Everything You Need to Know About Gel Polish

They've been around for a while now, and they're pretty awesome, right? Julie Kandalec, creative director of New York's "modern manicure studio," Paintbox, weighs the pros and cons.

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Gel vs. Acrylic—What's Right for You?

"Acrylic (aka liquid and powder) and gel are cousins—they both contain ingredients from the acrylic family," explains Kandalec. "Gel uses UV light to harden, while acrylic cures when liquid and powder combine in a perfect ratio. Gel is also flexible—it prevents lifting and damage because it hugs and moves with the natural nail, while acrylic is harder."

Who needs a cool phone case when you have cool nails? Photography courtesy of Getty Images
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"Gel comes in two types: hard, which needs to be filed off but can be used to sculpt longer nails, and soft, which is polish-based and can be soaked off. Acrylics and gels are all safe for your natural nails when they're applied and removed properly." The takeaway? If you want long nails, go for hard gels or acrylics. If you want long-lasting polish that's easy to remove, try out soft gels, which last for about two weeks.

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If Gel Nails Require UV Light, Is That Safe?

It's OK! Photography courtesy of Getty Images

"There have been many scare tactics in recent years coming from people trying to push their products (sunscreens, LED-proof gloves, etc). The amount of UV output from a gel manicure is not enough to be cancer-causing," says Kandalec. "There has never actually been legitimate proof of this. "

"You get more UV exposure walking to your car than you do at a gel nail appointment. It would take 200 years of regular gel manicures to see any skin damage." So, go forth and get mani'd.

Can You Safely Remove Gels at Home?

Grab that acetone! Photography courtesy of Getty Images
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"Of course! File off the top coat with a 180-grit file. Saturate a small piece of cotton in acetone, place it on the nail, and wrap in aluminum foil. Wait 15 minutes and remove the foil. The gel should come off easily with some nudging by an orangewood stick," says Kandalec.

"However, I still recommend having a professional do it for you. Not all gel lines are made of the same chemicals and pigments, and some are much harder to D.I.Y. remove." If you have hard gels, it's best to let the pros do their work.

After Removing Gels, How Can You Give Your Nails Some R&R?

"CND's RescueRXx is a fantastic keratin product to apply daily to the natural nail to strengthen it and repair peeling and white spots," says Kandalec. "IBX is also a great treatment if you want to put gel back on right away, as it soaks into the lower layers of the nail—ask for it at your salon."

Oxygen Nail Treatment by Julep, $18, nordstrom.com.
Revive & Grow Treatment Base Coat by Nails Inc., $15, sephora.com.

How Do Gel Nails Affect Your Nail Health?

Don't peel off that mani. Photography courtesy of Paintbox Nails

"When they're applied, cured, and removed properly, minimal damage is done. I recommend three cycles of gel before giving it a rest for a month. Then repeat," says Kandalec. "And be sure to never peel your gel off! You need those healthy nail layers for the gel to adhere to. Putting gel on a thin and damaged nail will only cause a vicious cycle."

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