Eco Beauty & Fashion

4 Reasons Derms Hate A Gel Manicure

Gel manicures last longer, it's true. But dermatologists hate them because of problems with infection, nail damage and cancer. Is a gel manicure worth it?People are all abuzz about the gel manicure, which lasts longer than regular nail polish and doesn’t chip. But do you know what really goes into the gel manicure process?

First, gel manicure polish is applied and “cured” under ultraviolet (UV) light. To take the gel manicure polish off, you have to soak the fingernails in acetone for 15 minutes. Newsflash: Acetone can cause serious skin irritation that’s not so pretty.

Need more reasons why you might want to stay away from the gel manicure? Take a look at these, from the American Academy of Dermatology.

  1. Cancer, skin irritation and weaker nails. Is that what you want from your mani? Regular UV exposure can lead to skin cancer.
  2. Acetone is a skin irritant linked to an allergic reaction called contact dermatitis.
  3. Gel manicures can cause nail weakness, brittleness and thinning.
  4. Nails continuously covered in polish mask potential problems, such as infections.

Want pretty nails and polish that lasts—but is easier on your nails than a gel manicure? Look for “big four free” polish like SpaRitual or even try out a water-based brand like Scotch Naturals.

A California initiative is encouraging nail salons to only offer “big three” toluene, dibutyl phthalate and formaldehyde free products—for the safety of the salon worker, as well as the client. (The “fourth” is formaldehyde resin.)

But to be 100% sure your nails are healthy, you could simply just go au naturale.

Photo: Prestige Smile and Beauty

Editor’s note: We’ve had many inquiries about more natural gel manicures, and it took a while but I found one that really works! SpaRitual’s new Gold collection is super easy to apply–no base coat, two coats of polish and their special bonding SpaRitual Gold Collection Nail Lacquer Top Coat. It cures with sunlight (hence the wrapped bottle), so no UV needed, and comes off with regular remover. And the colors are amazing–I’m especially obsessed with shimmery dark violet Strong and the plummy eggplant Shrewd. As with all SpaRitual products, the line is Big Five free and vegan. Take a look and if you find a more natural gel manicure that works for you, please leave me a comment so I can check it out. Thanks!


  • Rachael Allison

    I only had a manicure once which was a year ago, they put on a gel thing and three days later my natural nail on my left pinky came mostly off and almost had it removed from the infection, it was cheap as it was the grand opening of the salon. Been scared of getting my nails done since (including normal nail polish) but I’m going to get them done again but from a different place in my own state near my house.

  • Zantrell Williams

    Just rewarding the article, with the exception of the uv light, these are all things that are also applicable to acrylic manicures so to limit this to gel is misleading as it makes one think that acrylic nails are better. I prefer my own natural nails, as these manicures make my nails feel thick and my nails grow so fast I’d be getting fill ins every week and a half versus 2-3 weeks. But I’ve had experience with both for special occasion. I had only artificial tips added to a few nails to make them all the same length. Yes soaking them in the acetone to remove them did a number on my nails but it was literally the same effect of washing dishes without gloves. After about a week and a half my nails were back to normal. As I’ve said, this was once with acrylic and a second time with gel. Anyway, while the risks may real or concerns may be valid, the article again almost assumes that gel manicures are worse than anything other than varnish on a natural nail.

    • Zantrell Williams

      Realized I have a typo. Reading*, that’s supposed to be reading the article. Trying to comment and use the Swype keyboard on my phone. And I also realized my comment was posted twice. Sorry for duplicates.

    • Taylor

      Yes they did nothing I got afraid to get mine yesterday because of that post I have them now and nothing happened. Thank goodness I looked at the comments after. It would have been smart to do so before I got them to not be affected by this thank you so much!

    • Dawn

      I don’t understand what happened to that ladies nails but im 45 yrs old and have been getting my nails done every 2 weeks since i was 15 and I had every kind of nails known to man and have never had 1 thing wrong except the lady doing my nails cut my cuticle and i bled a little. Her nails look like she has some kind of infection. Nothing i know has ever made nails look like that from getting your nails done.
      Im sure it’s a disease not nail salon problems.

