Nail art and gel nails – advantages and disadvantages

by Sylvia

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It’s fashion week in Singapore, so I thought I’d put in a bit more effort towards my grooming. I decided I wanted some arty nails, so off I went to one of Singapore’s affordable nail salons to get it done.

When I selected a design the ladies recommended I’d go for gel nails instead of regular nail polish.

Advantages of gel nails

  • Last a lot longer; she told me up to 3 weeks.
  • Dry instantly so no need to wait.
  • Easier to create some fabulous nail designs.

Since I have never done anything like this (both nail art and gel nails) I decided to give it a go. Mind you they did not tell me of any disadvantages, which I only found out about later! (see below)

How to get gel nails

Here is how the process works:

  1. First your nails are filed and cleaned as in a normal manicure and sanded into shape. I always prefer to go with a rounded shape.
  2. The tops of the nails need to be buffed to remove its natural shine. This way the primer for the gel nails will adhere better.
  3. Cuticles are either pushed back or cut.
  4. Then a primer is applied.
  5. The first layer of UV nail gel is then applied. After that you place your fingers into a little box with UV drying light.
  6. You then repeat this process with a second layer and a third layer.
  7. You can use a file or buffer to shape your nails further.
  8. Wash hands carefully to remove any acces gel left on fingers or hand.

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Final results

I must say I’m very pleased with the final result. The nails are smooth and I especially like the design of my finger nails. They change colour with movement and sometimes the special dots are pink, other times silver, gold or blue. In the end I find my toes a bit boring. I opted for black and white combinations to fit in with the high contrast graphical trend and to give me many options as to what I could wear throughout the week. Black and white goes with everything.

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Side effects and things to look out for

However, since acquiring the gel nails I read up a bit on the disadvantages of gel nails. I noticed that my nails are a bit more irritable after the procedure and I remembered some stories of other bloggers having negative experiences.

Disadvantages of gel nails

  • There have been reports that gel nails can lead to cancer. The UV light from lamps used to set the gel manicures have the same kind of damaging effects as a sunbed. It is recommended to protect your hands with sunblock applying the gel.
  • The treatment can cause the nail to thin.
  • It can potentially lead to infections.
  • Nails breakage can apparently be more painful as the nail breaks at a much higher point.
  • Some specialists claim that it takes the nails about 6 weeks to recover from a gel treatment.
  • It’s going to be a lot tougher to remove the gel. You will need to soak your nails in pure acetone, which is very drying to the fingers or file them off.

Although I’m happy with my nails now, I’m a bit worried as to how to maintain them over the coming weeks and to eventually remove the gel. Time will tell and I will update this article later with any final observations or write a separate one if I have a lot to add. For now, let’s just enjoy them!

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Meanwhile I would like to hear from you. Who had gel nails before and what has been your experience with them? Would you ever consider getting them? What about nail art?

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Rita

I love my gel nails! They do last…definitely 2 weeks and sometimes 3. What I really like is that my real nails are growing out underneath the gel, so when my nails are short and I want to grow them out…this is the way to go! I have the gel removed completely about every 6 weeks and have had no problems with my nails being any thinner than normal…probably depends on the person. And it is so fast to do – no waiting for drying and no messing up the polish!

Sylvia

Great feedback Rita. Thanks!

Christina

Sylvia, I like your pedicure, but I’ve never been a fan of nail art on hands. Maybe it’s just me.
I’ve never had strong nails. Don’t know why. I eat a very healthy diet. My hair is thick and healthy and grows fast, but my nails are thin and break easily. A couple years ago, I tried gel nails at a salon, an kept it up for about a year. At first, I thought it improved the look of my hands a lot, but I never got used to the feeling of the gel overlay on top of my real nails. After a year, I decided to take some time off, and then reassess. In the end, I decided not to do it again. I was concerned with the UV lights, and the amount of acetone needed to remove them. However, I didn’t want to go back to my natural unattractive nails. With some trial an error, I settled on an ‘American Manicure’, which is a more fresh and current take on the outdated French Manicure. The difference, is that instead of a thick ultra-white band at the end of the nail, it is a much softer, natural white.. Dior has a clear polish called ‘Gel’, which mimics the perfectly smooth look of gel nails. Also, this is easy to do on my own once a week, and holds up well, unlike coloured polishes, which I always manage to chip and ruin in no time!

