Gel Habits Die Hard: Quitting My Gel Manicure Habit

Published in: Guest Post, Just For Fun, Nails

gel nails, acrylics, nail polish

Baby’s first gel: a candy apple red (right) and my sister’s acrylics (left)

Last March, on a visit to see my sister, I asked if we could get a manicure together. Now, she gets gel acrylics, and while I’d only gotten a manicure maybe twice in my whole life, something made me really want one that day.

“Sure,” she responded, “I’m due for a fill!”


This began my obsession with gel manicures, which has continued to this day. Unfortunately, a year is all it has taken to potentially ruin my nails.

When I was around eleven, my mom was still getting acrylic nails. She loved going, and I loved how they looked. I also loved going with her and watching the whole process, seeing everything come off, and then watching the nail technician rebuild a perfect manicure right before my eyes. I felt the same sense of wonder when I started getting my own nails done as an adult.

A few years into acrylics, however, my mom got a horrible fungal infection under one nail, and she had to stop getting them altogether after that. That fact alone made me fear fake nails.

I got a regular manicure for a formal dance, acrylics for prom (which I promptly bit off a few days later) and, for some strange reason, decided that I needed gel acrylics in 2011. I got them filled twice before giving up on them, though, and it took my nails weeks to recover.

I was working in retail and wanted to have nice nails, but this was at the lawn and garden department of my local Walmart. It was hard to maintain them while I was literally playing around in the dirt.

My nails have always been thin and have a tendency to peel and crack. When they get even a little on the long side, they bend forward awkwardly, which leads me to believe I might be a victim of eggshell nails.

Over the past year, they’ve gotten better, as far as the peeling goes, due in part, I believe, to the fact that I quit smoking, started eating better, and I started taking collagen regularly. Nail problems can result from any number of things, like your diet (which, for me, despite my best attempts, isn’t always the best) or any medications you take.

Yet despite these problems, I’ve always loved doing my nails. As a kid, I had such an obsession with nail polish that I would paint my nails, but then take the polish off the next day to paint them a different color.

I can’t say this was exactly good for my nails…but it was fun. As an adult, I’ve been pickier. I’ve learned how to make my manicures last at least a week with gel top coats and by doing my best to preserve my hard work.

But the magic of real gel manicures hooked me. On my nails, they would often last almost a month, and it was worth the investment for something that wouldn’t chip or flake the moment I got my hands wet. For a while, they even seemed to make my nails stronger.

Some of my friends warned me against them and insisted that even though they were still my real nails, the gel process would cause problems (there are lots of arguments both for and against gel manicures).

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I actually started seeing, and feeling, the repercussions of “the lamp.”

For months, I went to the same salon, which was just a few blocks from my old apartment. I never had a problem until I decided to get a pedicure (my first ever), along with my regular manicure.

While I was getting my toes done, they soaked my old manicure in acetone to remove it. Pretty customary, but the acetone began burning my hands.

It didn’t hurt that much, though, so I didn’t say anything…but by the time the technician returned to my nails and got them under the lamp, my cuticles, and the skin under my nails, were on fire. Still, I stayed quiet (why did I always stay quiet?). Maybe my skin was just too sensitive?

At my next manicure, the skin under my nails burned again, and my cuticles were extra dry afterward. I decided to switch salons, thinking that it would fix the problem, so I moved to a nicer place a few blocks away.

The whole time I’d been getting gel manicures, my nails felt stronger and didn’t break as easily, but at the new salon they used a dremel system to fleck the old polish off after soaking. Now, after my many manicures, my nails are feeling gross and thin. They’re also beginning to peel again.

So, I’ve decided to (try to) kick my manicure habit and go back to exclusively doing my own nails. I hope it does them some good, in addition to hopefully saving me a decent amount of money every month.


And the last (hopefully)

I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to find when I soak this last manicure to remove it, or if, like last time, I’ll lie to myself and go back to the salon and say, “Last one! Pinky promise.”

