Why I’m Quitting Gel Nails: A Temporary Beautiful Result For Long-Term Pain

In the early 2000’s there was a huge trend for acrylic nails. The longer and squarer the better, with the focus being on ugly white tips and tacky nail art that at the time we thought was cutting edge. I had acrylic nails for four years, with practically no let up between, which left my nail beds damaged for years on end. I spent an absolute age investing in strengthening and growth treatments in an attempt to get my talons back to their former glory (I always had lovely strong and long nails, so I had no idea what I was thinking,) only to ruin them all over again thanks to a new trend. Gel nails were hailed to be the revolutionary technique that would change the way we viewed nail polish, offering up to four weeks of unchipped colour without damaging the nail bed beneath. Although this sounded like a dream, in my experience it really was too good to be true…

I’ve had numerous sets of gel nails as I can never keep a traditional polish unchipped for more than about three days; making a living from your keyboard and having an unnatural obsession with washing the dishes three times a day doesn’t really leave my talons looking their best. I initially tried gel nails when they first launched and loved the results – until it came to take them off. Unfortunately my technician didn’t really know what she was doing and used an acrylic nail buffer to essentially file off the colour, leaving me with paper thin nails beneath. After being convinced by friends who are addicted to try them again, I bit the bullet and had gel nails applied as part of my bridesmaid duty to ensure my manicure remained flawless for the entire weekend. However, when it came to removing the polish a few weeks later it was clear that this just wasn’t agreeing with me; once again my nails were left looking and feeling incredibly thin, breaking off and splitting for the next few months. Last October while on a mini cruise, I figured that the price and expertise of the treatment onboard would surely offer me a superior finish and no real damage… How wrong I was.

Nearly six months later and my nails are still splitting, still chipping and still breaking off as soon as they show a little bit of length. Although I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, that temporary beautiful result really wasn’t worth the long-time pain and frustration I’ve experienced as a result of gel nails. Unfortunately it’s not all about the application (although opting for someone that really knows what they’re doing helps,) but about the removal process and the expertise of your technician that is most important – so many manicurists claim to know how to apply and remove gel nails, but from my experience there’s a serious lack of understanding and education in the UK. My mother has also experienced horrendous results following gel applications in her local salon, which she’d started undertaking because of a great offer. My suspicions were aroused of them not offering the official product to keep their prices down (after watching a documentary on fake Shellac,) and a few months later confirmed when her nails were even worse than my own. 

I know of many women and close friends that swear by gel nails or have their own at-home kits, but for me the problems far outweigh the benefits of a chip-free manicure. With so many ill-informed and uneducated professionals applying and removing the product incorrectly, as well as so many imitation bottles of polish appearing on salon shelves up and down the UK, the aftermath leaves many of us wishing we just opted for a file and paint instead. In a world obsessed with convenience and time saving, gel manicures have become incredibly popular; removing the need to re-paint your nails every few days is one less thing to think about. However, from my experience, unless you visit a technician you can truly trust and have continual applications to cover any potential damage, it’s really not worth the pain and problem solving that comes with it. That’s why I’m throwing the towel in and quitting for good – sorry Shellac, you’re just not for me.

Have you experienced gel nails and been left with damaged talons, or do you love the technique and have never looked back? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Features PR samples unless otherwise stated. To read my full disclaimer, click here.  




  1. laura Syme
    April 6, 2015 / 8:58 am

    Oh no this is such a Shame! I'm a beauty therapist and I'm trained in shellac, I've had loads of ladies tell me there bad experiences when they have been else where. Have you tried CND solar oil for your nails? This helps to repair your nails, and helps the breaking and splitting.

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:09 pm

      I haven't, but I'm going to google it now! Thanks.

    • Anonymous
      May 21, 2015 / 9:31 pm

      Its really important that people are aware of what is being placed in their nails. Not all gel polish is gel polish. Shellac is a hybrid and is great for normal nails in regards to condition. Pure gel polishes such as gelish can offer added strength for weaker nails. There are differences and they can help in various ways.Completely agree with Laura, an important thing for any nails us a quality cuticle oil e.g solar oil, dadi oil, nourish. I'm wondering if people who have suffered issues with nail treatment s have followed any form of aftercare, do they generally look after their nail s? Gel polish can only do so much we do have to help nails just a little.A qualified nail technician ideally who has been trained in there gel polish of choice is a great start. A clean salon, filling in a client consultation card, someone who is willing to answer questions if you're unsure are so important. And if at any point you're worried about them or the products used…stop it!xx

    • Hayley Carr
      May 22, 2015 / 8:44 am

      Unfortunately the majority of 'technicians' aren't properly trained, don't recommend after care and remove the polish incorrectly so causing further damage. I've had numerous sets of gel nails, every time from a different place (and the last on a cruise ship with the highest quality service imaginable) and still they ruin your nails! I just don't think it's worth it.