Sylvia

Interesting Christina. Will have a look out for it in the store…

Lorraine

I have never been big on nail varnish on my finger nails although my toes are never naked in the summer! To me it feels like my nails are suffocating under the varnish and I can’t keep them nice for long. I do like your nails and toes though Sylvia – perhaps I will give it a go.

Sylvia

So far, so good….

Lesley Randles

Hi Sylvia , I have a lot of trouble growing my nails. Whenever the length protrudes beyond my fingertip, they break! A manicure also doesn’t last long on my natural nails so I have been treating myself to gel nails for the past 8 years! I soak them off once a month and start again. So far, touch wood, I have had no infections. Yes, my nails underneath the gel are very soft, but my nails in their natural state are nothing to write home about! I like the look of a French Manicure so that is what I opt for – not sure I could live with nail art. Gel nails make me feel a bit more “groomed” and elegant so I’ll continue for as long as I can.
I enjoy reading your blog. I live in Durban, South Africa, so we have a similar climate to Singapore in summer. A bit cooler in winter but we seldom get the chance to wear jackets or coats. I always drool over the winter clothes when I visit the UK or Europe.

Sylvia

Thanks for your feedback Lesley and great to hear that gel nails have worked so well for you. I’m still undecided as to what I will do. Let’s just see how long these will hold.
Great to read that you are enjoying the blog!

Carla

Hi Sylvia my nails also are very thin and break or rip off. I have had gel nails about 2 years they protect my nails from ripping and bleeding which is painful. I have them done every 3 to 4 weeks and file them if they start to get to long. I love how they always make your hands and toes look manicured and polished. Otherwise I would never look put together and groomed

Sylvia

Thanks for the feedback Carla and great to hear it’s been working so well for you!

Lisa

I would never do this. I like to look good, but anything that increases my risk of cancer is not going to be applied to my body. (That goes for most hair coloring products and many forms of makeup.)

Sylvia

Probably a very wide decision Lisa…

Heather Fonseca

I’ve had gel polish a few times and I think like anything else moderation is the key! It’s great if you need your nails to look good for a week or so. Perfect for a vacation or fashion week. I had mine done a few weeks ago because I was going to a few networking events and I believe it’s important to look well groomed.

However

Removing the stuff is a process. First they use an emery board to file down some of the gel, then they soak your nails in acetone, then they scrape off the rest! I can see where it would take 6 weeks for your nails to recover.

Also my gel polish starts looking worn after about a week and a half. No, it never chips, but it does peel. I always choose a neutral color so it won’t be too noticeable.

Still, it’s worth it in certain situations, and your nails look great.

Sylvia

Thanks for the feedback Heather. yes fashion week was the perfect opportunity to try this out!

Heather Fonseca

Also, my salon now does gel with LED lights, not UV. I definitely noticed that they didn’t last as long as when they were done with UV, but I think I prefer the LED for health reasons.

dan

I find the result of gel nails in your last photo very beautiful, but I have been pretty scared by bad effect… I think I would choose French manicure on me…

Greetje

Now this is a subject I know a lot about. For 12 years I have had gel nails. Usually in the colour red. I liked my gel nails to look as if I only used nail varnish.
After I stopped, it takes your nail as much time to recover as it takes to grow from nail bed to the end / tip. Because indeed, your nails have been buffed. Your nails do grow back with the same quality as before. Even after 12 years.
So if you only apply them to use it for a couple of weeks, you have a bit of a “problem”. You can put a little shine varnish on them for the time they are recovering. I could not do that as my nails (in their natural state) cannot handle any varnish: they break and split (in levels) and again it takes the time to grow from bed to tip before they are reasonable again. So I can never use nail varnish. However my nails did not protest against gel. Strange but true.
Although I think your nails are fun, I prefer a more simple look, just one colour: natural shine or soft pink or, in my case, fireman red, which is my signature colour. I don’t like French manicure as they often make it too artificial.
I never took the gel off myself. The nail artist did that by filing. No aceton at all. She could file the gel from my nails without further damaging the surface.
One remark about your nails…(sorry) it is possible to get the gel a bit more flat, more natural on your nails. Now it looks as if the gel is a bit thick on your nails. Or perhaps it is the close-up photo. There is quite a quality difference in nail artists. Be sure you have some recommendations.
I used to love the groomed look and I got used to the fact I couldn’t scratch myself very well (nails are thicker). Loved to point at things on the table in meetings haha.
But I suffered from a nasty and very dangerous bacteria around my nails, so I had to stop anything that might give me little wounds around my nails. I don’t know whether it had anything to do with the gel nails or not as this is a bacteria which everybody carries on their body. Whether, (and if so) where or when it becomes active and dangerous is not to say.

