If you’re a gel-manicure devotee, there’s probably very little we can say to dissuade you from your bi-monthly appointments. But if you weren’t blessed with tough-as-nails nails, you’re probably curious why even a single treatment can leave your tips feeling scraggly and paper-thin. Full disclosure: Scientists aren’t exactly sure why gel manis wreck nails more than regular polishes do. Here’s what they do know: With the help of UV light, gel lacquers adhere to the nail beds stronger than traditional versions. This likely isn’t a problem in and of itself. But a gel mani requires a 10-minute — no more, no less — acetone soak to loosen that bond. “Acetone desiccates nails, leaving them brittle and prone to peeling,” says Chris Adigun, MD, a dermatologist and nail specialist in North Carolina. (A 2012 study used ultrasound to conclude that gel manicures did, in fact, cause thinning. It just didn’t figure out exactly why.) What’s more is that sometimes, nail technicians — or, um, customers who idly peel off their polish during Shahs of Sunset marathons — don’t give the acetone a full 10 minutes, and use gritty files or sanders to scrape off the product. “These methods cause tremendous, and sometimes irreversible, damage to the nail bed and cuticle matrix,” says Dana Stern, MD, a dermatologist and nail specialist in New York City. And if your nails are thin to begin with, they’re that much more vulnerable. Gel polish should come off easily after soaking — at most, your manicurist should use the gentle prodding of an orange-wood stick. Both doctors recommend taking gel mani-moons, or weeklong breaks from the treatments, at least once every eight weeks. This serves two purposes: “First, you can make sure there are no signs of infection, onycholysis (separation of the nail from the nail bed), or brown or red bands, which are precursors to tumors,” says Dr. Adigun. Secondly, you get a chance to rehydrate and repair nails, says Dr. Stern. Smooth on a creamy moisturizer loaded with hydrators like dimethicone or petrolatum, and douse cuticles with quenching oils, like Dermelect Revital-Oil. A nutrient-rich basecoat, like Dermelect Launchpad, can also help rebuild any of the compromised structure of your nail bed. Bottom line: Gel manicures are convenient, long-lasting, and chic. But they can also dry the eff out of your nails. And because pretty nails are also healthy nails, taking a break once in a while is definitely worth considering. If nothing else will convince you, consider this: No-polish nails happen to be very on-trend right now.
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page!