Of all the vices you could have, an addiction to gel manicures probably isn’t overly terrible.
Or at least, that’s what I told myself.
My vice started in earnest while on maternity leave. Having polished nails made me feel pulled-together when the reality was more like: activewear, baby vomit and a very good chance that I hadn’t washed my hair that day.
Plus, when you spend much of your day with your hands submerged in water for some reason or other (don’t ask) gel or shellac (long-lasting polish which is cured by UV light and won’t chip for a couple of weeks) manicures are very tempting.
That is, until the first chip appeared and I couldn’t help but pick away the rest of the polish.
For a time my nails were softer than my baby’s: flaky and in such bad shape that I had to keep going with the gel manicures because I couldn’t stand looking at the state of them.
The common wisdom is that it’s not so much the actual gel manicure which makes your nails flaky and brittle, but the improper removal of them (i.e. picking it off rather than using an acetone soak). Though there was a study out of the University of Miami which found gel manicures and acetone can leave nails soft and thin.
Although I’m weaning myself off them now, I’m not alone in worrying about the state of my nails.
Remi Bouchenez is the Australian managing director of Mavala, a Swiss nailcare company which is perhaps best known for its Mavala Scientifique Nail Hardener (created 60 years ago and reformulated in 2017, it is still one of their best-sellers). She says the popularity of treatments such as gel, SNS and acrylic has forced people to consider the health of their nails.
“People are more and more conscious of their nail health, particularly as we have seen a surge in the overuse of synthetic nail treatments,” she says.
“The detrimental effects of prolonged use have caused a growth in the care category for nails, as consumers seek solutions to promote healthy nail growth and restore peak condition.”
Bouchenez also says there are early signs of a move away from semi-permanent nail polishes such as gels and back into traditional nail polishes.
Jocelyn Petroni, the official manicurist for Chanel in Australia says the most common problem she’s seeing among her clients, which can manifest in splitting, flaking and brittle nails.
Petroni developed her signature “naked manicure” in response to these concerns.
“[The naked manicure] is designed to focus on strengthening and conditioning nails in the long
term. It’s a colour-free experience that concentrates on ‘treating’ the nail. Women are
looking for alternatives to the range of synthetic nail treatment available that are causing
long-term damage to the healthy growth and condition of nails,” she says.
Dr Natasha Cook, of Sydney’s Darlinghurst Dermatology, says there are a number issues you should consider when it comes to nail health and manicures, ranging from infection and destruction of the nail, to increased risk of skin cancers.
She says to be careful also with the removal of gel nails, as the acetone used to soak off the polish can create irritancy in the skin, which can also lead to infections.
“Treatments like shellac are damaging due to the UV light used to set the polish. This can damage the surrounding skin with repeat use over time. Cumulative UV exposure can increase
your risk of skin cancer, so even though the UV used to set the polish is meant to be low dosage, one has to consider this as a risk if repeated weekly to fortnightly. Also we know that UV
is the biggest cause of skin ageing so be careful what you expose your skin to,” she says.
Dr Cooke also warns against the fad of having your cuticles pushed back in a “classic” manicure, as cuticles are meant to be there to protect the skin at the base of the nail.
So how can you reform your nails?
First, you need to give your nails a break from gel manicures, which will help to encourage the regrowth. The full cycle of a nail is about three to five months, but can be longer, so you’re going to need to be both patient and diligent. Two things which can be a hard sell in these quick-fix times.
Then start adding in a cuticle oil every day, which will help with both ragged cuticles and ensuring nails aren’t dry, to reduce the risk of chipping and splitting. Look out for products with Vitamin E for nourishing such as Sally Hansen’s Vitamin E Nail & Cuticle Oil.
To strengthen your nails you could look to something like Mavala’s NAILACTAN, which has amino acids, lipids and vitamins for nourishing nails, or a strengthener such as CND Rescue RXx Daily Keratin Treatment which has natural keratin (the protein we all have in our nails, hair and skin) and jojoba oil.
Brittle nails can also be a sign of inadequate nutrients such as iron, vitamin A and C and biotin in your diet. Research on horse hooves has found biotin (vitamin B7) is good for brittleness. So, a diet high in whole foods, lots of fruit and vegetables and some protein should be part of your gel manicure addiction recovery plan too.
And this is the part where we talk about moderation.
Because, like most things, gel manicures are good in moderation. If they get you through the first few months of new parenthood or your ex’s wedding then good and fine. But a balanced approach is recommended.
And, for the love of Essie’s Ballet Slippers (reportedly the only nail colour the Queen wears), stop picking off your gel manicure when it starts to chip.
Words by Annie Brown