1. Gel manicures differ from acrylic ones. Acrylic nails are made with a powder dipped in solvent. "They're essentially used to lengthen the nail or provide a stronger top layer over the natural nail," explains Miss Pop. Sometimes they come in colors, but usually they're clear or natural-toned. Gels, on the other hand, come in nail polish shades, and are made hard by being cured under a UV or LED lamp.
2. Gels do weaken your nail beds, but it's mostly because of the removal process. Many people worry about getting gels because they fear their nails won't be able to breathe, but nails are actually dead to begin with, so they don't need to breathe! Your nail beds and cuticles are what's important — they're made of living tissue and why you need to be careful. It's safest to get gels removed at a salon, though it usually costs $80. Just make sure the manicurist is removing your gels carefully. "No one should be scraping your nail bed aggressively. The product should just crumble off," says Miss Pop.
3. There are ways to remove gels at home safely. If you want to save money and a trip to the salon, you can take the gels off yourself. You just have to be extra careful: You need 100 percent acetone, or better yet a gel remover you can pick up at any drug store or beauty supply store. They tend to be more expensive but are formulated to be less harsh than pure acetone. To remove, soak your cotton ball in the acetone or gel remover and place it on top of your nail. Wrap with foil. Then, wrap your hands in a hand towel — this encourages the removal process. Depending on your gel, this can take 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the products used and if brands were mixed. When the gel is crumbling or sliding off, gently use a rubber-ended cuticle pusher to clean the gel off of your nail bed. Do not file or scrape! You also want to keep your nail beds hydrated. Miss Pop recommends using cuticle oil and moisturizer. "Even if you don't have a gel mani, those products will help your nails stay healthy and strong, not to mention stave off hangnails," she says.
4. UV radiation can be dangerous to your health. "Conventional wisdom says unnecessary exposure to UV rays is bad for you," says Miss Pop, "but they have been part of salon services forever. Those purple-colored lights that help your nails dry are actually UV lights!" She opts out of using any UV driers or light gel-curing lamps because she has a history of skin cancer in her family, and it's better to be safe than sorry. If you do love your UV lamp for gel or drying time, put on sunscreen or lotion with sunscreen. Luckily, there have been huge improvements in gel technology, and many brands have converted to LED curing, which doesn't have the scary UV side effects. Companies such as OPI, Essie, and CND use LED lights. Ask your salon for that option.
5. At-home gel kits work! Well, kind of. Brands such as Sally Hanson, Ciate, and Kiss make at-home kits now with tiny little LED lamps. If you want to save money and have control over doing your own nails, they're a good option to try. Generally they last a bit longer than a regular manicure — maybe 10 days — but are definitely not salon quality. You really have to follow the instructions down to the last detail and have a pretty steady hand to get a perfect gel nail.
6. Gels cost anywhere from $70 to well within the hundreds for ~fancy~ nail art. How much you're going to pay for a gel mani really depends on where you live, but also what kind of look you want. Basic gel manis with one color start around $60. That's more than a regular manicure for sure, but they do last at least twice as long.
7. Gels generally last 2-3 weeks. The best part about gel manis is how long they last. If you have a bunch of events coming up back to back like prom, internship interviews, and family vacays, gels can be the perfect solution because they last about two full weeks with no chipping. Keep in mind, thought, that how long they last does depend on your body chemistry, the product itself, and how it's applied. But however long your gel lasts, you'll love your nails the entire time.