Nail Damage: What You Need To Know Before Picking Off That Gel Manicure!

You went to the salon. You picked out your favorite shade. You managed to make it last a whole 2-week vacation without chipping a single finger! Gel manicure? Nailed it.

But now it’s past the point of polished perfection, and you’re sat at home watching TV, absent-mindedly picking off the last remnants of ‘Coral Kisses’ or ‘Ballet Slippers’. No harm is done, right? Well, think again, because you could be about to cause some serious nail damage.

What’s the problem with picking off polish?

When you pick, peel or chew (please, no!) the surface of your nails, you’re not just taking off the polish - you’re also removing the top layer of your nail. This delamination of the nail plate weakens and damages your nails, and can even lead to injury of the nail matrix (the deepest part of the nail bed containing nerves, lymph and blood vessels) and prevents further healthy growth.

Gel manicures, in particular, are thought to be damaging for your nails; a 2012 study by the University of Miami used ultrasound to show that the method thins the nail plate. The exact cause was unclear to the authors, though it’s likely due to one, or a combination of, the following factors: the chemical composition of the gel polish, the acetone soak required to remove the gel and incorrect removal methods.

That’s not to say you should stop getting gel manicures altogether. For some of us, regular nail polish just isn’t up to the task! But if you’re even an occasional fan of the gel-mani-method, there are some ways to minimize the damage that we recommend you follow.

Here are typical signs of damage to look out for when your gel manicure is removed:

- White spots on the nail surface
- Cracks or splits in the nail plate
- A dry and flaky nail surface
- Soft or crumbly nails
- A thin, bendy nail plate

If you’ve noticed any other unusual nail symptoms that aren’t listed above, you may want to check out our blog on what else the appearance of your nails can indicate about your health.

How do I remove a gel manicure without causing nail damage?

If in doubt, your best bet is to consult a professional. Most salons will remove a gel manicure for you at a small cost, though make sure they don’t just file them off completely.

That said, it’s actually super easy to DIY gel manicure removal. All you really need to purchase are acetone and a nail stick. We’ve broken the process down for you into easy to follow steps:

  • Cut tin foil into 10 pieces, roughly 2.5 x 3.5 inches
  • Use an emery board/buffer block to remove the shiny top layer of your polish
  • Coat the skin around your nails with cuticle cream to protect them from the acetone
  • Saturate 10 cotton balls with 100% acetone
  • Place an acetone-soaked cotton ball onto each fingertip and wrap with the foil strips
  • After 15 minutes, check underneath one foil - the polish should appear to be lifting from the surface of the nail (re-wrap for a further 5 minutes if not)
  • Take off the foil wraps and use each cotton ball to apply slight pressure to the nail, removing the polish
  • Work at any remaining polish gently with a nail stick, placed under the polish to lift it from the surface of the nail
  • Hydrate your nails with a moisturizing treatment


This last step is super important: the acetone needed to break down the gel polish draws the natural oils from your nails, leaving them dry and vulnerable to damage. Our Nail Guardian is great at restoring the nails to full health, using our own blend of thirst-quenching essential oils!

I already picked off my polish! What can I do about the damage?

You’ll have to be patient, as it can take months for healthy new nails to grow in place of the damaged ones. During the recovery process, keep your nails shorter so they are less likely to snag and break.

Keep your nails moisturized, and avoid cutting the cuticles, as these are actually there to protect your nail bed from further damage. 

By far the best thing you can do at this point is taking a break from gel manicures until your nails are strong enough. Continue to keep them hydrated with a nail restoring treatment like Nail Guardian, and use good quality, non-toxic nail polishes, and acetone-free remover until your next time under the lamp.

How can I extend the life of my gel manicure?

Repeated exposure to acetone isn’t ideal, so if you can make each mani last, your nails will thank you. Here are our top tips to keep your tips in tip-top condition:

- Wear gloves when washing up, cleaning or gardening (apart from the risk of snagging your nails while doing chores, harsh chemicals in cleaning products can draw out the moisture from your gel polish and cause chipping)
- Wash your hands with mild soap instead of hand sanitizer (the alcohol also has a damaging drying effect)
- When your manicure begins to grow out, cover the base of your nails with glitter polish, creating a pretty ombrè effect
- Use Nail Guardian to hydrate the nails, preventing the polish from becoming dry and chipping

    Final Thoughts:

    Gel manicures can be a hassle-free way to enjoy great-looking nails that last longer than regular polish. You don’t have to cut them out altogether, but you do have to look after your gel manicure if you want your nails to stay beautiful. Keeping the nail plate hydrated with a moisturizing treatment like Nail Guardian, and taking the occasional gel break is key to maintaining healthy, strong nails.

    Lastly, remember the gel manicure golden rule: never pick off your polish!

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