That Bad for You?

  1. Evelyn Fox says:

    Can soaking in the acetone cause the
    skin to become irritated? I have a
    rash and an itch on my hands after I’ve
    soaked in the acetone-even though I only
    soak my fingertips and the rash is in
    between my fingers and under my wedding

    • Jeannine Morris says:

      Yes it can. I’d recommend soaking in olive oil or cuticle oil after the acetone to add moisture back into your skin.

  2. Nicky Best says:

    I had my soaking in acetone and it left alot of white scale on my fingers. I just washed it and rubbed my hands with vaseline and my fingers were back to normal with my beautiful gel manicure. I love gel manicure. It last me 2 weeks and I love the look of my hands, and my nail tech does awesome designs.

  3. Jennifer Bigler says:

    I was so excited about this gel, and I told my husband about the removal process (acetone). He has worked with chemicals for many years, and he told me that inhaling acetone alone has have sever liver damage, and the fact that they are soaking our fingers in it and it is getting into our blood stream is extremely dangerous. I am wondering why nobody is saying anything about this or finding a healthier way to remove them. I am so sad because chip free polish was so exciting. Now I am freaking out!!

  4. nathalie Gagnon says:

    I get the gel nail polish done profesionaly and when we remove it, the girl doesn’t soak them, but instead she files them down…

  5. Kelly says:

    Yes my gel nails are also removed by filing rather than acetone. I’ve been continually wearing gel nails for 3 months (removed and redone every 3 weeks). Recently a gel nail came off and I see that my natural nail is quite thin and I’m concerned. Is this a normal process of artificial nails or is it a product of the filing? Is it bad to wear artificial nails for a long time? I love the look of them but I wonder if I should remove them.

  6. Agnieszka says:

    I am Nail.Tech for many years and i am so against no chip/gel. manicure. Yes ,the nails look great….) but stop and think what the heavy duty product is doing for your body? Buff your nails and polish or live natural,they will look beautiful and natural after every week manicure,You will love how it look after 2 months of manicure and buffing.Love them they will love you back.

  7. Judy says:

    I had broken, chiped, uneven nails all my life. I agree with Abnieszka all I did was to have a manicure and buffing. After 3 or 4 times my nails look great, and it is a lot cheaper.

  8. Lovelymaturelady says:

    I agree going natural is the best way take vitamin supplements drinks plenty of water,eat healthy, stay away from chemicals get your nails manicured and buffed. This is the best way,your nails will grow naturally look great and you will be safe chemicals and healthy.

  9. Hillary Fry says:

    It generally takes 10 years to determine effects of medication/product, etc. The UV lamps have been in use over 30 years, so saying they have been in use too short of a time to determine safety seems a little off.

    In addition to being used correctly with UV cured products, they are also in every mall salon where people put there feet and hands for half and hour or more for nail polish. The UV does nothing in this case, except provide exposure, as it cannot “dry” regular lacquer. This has been going on for decades. It seems that there would be a high, targeted amount of negative incidents if there was truly any correlation to UV nail lamps and skin cancer.

    Note the positive experience you will have with a product line lies heavily with the quality of the product line and the skill of the tech applying/removing. It can be a beautiful experience if done correctly.

  10. enid luchetti says:

    thank you for the honesty,have weak thin thin peeling nails to begin with and am over 60 with ridges will stick to manicure

  11. Nail gel says:

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say excellent blog!

  12. tanya says:

    Base on my twenty years experience as a nail technician and to the best of my knowledge, I know of no report of any negative side effects due to UV light used during a gel manicure.
    I do however, recommend taking a break from gel manicures once-in-a-while. In addition here are a few helpful hints:
    Don’t let a technician file your nail bed this will thin your nails
    Don’t soak your nails in acetone when removing the gel
    Wrap your nails in foil with cotton or gauze with soak-off solution not acetone. It will not dry out your cuticles or skins. (Soak-off solution does contain acetone, but not 100%) This should be kept on for approximately 8 to 10 minutes.
    When scrapping off the gels, it should be done gently like pushing your cuticle during a manicure.
    Hopefully these little tips will give you a better understanding about gel manicures.