  • Diana

    I am a nail technician, the picture you have above is not even of a gel manicure it looks like a full set of acrylic or gel fake nails not a gel manicure, people are different a can have different reactions to different products I have never seen anyone react like that to gel nail polish before or a uv light. I would also like to say that that looks like an infection most likely from improper cleaning of nail tools, you should really do some more research before posting stuff like this.

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Thanks for your feedback, Diana! Regardless of the photo, I believe that concerns about gel manicures raised by the American Academy of Dermatologists are valid–and alarming.

      • Julia D.

        I am also a Nail Tech, the photo is from MMA Acrylics I’ve seen the source photo before. Also I agree you should do more research before writing about any subject.
        Yes the UV Exposure can cause cancer, however the amount of UV Exposure from a Gel Mani is minimal there have been studies that show it would take well over 100 manicures to equal walking out your door to your car. Not exactly a tanning bed.
        Two Acetone is an irritant and when proper soaking is performed it has limited contact and again minimal damage. Many techs as is the case with myself are starting to apply extra base coats and buffing the color off to that base (never touching the natural nail).
        Thinning etc comes from NSS Salons over filing the natural nail each service, again something the professionals do not do and would not occur.
        Any covering can mask issues, though if you are getting them changed as you should every 2-3 weeks any professional nail tech would see any possible issues and refer them to a doctor.

        Perhaps you should write an article about picking a safe salon that uses high quality product and clean implements. Might be more helpful

        • Myka

          Looks like an allergic reaction to me. I’ve gotten my nails done off and on for approx 20years and have never had any problems (…..yet! Don’t wanna jinx myself! ) I take GNC nail vitamins and take good care of my cuticles. Makes a huge difference!

  • Tasha

    There are gel systems that use an LED light instead of a UV light. I bought my own gel system because I don’t want to pay money for something I can do at home, and I got a system with an LED light because I didn’t like the idea of using a UV light.

      • Willow

        I get that acetone is “bad”, but it’s in nail polish remover. They don’t just soak your nails in acetone. They soak it in nail polish remover that contains acetone. You can buy acetone free polish remover, but it’s hard to find. It’s a special made product for people who don’t want the harshness of it.

      • Jodi Phillips

        CND and Gelish offer removers filled with nutrients and has a low percentage of acetone. There are alternatives to the harsh effects. Most of the products are available only to professionals. Another great reason why you should only trust someone trained!

  • dWi

    just googling about Gel Nail Polish and came across to this blog. Seriously that’s kind a scary thing that I’ve ever seen. We have to do care health itself before the beauty ^^

  • Peggy

    I’ve been getting gel nails for about two months and was so excited that my nails were all growing to the same long length. And I loved the shine that lasted so long. It just bothered me that my real nails never got a break. I woke up in the middle of the night because three of my nails felt sore. I managed to get most of the polish off after soaking them in acetone for quite a while. I cut them back to a short length and they are feeling much better. I don’t think this is a scare tactic at all. Health just needs to win out over beauty. At least for me. Thanks.

    • sam

      Please, did you see a Dr or anyone to confirm your discomfort was due specifically to the gel polish? Not just a forgotten bump/bang to the hand? Anecdotal ‘evidence’ makes for a good read…but it doesn’t actually prove much.

      • Rachel Sarnoff

        Thanks Sam, the photo is credited at the end of the story and the four reasons listed are from the American Academy of Dermatology. I appreciate your comments!

  • Joy

    Shame on you for saying gel nails aren’t safe! I’ve been a nail tech for 43 years and I’ve never had a client come back with any problems as far as UV rays. You are trying to sell your product and it should not have anything to do with this picture. I looked at the nails on this picture and these nails weren’t done by a professional. Anyone can have a reaction in a salon, from beauty products, hair products and nail products. I have seen reactions from my clients who use Mary Kay Cosmetics! Their face had the same reaction! But for you to say that gel nails can cause this type of reaction, you scare me, and so does your product! Shame on you

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Thanks for writing Joy, I think you may have commented before? I’m not selling anything, simply sharing information from dermatologists. But I do appreciate you reading Mommy Greenest!