  2. emmalcm
    April 6, 2015 / 9:51 am

    I have everything I need for doing gel polish at home but I only do it occasionally if I need my nails to stay chip free for special occasions, going away etc. As much as I love it, I do notice that my nails are quite dry afterwards. I don't know if that's because of the way you have to soak them off or what…it doesn't leave them in awful condition but just not quite as good as they would be otherwise. I get the impression that if I did it all the time they would get very dry. I've never had acrylics but I've heard some horror stories about how they can leave your nails! Em xhttp://themusingsofem.blogspot.co.uk/

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:10 pm

      Nail polish remover is really drying, so I don't think soaking nails in it helps… I think the gel removes a very small layer on the top too, meaning they're not as strong.

  3. london girl diana
    April 6, 2015 / 9:51 am

    I played around with acrylics a couple of years ago and loved the look of my nails when I left the salon only for me to enter the vicious cycle – I just had to have them filled in and whatnot to make sure I had perfect nails. I decided to stop doing them for one day and never known my nails to be so damaged, they were crazy thin and broke easily 🙁 Opt for shellac now, a little less harsh on the talons, but still leaves them beautiful for a week Diana xx | http://www.londongirldiana.com

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:11 pm

      That was me all over – in a vicious circle that I couldn't get out of!

  4. Alice Mullen
    April 6, 2015 / 11:44 am

    I've had acrylic on my nails continuously for over 4 years now. I have occasionally broken or cracked the acrylic on a nail and had to soak it off, but I have found that the natural nails underneath are still quite healthy.I've never been inclined to change to gel, as I often make a fortnight with only a few chips around edges or tips, in spite of doing things like lots of typing (particularly for work), gardening and working on cars.Only once did I experience bad damage to a nail from acrylic, and that was when the nail technician who usually does them was away and a different woman ended up doing them, and buffed virtually through the natural nail while doing an infill. Once it frew out, it was fine. With a good nail technician, I've had no trouble at all.

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:12 pm

      I think you have the world's best technician! You're obviously very lucky to still have amazing nails.

  5. vicky baker
    April 6, 2015 / 11:44 am

    Good article but it should be noted that Shellac is not a true gel system, it's a hybrid. I have known many people with nail issues after wearing this thanks to the application process and the chemistry that occurs to make it adhere on the nail. Gelish & Artistic are both proper gel systems and can cost up to double the price for technicians to buy products from, so I know a lot of technicians opt for the cheaper Shellac. The application & chemistry are both very different and therefore are the effects on real nails.

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:13 pm

      That's really good to know, thanks – I think there's a real lack of education around gel nails and how to look after them. I really wish there was more regulation around it.

  6. Birdie
    April 6, 2015 / 1:13 pm

    My nails are naturally weak, thin, bendy and generally pants. So please oh please tell me what you've used to get yours into peak condition. I'd love to have good strong nails.

  7. Bella Noir Beauty
    April 6, 2015 / 1:33 pm

    Aww man, the same thing happened to me! I had been getting gel nails for years until one bad experience left a terrible taste in my mouth. She used a nail buffer to remove the polish and I, too, was left with very thin, weak, shredding nails (I've always had long, strong, nails as an adult). What I learned is you really have to speak up. They are supposed to soak off that gel with acetone (wrapped in aluminum foil). That buffing method is something they do to conserve time, but I'll have no more of it. I generally don't like to tell people how to do their job, but I don't want my nails looking like that anymore, so I just have to tell them, soak them off. No buffer! I had to stop getting them for a while too until my nails grew back. Have you tried Rossie? It really works, you just have to paint them every day for like 10 days and then once a week. The one time I got acrylics for my high school prom, my nails were left wretched looking and I used this. I'm sorry this happened to you. I am using Sally Hansen's Gel polish as an alternative. It lasts me 4-5 days before I am compelled to go back over it and I feel like my nails are harder. Good luck!IndyaBella Noir Beauty

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:14 pm

      I'm definitely going to look into Rossie, thanks! The first couple times I had the nails done I didn't really know what to expect, but now I know to speak up if I'm not comfortable.

