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Acrylic and gel nails

Reviewed by SarahK November 4, 2010 6 Comments
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.

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  • April 1, 2011

    by Debra

    I have been a Manicurist for over 30yrs. After 18yrs of doing Acrylic I started doing Gels. I have discover a special blend of products that work on everyone. Our Gel product are very natural looking,durable and long lasting. We offer the very best in Nail Care. Check out our website and see for yourself. We will do one nail for FREE so you can wear it and then you be the judge. We also do Shellac. We look forward to hearing from you....Debra

  • December 13, 2010

    by Jennifer

    I am on my 5th day with CND's Shellac. No chips at all which is a first cos with normal polish i get chips on the 2nd day. In Singapore where I am from, Shellac is offered only in one salon. So I'm thinking of ordering the system for use at home.

    I've found that Shellac can be purchased online at Transdesign. You don't need to be a licensed professional to buy them.
    Read CND's site for proper precedure. And u do need a UV lamp to cure the layers.Check out Holly Schipps' Facebook page for great Shellac tips. http://www.facebook.com/FingerNailFixer

  • November 25, 2010

    by Preksha

    I am the kind of girl who'll mess up my nails by the time I reach the hand dryer at the salon, so I finally caved and splurged on an OPI gel manicure (which cost 3 times as much as my regular mani). The process itself was fine, and the smell wasn't too much for me. My nails were seemingly perfect for 2 weeks, which may have been the longest my nails ever looked great.

    Every silver lining has a cloud. Just the other day one of the nails' polish chipped leaving the nail underneath thinner/weaker feeling than normal. I most likely contributed to the problem as I couldn't resist peeling it off once it was ruined. Slowly, all the other nails also started peeling. My nails feel very thin and brittle now, not nearly as bad as they would had I gotten an acrylic manicure. Still, I think I'll revert back to my $10 traditional manicure and deal with the chipping for the sake of my nails not feeling borderline disgusting.

  • November 8, 2010

    by Naja

    I've tried both acrylic and gel nails and cannot stand either one. The strong smell of chemicals and the constant maintenance is too much for me. I have not found that either strengthened my natural nails. In fact, the opposite was true.

    I have fared much better when I have invested in the care of my own natural nails. It's not a quick fix, but the results look much better.

  • November 8, 2010

    by Danielle

    There are also tons of brands of gel that aren't removed using acetone. CND has a line like this, and Amore, etc. They can be filled in anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks to have a brand new set. If you want them removed, a nail tech can file them down for you leaving a tiny layer so that the nail has a bit of strength left, and buff them so that they shine a bit. If it is done properly you shouldn't notice them hardly at all and they will simply grow out causing no damage to your nails at all.
    Danielle

  • November 4, 2010

    by copley

    Shellac sounds like an exciting new development in the world of nail care! I found a nearby salon that offers Shellac service and really want to try it out, since my nails are in desperate need of some TLC these days (http://truthinaging.com/body/help-for-hands-and-nails-in-the-spotlight). Do you know if Shellac can be purchased for at-home use, or is it currently for pros only?

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