Marcella Yakalis

Marcella Yakalis is a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn, New York, with two cats, one snake, and one very patient boyfriend. She writes about family, relationships, and oppressive retail culture. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram.


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  1. Aenea says:

    Gel nail polishes are so nice! I’ve done it 2x last year (november), and believe it or not, my nails are still recovering. They are still cracking easily and peeling at the tips. I resorted to using at home gel polishes with no light needed for a few months. But has now gone to not putting on any polish at all. I wonder how long it will take for my nails to mend. I can’t wait to have color on them again!

  2. Nivedita says:

    I am sorry to hear about your nails. No doubt good manicures are so tempting and gel polishes are so addictive. But, I completely stay away from manicures in salons. Call me weird, but the idea of not using my personal kit makes me uncomfortable. And for my part, I almost completely stay away from polishes because I am lazy and thankfully, my hands are pretty low maintenance.
    I am glad that you have made changes to your lifestyle. You could perhaps ry taking multi-vitamins with biotin. They help a lot. At least, I found improvements with my nails and hair.
    Nivedita recently posted … Bloggers’ Event: Mickey Contractor discusses MAC Summer Season 2016 Trends, an interactive session.

    • Rachel says:

      I agree, I never get “professional” manicures. Nail salons seem dirty to me and I’m pretty good at painting my nails myself. Plus the money I save gives me an excuse to add to my own polish collection!

    • MJ says:

      I’m with you on this too! I’ve maybe had three professional manicures in my life. I never understood the allure of the process. Awkwardly sitting across from a stranger for an hour, paying mucho bucks to jazz up, of all things, your fingernails, and the risk of ruining your natural ones or getting an infection. No thanks. I actually haven’t painted my nails with anything but clear polish in three years. I think a neat, clean, natural look is the best look out there.

  3. What about those take home gel LED kits that I see at the beauty stores. Those could still give the gel effect but not have too much of a negative effect on your nails like the professional UV gel manicures done in the salons.
    Oh my nail polish recently posted … 10 Nail Polish Related Facts That You Never Knew About!

  4. Chris25 says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your nails! I have heard mixed reviews about gel manicures myself, but sometimes there is no better test than personal experience.
    Chris25 recently posted … German Skincare Haul

  5. Eeeek, that is scary, with all the burning and stinging! I agree that it’s probably better to do your own nails. Natural nails can look very pretty! And at least you won’t be exposing your nails and hands to any unnecessary aggressions anymore.
    Kiss & Make-up recently posted … New in | Fashion, anime, books and more from Japan

  6. To be honest, I never really liked the look of gel manicures, I like my nails to look more “natural”. As natural as hot pink color can ever look, that is, so I never started. My nails aren’t the strongest, but I have been wearing them short since forever (work reasons) and that way my manicure lasts around five days.
    And as a physician I was always pretty worried about the hygienic conditions and possible fungal infections as well.
    LindaLibraLoca recently posted … Inspired by… Dolce & Gabbana the one

  7. Kristen says:

    I only get gel manicures for special occasions, like if I’m in a wedding or it’s my birthday. I too have somewhat brittle nails and I feel like the gel manicure only makes them worse. I usually stick with just doing my own nails at home with regular nail polish. Helps me save a lot of money too!

  8. I feel you. I got my first and only gel mani/pedi for my wedding a few years ago. At first I loved it. No chipping! (For a stress drummer/tapper who also types a lot for a living, this is super important.) Plus the pedi was SUPER cute — a hot pink with a kind of ombre glitter effect.