Heather

Hi greetje! I think you might be talking about acrylic nails. Gel has only been around for about 2 – 3 years. Acrylic nails have been around for many years.

Greetje

Thatis what you think 🙂 but no they were indeed gel nails. I know about acrylic nails too. One of my friends teaches both methods in workshops. I can tell you they were gel and have been around before 1995, as I know I had red nails when I got married in 1995.

Sylvia

Thanks for all the info Greetje. I definitely wonder what it will be like to remove the gel… Sofar the nails are still going strong. I’ll tackle that problem when it comes….

Rita

Hey, there must be two Rita’s now. This is “shoe Rita”. 😀 Your nails are very cute, Sylvia! I’m definitely a bit lazy when it comes to my nails and must admit I do worry about the chemicals (same for make-up and hair/body care products). I keeping mine trimmed and filed and that’s it. I used to wear polish years ago, though, and thought it looked nice.

Lorraine

Two Rita’s? Is this an imposter or the real Rita? How can we tell? Sylvia, you need to give us a way of knowing which Rita is which!

Sylvia

It’s another Rita Lorraine. I can tell from the email address but of course that is not displayed. There are a lot of Rita’s in this world…. The best way for any of the Rita’s to distinguish themselves would be to add another letter maybe, eg. Rita P.

Sylvia

Of course an even easier way is to add a photo (wink, wink). You can do so by going to gravatar.com. It does not have to be a photo of yourself (although that would be nice), but can be anything (that is not offensive).

Lorraine

Ha ha! Nice try Sylvia! Rita – you will have to use Kitty Girl’s picture (or a shoe picture – now there’s an idea) or this could get confusing!

Rita

Hee hee…I’ll see what I can do about a name change and avatar. 🙂 Kitty Girl is much more photogenic than I am and would be an excellent choice, Lorraine! 🙂 She may not be a nice kitty, but she’s oh so pretty!

It’s funny…I never knew one other Rita until I was in my late 30’s, then I joined an office that already had two “Rita’s”. One even worked in my same group. Talk about confusing! A woman I knew from ice skating lessons (in my early 30’s) could never remember my name because she said I didn’t “look” like a “Rita”. She kept calling me Susan or Ann. I was never quite sure what to make of that.

Renae

I love to play with nail art and sometimes just plain colors but my nails are almost always done, I keep them short or they tend to break. I have had gel nails done and they peeled before two weeks were up, lasted about 8 days, apparently I am very hard on my nails. Removing the gels took extra time and the process left my nails softer than they were. I tried several salons, I think they are fine if you are willing to keep them up, they were also good when I needed to have the manicure last at least a week but otherwise I find it easier to wear regular polish that I can touch up or change quickly. I know both my daughter and daughter in law had about the same experiences and neither of them were willing to try gels again so I think it really depends on what works for each individual.

Sylvia

Thanks for your feedback Renae. I’m still so curious as to what will happen with mine…

Sophie Davis

I was persuaded to have gel nails on my fingers by a beautician friend. She is well aware of the fact that, for some reason, nail varnish chips on me very easily, sometime within hours. I’m not a lover of artificial nails and she thought this would be a good solution.

I had them done prior to going away on holiday and chose a nude colour so that it would go with any outfit. By the end of the two week holiday, the gel had started to lift away from the base of the nail. The obvious growth was made to look even worse by ragged lines from the peeling gel. By the end of the holiday, I hated them.

To make matters worse, on returning home I was due to attend a very posh dinner function. With no time for a visit to the beautician to remove the gel nail, I decided to take advantage of one of the other “benefits” I was told about gel nails – you can paint over them without it disturbing the gel beneath, so changing the colour of your nails is easy. Or so I thought.

Initially I tried to refresh the look by using a very similar nude colour to go over the whole nail. This didn’t work at all. The obvious depth of the gel against the normal depth of the varnish looked horrendous. I then decided that the only option left to me was to paint over the gel with a darker colour. I removed the initial nude varnish I had applied and tried a darker colour. Although this covered the gel varnish, the overall effect was horrendous. The only saving grace was that the lighting at the dinner was subdued!

