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There's no better way to treat yourself than by splurging on a luxurious gel manicure. A little nail art, a few rhinestones, and an on-trend hue give you the same boost of confidence as a spot-on outfit or a really good hair day. Unlike those things, which only last a day or so, a solid gel manicure can last you up to four weeks, if you play your cards right.
You're probably asking yourself "How? My nails usually chip after three days!" Well, thanks to the quick-dry formula, the application process is quicker than regular nail polish and lasts four times as long. That means you'll have weeks to enjoy your beautiful nail art.
Before you head to the salon, you want to know what you're in for. We tapped NYC-based celebrity nail artist Miss Pop and Jaclyn Duguay-Gordon, a manicurist at Green Tangerine Salon and Spa, for their expert tips and tricks for getting the best possible gel manicure and how to make it last extra long. Here's everything you need to know before getting a gel manicure.
What is a gel manicure?
A gel manicure is a service that uses a gel-based polish and requires a UV or LED light to cure the polish and lock it onto your nails, says Duguay-Gordon. "Gel polish is more durable than regular polish," she says. And while regular polish can chip as quickly as two to three days, gel stays chip-free for weeks.
While gel manicures look just like your regular old mani, the added benefits are that they last longer and feel sturdier. Plus, the beauty of a gel manicure is that anyone can get one, whether your nails are super short or Kylie Jenner-long.
Are gel manicures worth it?
If you get normal manis on the reg or have a big spring break trip coming up that you want chip-free color for, gel is def worth the splurge. They only cost around $10 to $15 more than a regular one. But if it's just for one night or you're on a budget, you might want to opt for press-on nails or a regular manicure.
What's the difference between gel and acrylic?
Gel and acrylic are completely different — acrylic nails are made with a powder dipped in solvent. "They're essentially used to lengthen the nail or provide a stronger top layer over the natural nail," says Miss Pop. Think: the crazy-long coffin nails Kylie Jenner is obsessed with.
Sometimes acrylic nails come in colors, but they're usually clear or natural-toned. Gels, on the other hand, come in nail polish shades and are made hard by being cured under a UV or LED lamp.
How long do gel manis really last?
The biggest pro of gel manis is how long they last. "Gel manicures could last up to two weeks with proper nail prep and at-home care, such as cuticle oil and hand lotion," says Duguay-Gordon. But if you're really careful, they can last up to four weeks.
If you have a bunch of events coming up back to back like prom, internship interviews, and family vacays, gels can be the perfect solution.
How much do gel manis cost?
How much you're going to pay for a gel mani really depends on where you live, but also what kind of look you want. Basic one-color gel manis start around $35 to $40, according to Duguay-Gordon. But if you want crazy celeb-level nail art, it could end up costing up to $100 or more — and that's not including the 20% tip.
Do gel manis damage your nails?
Not when they're done correctly! "Gel manicures are not bad for your nails when professionally done," Duguay-Gordon says. "It can be damaging though, without proper nail prep, application and removal." A common misconception is that gel manis damage your nails when in reality, the removal process is usually the most harmful.
Avoid picking the gel off yourself (we know it's tempting), and if you're getting your nails done at the salon, be sure your nail technician isn't filing, buffing them down, or using a drill.
Many people worry about getting gels because they fear their nails won't be able to "breathe," but Duguay-Gordon assures that nails don't breath, as they're dead to begin with. The whole idea is a myth, but it is kind of cute to imagine your little nails with micro-nostrils.
How do you safely remove a gel mani?
Your nail beds and cuticles are what's most important — they're made of living tissue, which is why you need to be careful during the application and removal process. DON'T rip them off. You can either gels removed at a salon safely (it usually costs around $10-$20) or remove them yourself at home with acetone, tin foil, cotton balls, and a nail file.
If you go the salon, make sure your technician is removing your gels carefully. "No one should be scraping your nail bed aggressively. The product should just crumble off," says Miss Pop.
If you want to save money and a trip to the salon, just be extra careful. Here's how Duguay-Gordon recommends removing your gels safely at home:
Get a bottle of 100 percent acetone and a glass bowl.
Break the seal of the top coat with a light grit file.
Soak the nails in acetone for about three minutes.
Gently scrape the jelly-like substance with a wood stick cuticle pusher.
Once all is removed, gently buff nails.
Are the UV lights dangerous?
"Those purple-colored lights that help your nails dry are actually UV lights," explains Miss Pop. "Conventional wisdom says unnecessary exposure to UV rays is bad for you, but they have been part of salon services forever."
Luckily, there have been huge improvements in gel technology, and many brands have converted to LED curing, which doesn't have the side effects UV rays have on your skin.
Ask your salon for that option. If you love your UV lamp for drying, put sunscreen on your hands before – just in case.
Do at-home gel kits work?
Unless you're familiar with proper nail prep and application, Duguay-Gordon cautions against using at-home gel kits. "If not properly done, the gel polish may lift causing some damage to the natural nail."
But if you're pretty confident in your nail skills, try them out if you want to save money on your weekly manis. At-home gel kits last a bit longer than a regular manicure — maybe 10 days — but are definitely not salon quality. You have to follow the instructions to the last detail and have a pretty steady hand to get a perfect gel nail.
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