I’ve been biting my nails for as long as I can remember, and the only thing that stops me is getting a manicure. For a few days, my nails are so pretty that I can’t bring myself to ruin them. But very soon, a nail will chip. Then another. Sometimes, they’ll chip soon after leaving the salon; after all, nail polish isn’t known for being durable. And once the manicure is maimed, I exercise absolutely no self-control and peel the rest of the polish off, leaving my nails ready to be bitten.

Enter gel nail manicures. Unlike acrylics, which are fake nails and can result in the infection and stunted growth of real nails, gel manicures provide long wear without damaging your nails. At least, that’s what all the hype that is surrounding the new nail craze seems to imply. In addition, gel manicures are odorless and do not use the suspicious chemicals and acids that acrylics do. Finally, getting a gel manicure means not having to worry about backfills or your nails looking fake. In the past year, customers ordered this manicure 24% more than they did in previous years, and about two-thirds of nail salons now offer gel manicures.

A gel manicure goes something like this: cuticles are pushed back and nails are buffed. The technician then applies a gel coating to each nail and lets them harden under a UV lamp for a few minutes. Finally, the technician removes any gel residue with a cleanser. The UV light means no dry time, and the manicure supposedly lasts up to 4 weeks with no chipping, which accounts for the increased cost of this manicure versus a traditional one. Sounds pretty good.

But, unfortunately, there are some concerns about gel manicures. This past summer, several news outlets reported a story about a woman who sustained nerve damage thanks to a poorly done gel manicure. Granted, the manicure itself doesn’t seem to be very dangerous; the problem, at least in this case, was an inexperienced technician who damaged the woman’s fingers with an electric file, and then dipped her fingers into a pot of chemicals. That is not how you apply a gel manicure, though the woman in question did not know this.

The bigger concern about gel manicures is the damage your nails suffer during the process of removing the gel, or after it is removed. Though proponents of the manicure say the gel does not harm your nails the way that acrylics do, it is likely that the gel does, in fact, harm your nails, though in a different way than acrylics may harm them. First, you really cannot remove a gel manicure yourself, meaning that you must go back to a salon that will surely charge you for the service. Second, the process of removing the gel involves soaking your fingers in acetone for up to twenty minutes, which can ruin your nails. Worse, much of the time, even after soaking your fingers, the gel stubbornly refuses to come off. That means a technician will have to scrape at your nails until it does budge, which can lead to even more damage.

If you had your heart set on gel nails up until the previous paragraph, you’re in luck, because there is a promising alternative. Creative Nail Design recently came out with a new product called Shellac, a soak off hybrid between gel and nail polish. Similar in application to gel, Shellac supposedly lasts as long as gel manicures and is as easy to remove as a traditional manicure. Because it requires less skill than sculpting a nail gel, Shellac is a good option for those who are afraid of technicians’ mistakes that can lead to infection or even nerve damage, as mentioned above. Plus, because Shellac doesn’t take as long as gel to remove, your exposure to acetone is minimized.

I’m interested in both gel and Shellac manicures; if they can keep me from biting my nails for longer than a few days, I’m willing to give them a shot.