Soft hands and well-groomed nails are the perfect finishing touch for a polished look. Yet many of us forgo frequent salon manicures because they just don’t last, often chipping in a matter of days. Who has the time and money for that kind of upkeep?
Over the past few years, though, you may have noticed your nail salon offering what’s known as a gel manicure, a service that lasts for two weeks—sometimes longer—without chipping or peeling. Brand name gel products include Creative Nail Design’s Shellac, OPI’s Axxium Gel and Nail Harmony’s Gelish. During a gel manicure, your nails are cut and filed as usual, then coated with either a clear or colored gel “polish.” Each coat of gel is “cured” under a UV lamp, which hardens the gel and gives it staying power. Bonus: There’s no waiting post-manicure, as each coat dries to a chip-resistant, smudge-free, and high-shine gloss in about 30 seconds.
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Before you race off to any old nail salon for this service, keep in mind that it should only be performed at a reputable salon. “Good gel manicure products aren’t cheap,” according to New York City manicurist Julie Kandalec, so a gel mani will usually run you about $10 to $15 more than a basic manicure. “If a salon is doing gel manicures for way below what other salons are charging, it’s probably not the genuine thing.” When scheduling an appointment, ask whether technicians received training from the gel polish brand on how to use the products and make sure they’ve been offering the manicures for at least a month.
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You should also know that gel manicures may have a negative effect on the health of nails, especially if yours are already damaged or prone to cracking and drying. To remove the polish, nails must be soaked in acetone. “The process can dry out the nails over time, so I wouldn’t recommend doing more than two sessions in a row,” Kandalec says, or about two times a month. Note that you are exposing your hands tothe same UV rays that can increase skin cancer risk. While there are no studies specifically linking the technique to skin cancer of the hands, if you are at high risk, you may want to avoid gel manicures. If not, the money you’ll save over time with these long-lasting manicures may be worth the minimal risk to your nails.