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How To Rehab Your Nails After A Gel Disaster

Post-gel damage is typically caused by the removal process

Plus, products that will disguise the damage.

When gel manicures and shellac arrived on the scene, they were total game-changers. The cured polishes make it so easy to go about life without worrying about chipped tips. The thick coat of lacquer also keeps fragile nails from breaking, allowing nails to grow to unexpected lengths. But on the flipside, gel can leave your natural nails brittle and breaking, especially if they're removed the wrong way. Dermatologists also have concerns about the use of UV lights to harden the polishes—but no research has yet been done on long-term exposure to UV light through gel manicures.
“Having damage from gel is a reality, just like a bad haircut or color,” says Essie celebrity manicurist Michelle Saunders. “The good news is that [nails] replenish and grow (just like hair) no matter what you do to them.” So after a couple of back-to-back gel appointments, treat your nails to rehab. We've compiled a list of the most common gel manicure issues—and the simple solutions—ahead.

Post-Gel Problem #1: There are white spots or lines on your natural nail, and/or the nail plate feels uneven.

Post-gel damage is typically caused by the removal process. Using the wrong tools and technique can leave tips with microtrauma. Here's the right way: First, you should break the seal of the gel with a nail file before applying a cotton ball soaked in pure acetone to the nails. Then, secure the cotton in place with foil. After 10 minutes (or more), the gel should flake off with the help of a nail file. Avoid scraping with a metal cuticle pusher for this step. The acetone soak softens the nail plate and even gentle scraping can push cells creating divots or white spots.

It takes about three to six months for nails to grow out completely, erasing these white spots. Give your nails a break from gel to allow the nail plate time to recover. You can smooth and harden the nail during the process with a base coat that has a gelatin matrix. For her patients who are prone to weak nails, dermatologist Melanie Palm, M.D. prescribes Genadur, a lacquer that strengthens nails with field horsetail.

Post-Gel Problem #2: Your nails are constantly breaking once the gels come off.

“Your nails have become ‘used’ to that protective coating of gel (which keeps nails from breaking), so your everyday lifestyle could cause breakage,” says Saunders. If your nails are snapping at every little tap and touch, consider cutting them down to a short, manageable length.

Post-Gel Problem #3: Your nails are peeling and flaking away.

Nails are made up of dead skin, particularly a protein called keratin (which is the same thing that makes up hair). “[Nails] can become dry and brittle (just like hair after too much color or styling),” says Saunders. According to Palm, nails also lose moisture faster than the rest of the skin. Rehydrate them by using cuticle oil like Essie Apricot Cuticle Oil ($9, and hand cream like C.O. Bigelow Chapped Hands Remedy ($14,, especially after washing your hands. “[Avoid] extremes of very dry or very hydrated,” says Palm. If the nail is super dry it can become brittle, and if the nail is too hydrated it can become soft—both situations make nails more prone to damage. “Do a cream at night to keep hands moisturized, putting cotton gloves over it to enhance penetration,” says Palm. Flaky nails can also be a sign that you made another rookie mistake: peeling off the gel. “Every time you peel the gel off without breaking the bond, then a layer (or more) of your nail plate is removed.”

Shop some of our favorite base coats to disguise the damage and strengthen your nails post-gel ahead.

Nails Inc. Back To Life Recovery Treatment


OPI Gel Break Trio Pack


Essie Treat, Love & Color Nail Polish


CND RescueRXx Daily Keratin Treatment

Butter London Horse Power Nail Rescue Base Coat


Sally Hansen Moisture Rehab Overnight Nail Serum

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Women's Lifestyle: How To Rehab Your Nails After A Gel Disaster
How To Rehab Your Nails After A Gel Disaster
Post-gel damage is typically caused by the removal process
Women's Lifestyle
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