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Is gel polish damaging your nails?

Last Modified: June 18, 2021

Family Medicine, Safety & Prevention

Gel polish

This post was written by Ashley Bojrab, DPM, FACFAS, ABPM, CWS, PPG – Podiatry.

At the nail salon, have you wondered what the difference is between gel polish and regular polish? Is one better for you than the other? Before you sit down for your next pedicure, consider the pros and cons.

The benefits

Gel polish can be beautiful on your nails and is quick to set, making it convenient. The gel option is also longer lasting and more durable. It doesn’t chip as easily, which allows your nails to stay painted longer, saving time and money.

The risks

Gel polish can be hard on your nails and cause peeling, cracking and even brittleness. The ultraviolet (UV) light, used to fast-set the gel, comes with some risks. Repeated use can increase the risk of skin cancer and premature aging of the skin that comes into contact with the UV light. Additionally, since acetone is used to remove gel polish, anyone who has an acetone allergy could have a reaction.. 

Removing gel polish

If you do decide to get gel polish, make sure you don’t pick it off. This can cause damage to the nails, such as brittleness and cracking, and even lead to pain or infection. It’s important that the gel be soaked in acetone for roughly 15 minutes so that it can be removed very easily. Try to soak only the fingertips or toes in acetone and not the whole hand or foot. The best way to achieve this is to soak cotton balls in acetone, apply them directly to the gel polish and  wrap the fingers in either foil or clear wrap.


When going to a nail salon, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) suggests that you check out the salon's cleanliness. Ask how their tools are sanitized or take your own instruments, if desired. Make sure the foot baths are sanitized before use or ask if they have the plastic lining for the tub. Don’t let the nail technicians cut or push back the cuticles, as this is the only barrier between you and the outside environment and them doing so could potentially increase the risk of infection if the skin seal is broken. 

Here are some attention safety tips:

  • Consider using regular nail polish instead of gel polish.
  • It’s important to give your nails a “vacation” from polish, no matter which type you choose. Only wear polish for 1-2 weeks and then remove it and let your nails recover.
  • The AAD recommends wearing sunscreen on the skin that is going to be exposed to the UV light when sealing the gel polish. Sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, with water-resistance, is suggested to prevent skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. 
  • The AAD suggests wearing opaque gloves with the fingertips cut out to protect your skin from the UV light.
  • During your “vacation” from polish, it’s important to moisturize the nails, allowing them to rejuvenate and repair. Apply cuticle oil a few times a day to help retore damage to the cuticles.



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