  13. Nikki says:

    the solution meaning acetone also removed the color of my skin. I’m African American in the skin around my nails are now white.

  14. Nikki says:

    the solution meaning acetone also removed the color of my skin. I am African American and the skin around my nails are now white. this process was done a professional salon

  15. Diane Bronstein says:

    I recently got a gel manicure at a professional salon. I asked the technician if it would damage my nails and she said ” no “. The cost of a gel manicure is more than a regular manicure but it does last about 2 weeks and there is ” no chipping.” That’s what lured me in because my regular manicure only lasted 4-5 days, sometimes a week. Since I use my hands a great deal, gel nails appealed to me. The first application went well and lasted 2 weeks. When I had the polish removed I had to leave my hands in acetone and they wrapped each finger in tinfoil. I washed my hands well after the polish was removed and the manicure looked good. The next day I had a stinging, itchy reaction in between the fingers of my right hand. Then it became very blistery and my hand swelled to the point that you could not see my knuckles. It was frightening. I went to a physician and he prescribed a cortisone cream with a fungicide. He was not sure if I had a fungal infection so he did a blood test. The cost of the office visit and the cream $350.00. When I called the salon to tell them what had happened they denied that it could be from the acetone. They showed no compassion for my week of misery and being unable to use my right hand. I went into the salon and showed them my hand six days later because I was unable to go earlier. Again they denied it could be their fault and tried to tell me that I have an allergy to acetone which isn’t their fault. My left hand was fine. I believe that the acetone dripped between my fingers and seeped into the deep layers of my skin, burning it. I am writing this as a warning to others that gel nails have dangerous side effects. Don’t be fooled like I was. Better to be healthy than to have permanent damage to your nails or other organs.

  16. Anabelle says:

    After reading this blog I am very concerned.

    I just had shellac removed for the first time ever and they made me soak my fingers in acetone.

    I thought this wasn’t right as I had seen girls in there before with the aluminium foil wrapped around there fingers which is not what they did to me.

    This is the first time I have had this done. Is this bad? Could this one time have any affect on my skin or even organs from seeping into the skin??

  17. Diana says:

    Yes I love the fact that it last 2 weeks. I’m a hair stylist and no regular nail polish would last even 2 days without chipping. But after doing it for the third time. I notice when I rinse chemical services my nails would feel so hot and raw so I decided to stop doing it. My nails became so weak and fragile it spilt and break for 4 months I’m started notice it’s going back to normal now after using nail harders. So I’m just wondering what’s the problem? Was it because of the removal or the gel polish?

  18. Rayven says:

    I just came home from a gel manicure a few hours ago as a birthday gift and I am now scared for my nails because love my natural nails like children and I don’t want them to look horrible but online websites clamed for them to be safe if you rub vitamin E oil on cuticles. I was told stick-on nails could cover your nails as you grow them out.

  19. Amanda says:

    I’m thinking of having gel nails done. And it will be my first time, and I’m trying to weigh the pros and cons of getting them done but I’m still un sure if I should go threw with it or to just do a manicure

  20. Susan says:

    I just read in wikileaks that you don’t need to use acetone to remove the gel. You can microwave sugar in a bowl until it melts, let it cool slightly and put your nails in and the gel will dissolve and won’t be toxic for the nails.

  21. I am dreading having the gel nail.polish removed after reading all the comments. This is the first time I have ever had nail polish of any description on my nails (and that was only because I saw someone with gorgeous glittery nail polish and got a recommendation to visit the salon she used). I wish I hadn’t been as vain and left my natural nails alone. The acetone is going to pose me a huge problem – is there another way to,get the varnish off?

  22. Janet Muller says:

    I’ve use the sensation nail gel product for a little under a year. I love the long-lasting beautiful nails. However I ended up getting a severe nail infection/fungus as a result of it. Moisture gets trapped under the nail polish and it will take 2 to 4 weeks to get rid of the fungus. I let it clear up completely I tried the gel nail polish again and two weeks later it started again. so as much as I love the gel nails I’m going to have to go back to having chips and ugly nails.

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