  8. Lori
    April 6, 2015 / 2:28 pm

    my nails are really weak in general so gel nails always appealed to me. I used to get them done around once a month and have had varying quality sets done. Some have peeled off almost straight away whereas others have lasted really well. I really like the calgel ones and used to go to a fantastic tech in Glasgow who could do all sorts of cool designs with them.No matter how good they are at doing the nails I've always worried a little about the hygiene as most seem to use the same brush and tools and just dip them in a little shotglass of barbicide. The cuticle trimmers worry me the most.I've been doing mine at home now myself with a Pixel kit I bought from Superdrug, they may not be the neatest as I'm a little impatient but they last well and at least I know I won't get any nasty bugs or infections from dirty equiptment.

  9. Saloca
    April 6, 2015 / 4:54 pm

    I tried gel nails ONCE and it ruined my nails for almost a year. Now, my nails are stronger and healthier than ever but it's took a long time to get them to this point. Switch your emery board to a glass nail file (I suggest Leighton Denny) and ensure you file your nails consistently in the right direction. I used Sally Hansen strengthening clear polish religiously and The Body Shops Almond hand cream/nail and cuticle oil/hand wash trio on a weekly basis. I NEVER do the dishes now without wearing big yellow marigolds, even if it's just one mug!Sarah :)Saloca in Wonderland

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:14 pm

      I really need to invest in some marigolds – I don't think that helps my nails at all!

  10. kittycat
    April 6, 2015 / 5:11 pm

    This happened to someone I know. Her nails were filed down so much afterwards you could see through them and they were red. Like you she had very strong nails before and 7months on still not recovered. Seems like you should ask around to see others experiences of gel nails at a salon before going for it.

  11. Becca Louise
    April 6, 2015 / 6:47 pm

    i had acrylics and the exact same thing happened after nearly 6 months they are still weak breaking off every time they grow, its crazy what we pay for without actually knowing what we're paying for, loved the post!

  12. Katie Leask
    April 6, 2015 / 8:05 pm

    I've never used acrylics and have never had gel nails! I get bored far too easily and after a week I want a new colour anyway so I never bothered with them. I'm so glad I didn't now, they sound awful! Because I've been painting my own nails for so long, I've got through SO many different brands and have a lot of experience (good and bad!). I find if I buff and then base and top coat my nails before and after colouring, Loreal's Colour Riche range can last up to two weeks with minimal chipping. Since I first used it, I've bought it in practically every colour and thrown all my old ones out. It's amazing! And the pots are a little smaller than most so they don't dry out before you've used them. If you're looking for a new product to try, I'd really reccommend these! xxLA COCO NOIRE ¦ Lifestyle, Food and Photography Blog

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:15 pm

      That's a fab tip, thank you!

  13. Seema
    April 6, 2015 / 8:54 pm

    I hear ya sister! I recently went down the gel extension route again myself, I'd had them for a year or so a couple of years back and had promised myself never again. However, some sort of amnesia must have kicked in as I succumbed and had them done again a couple of months ago… I did see sense though and had them taken off a couple of days ago. Anddddd, my nails are in awful shape, worse than ever. The technician I went too was pretty rubbish and didn't care for my constant look of worry as he proceeded to clearly damage my nails further with all the filing he insisted was absolutely necessary. This was after my nails were frazzled in an unknown solution that I am guessing is acetone based. What I'm left with is a sad state of affairs and I know I'm in for the long haul in attempting to get my nails back to anything that could be deemed 'healthy'. Moral of the story- don't succumb to the gel or acrylic momentary state of madness- not worth it!

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:16 pm

      I really feel your pain!

  14. Alison
    April 6, 2015 / 8:54 pm

    I did Shellac for about four months about four years ago. In only one case did the person do a little too much filing for removal, but I never liked the whole idea of soaking your fingers in acetone or whatever. It definitely dried out and weakened my nails. They have since recovered and are in pretty good shape. (I take Biotin regularly.) But I would never do it again– ever.

  15. Tanya
    April 6, 2015 / 9:35 pm

    I too have had the same impact from a mere two Shellacs last summer. Nine months later and I finally see a huge improvement – try Trind Nail Repair (around £14 from Amazon UK). It is the only thing that has bonded my peeling nails back to health and I saw an impact in two weeks.

