Two friends tell me that one of their new year’s resolutions is taking a break from gels and ultraviolet lamp-cured, soak-off nail polishes. That’s because, despite the dramatic global increase in salon gel manicures, thanks to an instantly dry, super-shiny finish that lasts up to three weeks instead of the traditional three to five days (seriously, it’s a bleak time for regular polish brands), there’s a pervading belief that gels ultimately “wreck your nails”.
This is only a tiny bit true, in that all manicures involving repeated filing and exposure to solvents will weaken the nails in the long term: the issue is not with gels per se. What does damage gel-polished nails specifically is picking, peeling and other heavy-handed removal, or poor application (including excessive roughening of the nail surface) that later requires it.
Good gels should need only a light buffing with a nail file to disturb the glaze, followed by a soak in acetone, then some gentle, relatively effortless lifting with either an orange stick or a blunt scraper. If your manicurist gets out a sharp, curved metal pusher or (heaven forfend, but I’ve been there) an electric rotary file, stop them immediately and never return.
You can remove gels yourself at home. I almost always do, primarily because two-in-one removal and manicure appointments are interminable and rarely convenient, but also because, with the right products, I’ve got the method down pat. The best DIY remover of CND shellac (my UV-polish of choice) is Red Carpet Manicure’s Erase (£4.39, 120ml), since it does the job without stripping nails to the quick.
After a bath (polishes cured under UV light hate spells in hot water) and very gentle filing of the nail surface, I use the remover to saturate cotton wool pads which I cut into smaller squares. Then, instead of fiddling one-handed with disposable foils, I attach one to each nail with Stylfile’s ingenious finger clips, £5 for five (yes, I know they’re pennies online, but you’ll wait weeks for those to arrive from China – and potentially be stung for customs fees).
I leave the gel soaking for a good 10 minutes, then nail by nail, lift the polish (which often comes off whole, like apple skin) with a triangle tool – mine was £4.79 from Amazon. I follow up with any rich cream and rub CND Solar Oil (£5.95, 15ml) into the cuticles. I’m not one to make new year’s resolutions, but occasionally I interrupt back-to-back shellac polish with a one-month timeout.
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