    BUT. Even though it never chipped, my fingers started cracking like little eggshells after just a couple of days. By then were were out of town for the honeymoon, so I went to a little salon (the ladies there had never even seen a gel mani) and had to soak it all off… and my nails were so thin and brittle and cuticles were basically destroyed. I couldn’t even grow the nails past my fingertips for like a year after that. /sigh

  9. Kim says:

    As someone who’s worked for a manufacturer in the pro beauty business for 20 years, I will say that artificial nail ingredients are definitely getting “healthier” and less harsh on natural nails. However, even with the best systems and most careful application, there is no doubt that they damage your natural nails. I definitely support your decision to give your nails a rest and would encourage you to absolutely speak up if you’re in pain during a service. People develop sensitivities to all kinds of things and soaking in acetone is very harsh, particularly on your cuticles and the skin surrounding your nails. Try some good treatment products (I’ve always liked Jessica) and a good glass file to help protect your natural nails against splitting and peeling. Good luck! PS I realize this is not a big deal but there are no “gel acrylics”. Gel and Acrylic are two different types of artificial nail systems. 🙂

    • susan says:

      As a licensed cosmetologist, I will second the glass file recommendation, and don’t “saw’ – file each side in towards the center. I’ve used the OPI glass file, but the one I got at a craft show is actually better, and I’ve had for YEARS!

  10. Erin says:

    Luckily I have good nails naturally! They have been even better since I’ve been taking omega 7’s and collagen internally!
    Erin recently posted … Postulate 2014 Sauvignon Blanc

  11. yelena says:

    I have been hooked on gel nails for years now as well…they are like a bad boyfriend you say you are going to leave and keep going back to LOL.

    I encourage you to let your nails breathe for sure…I am trying to go on a break as well…but….
    if you decide to get it done again, I will say that I do make it a point to soak them off myself because that helps…They are very harsh at the salon when removing gel and it can damage your nails more.

    At home, I use the foil method sometimes, but that is very time consuming, so now I do the “ziplock method”. I pour some gel remover liquid (I use the gelish brand) into a ziplock, just enough to cover my nails, then I put some warm water in a bowl…I put my hand in the ziplock and then the bag into the bowl…wait 5-10 minutes and voila! no cotton pads or foil needed!

  12. Nati says:

    Oh, that doesn’t sound good! why would you stay quiet when your skin is burning?
    I never felt the need to do gel or acrylic manicures, because I love polishing my own nails. Maybe it could help you or encourage you to stop to buy the ZOYA Naked manicure kit, I’ve tried it when my nails got stained and it worked wonders on my brittle nails!
    Nati recently posted … T is for Too fancy lacquer

  13. Rae says:

    Have you tried prenatal vitamins? I take them and it helps both my hair and nails.

  14. Stacie says:

    I think the gel manicures look great but I thought they damaged my nails too. Don’t forget that there is considerable UV exposure with the lamps if you do it regularly. You should wear sunscreen on your hands when you use the UV light.

  15. Rachel R. says:

    Sorry to hear you’ve had such a nightmare. I’ve been getting acrylic and gel manicures for years, and they’ve actually improved the health of my nails, because I’m not biting them any more.

    I’ve had the same manicurist for the last 7 years, and she’s been in business nearly 20 years. She gives everyone their own emery board and buffing cube “kit” that we bring in with us, so we’re never sharing. She sterilizes and autoclaves everything else; I’ve seen the equipment and her and her staff doing it.

    My mom is allergic to acrylic, and she had an awful time. Luckily, she got just one nail to test it out. She had to have the acrylic removed an hour later. Ladies, if you feel any discomfort or pain during your manicure, please take care of yourselves and politely speak up. The manicurist doesn’t want to hurt you and won’t be offended. (If she is offended, find a new manicurist.)

  16. alice says:

    I love having my nails done. But I think I’ve only had 2 or 3 mani pedis in my life. I think I just really like someone massaging my hand and feet so what I should really do is go for a massage, and then paint my own nails. =)
    Have you tried Sally Hansen’s miracle gel? It doesn’t use UV lamps to set. It lasts a few days longer than my usual manis.

  17. Sylvia says:

    I’ve had peeling nails for years. I recently read that regular application of oil are very helpful to preventing the peeling. I’m giving it a try, and hoping it works.

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