  • Zyxomma

    I wouldn’t want nail color that lasts so long, and I don’t like applying poison to my body (I got rid of all the toxic cosmetics, skin care, hair care, and nail care I owned years ago). Here are a few of my favorite clean and green polish brands: Priti NYC, Zoya, Ginger + Liz, Scotch (no odor!!), and LVX (which is 5-free, not 3-free). Bargain Bonus: Sinful Colors, $1.99 a bottle at Walgreens or Duane Reade, is 3-free, and comes in some truly stylish colors. Health and peace.

  • Tilly10

    Can’t agree with this ! Gel nails are safe and healthy if applied properly and uv lamps in salons are not strong enough to cause cancer ! This is scared mongering just to sell your own product ! Shame on you !

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Thanks for your comment, Tilly. I’m not selling any product, and the concerns are those of dermatologists. Thanks for reading!

  • Jenny

    Good reading but I cannot agree. I do gel and have done for about 8years now. 1, I never soak it off because, right I would not like to stick my hnds into any kind of chemicals. There is a reason why I always use rubbergloves while cleaning!!!!! I use a nailfile, by hand or by machine. I have natural beautiful nails and never any problems with dryiness or irritation.

    If you get any kind of irritaition or redness, pain or whatever, I think you should stop what you doing and go to another nailstechnition. Because the person probably don´t even know what they are doing!


    Instagram: LADYJENASP

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Thanks for writing, Jenny! I see that you love your gel 🙂 Just remember that there are pretty toxic chemicals making that polish stick to your nails. So you do have chemicals on your nails at all times if you’re wearing gel polish, even if you’re wearing gloves while cleaning. Just something to think about!

  • MsKat

    I was a cosmetologist when acrylic nails were the big thing, and when old-school gel nails (no light curing) were a thing. All of those types of things damage your nails. If you pay attention during the process, the surface of your nail is ‘buffed’ (filed smooth with a fine file), so that the gel or whatever has the best chance of staying on the longest time possible. Great for the salon’s reputation, not for nails. That is why most people find that once they get a coating like that on their nails (originally used to add length, with or without a nail tip glued on, now with added color for a mani that won’t quit), they have to keep getting it or the nails left when it is taken off are weak, paper thin, damaged. Nail polish is only marginally ok for our nails, none of this stuff is any good for us. That being said, I got curious and discovered a gel nail color that does not require a light to cure, and decided to try it. I did NOT smooth my nails with the file, I decided it wasn’t worth the aftereffects. This system cures by a chemical reaction between the clear coat (something of a glorified nail glue) and the color coat. It wasn’t bad, actually. It went on easily, looked identical to regular nail polish but was tougher and dried pretty much immediately. I liked it, I think I wore it for close to 2 weeks. I would have left it in place longer but a couple of them developed cracks. I used acetone to remove them, because regular nail polish remover, while effective, took FOREVER (tried it on one nail). Even though I didn’t file my nail surfaces and was as gentle with my nails as I usually am, there was definitely some damage to my nails. The nails were no longer as smooth as they once were, and were dry and prone to splitting. For its good qualities of longevity and looks/durability, it still isn’t worth using, even if it doesn’t require a light to cure!

  • Kim

    I would be interested in finding out the difference in the hazzard of Gel nails versus Acrylic. I changed from Acrylic to Gel because I had heard they are better for you and they last longer. Looks like I was mis-informed.

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Thanks Kim! I haven’t done a comparison, but I know that both involve some pretty heavy chemicals. You might want to try going natural for a while, or trying a water-based polish–I love Scotch Naturals, the colors are so pretty!