  16. Michelle Lim
    April 7, 2015 / 5:50 am

    I tried gel manicure once early this year, and was told by my nail saloonist that they are the only specialised OPI gel manicure salon in the area, and that I must go back to them for removal. The problem was, they are always booked and busy – in the end, my gel manicure started peeling off and it pried each and every one of them off. My nails were not too damaged (thankfully) and I gave them a generous coating of nail-cream for a week. I'm never going back to gel again, if you ask me, it's more of a hassle than the traditional nail polish.www.coquettishmish.com

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:17 pm

      Peeling is the worst. It's so tempting to start peeling the polish off, which does so much damage to your nails. I hate the fact you can't change your polish when you want too; the real lack of control is such a pain.

  17. Laura Galloway
    April 7, 2015 / 8:39 am

    I have been tossing around the idea of trying shellac and I was worried it would cause the same damage as acrylics. I had a bad experience with my only "Professional" manicure, which put me off. And your article has put the final nail in that coffin. I'll stick to my gel finish Barry M and do my own cuticles thanks. Laura xx | http://thatgallowaygirl.com/

  18. Fay
    April 7, 2015 / 12:39 pm

    I stopped getting Gel nails done about 3 years ago not only am I not allowed to have them at work (infection control!) but like you said they are very painful from the moment they are put on it is like my fingers were on fire and on removal the same. It took my nails about 8 months to fully recover with regular manicures and creams for hydration I am glad to have my nails back! Great post 🙂

  19. katie-jane
    April 7, 2015 / 11:58 pm

    I was addicted to gel nails and acrylics for years to get those point beautiful nails, my nails were so thin and sensitive underneath its taken me 2 years to get them looking healthy and feeling strong again. Basically there is no quick fix with nails unfortunately is the conclusion I've come to.

  20. Becky Smith
    April 8, 2015 / 12:00 am

    I've never really been hugely interested in gels nails because I like to change my nail varnish a lot and do nail art. But when I was offered a free Nails Inc gel manicure I said yes because I wanted to see what they were like. When I had it done I had a gel base coat applied but then because we realised I wouldn't be going back to have it removed (and also because I might have needed to remove it quickly for a period role I was waiting to hear about) I had a standard top coat and I think standard colour. When it came to removing I applied some cotton pads soaked in nail varnish remover to my nails and wrapped the foil round to hold it in place and when I sat back to wait for it to work I realised my skin was burning, so I had to whip them off quickly. So unfortunately I had to resort to peeling/scrapping/chipping the remaining gel off and some of it I just had to wait for it to grow off the end of my nails! So now I won't go near gel nails at all because I can't remove it properly x Becky @ The Little Blog of Beauty

    • London Beauty Queen
      April 13, 2015 / 7:18 pm

      Gel polish is such a pain to remove. You really have to be in it for the long-term I think and know you won't be able to do it yourself at home.

  21. Cheeky
    April 17, 2015 / 9:08 pm

    I tried an at home kit, and thought they were terrible! Hard to remove, and incredibly damaging to the nails, and even though I go to an amazing salon, where they remove the gel perfectly with all the correct products, I found that professional gels still damaged my nails. The salon I go to has tried 2 or 3 different gels over the last few years, and they all left my nails peeling a bit, and needing a break from anything on them at all.Recently however the salon switched from Gelish brand to a new one called Gel II and it's amazing! I get 3 to 4 weeks out of each application, and the gel is infused with vitamins. I've now had 3 back to back applications since early February, and every time the gels are removed, my nails are longer and stronger then they were before.I would never have had anything on back to back before – even if I had Shellac my nails needed a break after each application. I'm getting married in July, and I'm keeping the gel on until the wedding, cos my nails are in better condition with than without! I'm getting real length on them for the first time in years. My manicurist described Gel II as a 'game changer' and I definitely agree.The best thing is how quick and easy the whole thing is – 1 hr 20 covers removal and reapplication.I suggest you use CND Solar oil to get your nails back into condition, then find an authorised Gell II manicurist and try it!

  22. tracy mclean
    May 21, 2015 / 8:32 pm

    Hi I am a CND Shellac technician, which has already been said its a hybrid polish. NOT gel nails. If you want a genuine service you should check out the I love shellac salon locator. Your nails shouldn't ever need buffing or filing off, and with the new cnd xpress 5 top coat your cnd shellac can be safely removed with no damage in around 5-8 minutes.It sounds like you didn't get a great service to me. Maybe try the new RXX by cnd, to strengthen and repair your nails x

Leave a Reply


Looking for Something?