On taking the gel off, I can honestly say that my nails were extremely de-hydrated. They looked ridged and broke very easily and I don’t believe they recovered until a full nail’s growth had replaced where the gel originally went.

Gel nails are something that I would not try again, nor recommend.

That said, yours look lovely Sylvia – enjoy them!

Sylvia

thanks for your feedback Sophie. It’s great to get the personal feedback from both those who love them and hate them so readers can an excellent overview of all the pros and cons…

Greetje

My nails grow very fast, like my hair. So the growth was easily spotted with red nail varnish. I went back every three weeks to remove the old layer of gel and have a fresh one put on. In the meantime I kept the growth “undetected” by flattening the rim of the gel with a special gel file, sloping and sometimes adding a bit of glue. As you are weakening the adherence by filing them at the nail bed side. Then I used special “filler” stuff from my nail artist, to fill the depth between my nail and the gel. And then I varnished them with a similar colour red nail varnish. It hardly showed.
I did that once after a week and sometimes two times after another week. If I was in a hurry I would just fill and varnish over it (not so nice of course).
They never chipped with me but it is a lot of maintenance.

Janise

Your nails look fabulous! Being a busy mom of twin boys I’ve been contemplating whether or not I should give gel nail a try. I love staying fabulous while being a mom but having to do my nails once a week can be time consuming. I might give this a try. Thank you for sharing!

xo,
Janise
http://MamaInHeels.com

mrsross1113

Hi I think that some are getting gel nails confused with gel nail polish. Gel nail polish lasts on average 2 to 3 weeks. I use OPI gel nail polish. It is cured under an LED light for about 30 seconds after each coat. The removal process is easy. Your nails are wrapped in foils with a pad soaked in an acetone remover that only contacts your nail itself not the skin. There is minimal buffing involved to prepare the nail for polish. The process is VERY similar to a traditional manicure. I go to a professional to have them done and also get nail art. I really like them. They strengthen my natural nail and give me a nice long lasting jazzy look. The quick drying time is a plus for me as well as I have three kids two of them being babies

Sylvia

Yes I am referring to gel nail polish. I have now been a complete convert. I have mine done in a salon as well and when I choose a neutral color they last for a whole month. Not all salons do the removal process in foils I have found, but it is by far the best way of doing it.

Caroline

I had a French manicure done in gel for my wedding, two years ago, and it was great. I usually manage to smudge my manicure before I leave the salon, but the gel didn’t chip or peel.
After the wedding, we went on our honeymoon for two weeks and my manicure looked great!
I didn’t remove the polish, but let it chip or peel off, which took about a month. It didn’t bother me because the pink colour matched my skin. I haven’t done had gel nails since though.

Aimee

I seriously have to correct you on this I’m afraid. I’ve been a Nail Tech for 6 years and whoever you got your information from is mental. It is near IMPOSSIBLE to get skin cancer from a UV lamp. The rays are so small and the time you have your hands in the machine so little that it doesn’t do any damage. It is the same as being in natural sunlight for about 17-26 secconds. You would need 250 years of regular use of a UV lamp to even start to cause damage. Gel doesn’t cause the nail to thin, if anything in strengthens the nail hence why clients use this as a great alternative to acrylic nails. Saying it can potentially lead to infections is like saying if you drive a car if could crash! Absolutely anything can cause infections no matter what treatment you receive. As long as the gel is applied correctly by a fully qualified nail tech, s/he cleans her tools properly & you follow aftercare you will NOT get infections from gel nails. Nail breakage would be no different to normal polish! If anything it’s less likely to occur as the nails are stronger. I have no idea who told you that nails need to “recover” from gel but that is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard, NAILS DON’T BREATHE! & finally, yes, it is together to remove gel but it’s still a very safe and easy process.

Sylvia

The article was based on research but also in large part my own experience.
As for the UV light, who knows. I certainly can’t imagine any direct exposure is good for the skin.
From my own experience I felt my nails suffered quite a bit from gel nails and they DO become very weak. Not when the gel is on of course, but when you take it off it’s definitely a lot worse. And they DO need to recover. Nails are a living part of your body, they grow and they get affected by treatments.
I had it several times and on 2 occasions in different salons I had very painful skin around the top side of mail. Only on one or 2 but still, it was not pleasant. It made me realise that when any of that stuff hits the skin, it really is not good at all.

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