      • Kim Byrne

        Thanks Rachel, I have chosen not to get either of them. I am going natural. My nails have ridges more than usual now. My mother was a beautician and I keep remembering that your nails need to breath. Using either of the processes do not let them breath. I personally prefer healthy nails to yellow and discolored nails.

        Thanks again,

        • Rachel Sarnoff

          Great idea! I love a good buff myself 🙂 Luckily, many polishes today don’t contain the formaldehyde that turns your nails yellow. But I agree, let them breathe! 🙂

  • cheri

    Glad you’re spreading this info on gel nails. I had it done last May because I was going to Paris for 2 weeks and wanted nice looking nails that would last,. That they did, but when I returned I had it immediately taken off knowing that something as permanent as this may cause damage and I was correct. It has been well over 4 months since the removal of the polish and my nails are finally getting back to normal. As soon as it was removed every nail started peeling and breaking and they were so soft and flimsy. Too bad there isn’t a warning about this destructive product. I fault the nail technicians that don’t warn clients of the possible side effects.

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      OH wow, that sounds like a nightmare! Four months is a long time investment for two weeks of polish!!! Thanks for commenting, Cheri!

  • Kimber

    I am a nail tech and this is currently what we specialize in.
    #1 most of our cliebts your come in twice a month each hand is exposed for 12 minutes a month to the uv….your hand is exposed to just as much uv driving around in your car and the uvs not like a tanning bed or all our clients would have tan hands…#2 soaking it off with acetone the right way and not submerging hands into a bowl of acetone will not irritate. And #3 it does not make mails weak and tlle, some places use a dremil drill to apply which is not needed yes that will make them weak…and if removed correctly and not picked or peeled off it will cause no harm. We have clients who have been doing this product for 3 years and still have beautiful natural nails.

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Thanks for this perspective, Kimber, and thanks for writing. But I still feel concerned when the American Academy of Dermatology is concerned!

    • Meaghan

      I agree with Kimber,
      This article is such a little scare tactic. If not done correctly I guess I can see how the 4 “problems” listed would be cause for concern, but when done by an expert/nail tech they can be beautiful and fun. There are base coats that can be applied that protect the nail. Soaking in acetone is not the only way to remove the gel & wouldn’t using a regular nail polish be masking a potential problem?

      • Rachel Sarnoff

        Again, I really appreciate your comments, but the concerns listed come from the American Academy of Dermatologists. I’m not trying to scare anybody, I’m simply sharing the information. Thanks for reading!!

    • sam

      Kimber’s right. This article should be about the dangers of improper application/removal of gel NOT about avoiding gel itself. Gel polish (like many things) is perfectly safe when used properly. It is low-end salons that cut corners that should be advised against. Next time, consider checking more than one source before writing your article.

  • Kristina (The Greening Of Westford)

    I’ve tried the gel manicure twice. I did love the way my nails looked, but they were so much weaker when the polish came off – I did the 2 mani’s back to back so polish was on for about 5 weeks continuously. It didn’t even occur to me that the UV light was similar to a tanning bed! Until a friend mentioned it. Duh! Never again.

    • Jess

      you would have to have 250 years worth of weekly manicures to increase your chance of getting skin cancer…

      also you dont have to soak them in acetone to remove them you can also have them filed off. that picture above is the worst case scenario and is an extremely rare occurance

  • Hayley

    If I ever was considering trying a gel manicure, your article cured me of that desire. Gel manicures are shortsighted – it’s not worth taking care of the here and now and ending up with other problems later. Thanks for the good info.

  • Gina @ TheTwinCoach

    Thanks for spreading the word, Rachel. I have only tried this 2 or 3 times, but I could see how much thinner my nails were afterwards & it just stands to reason that anything that lasts this long CAN’T be good for you! But this is just gross. No more gels for me.

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Wow, only a few times and you really saw the diff, huh? I haven’t ever tried it but a lot of my friends are raving about it. I just hope none of them end up with nails that look like THAT photo. Ick!! Thanks for commenting 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *