The Downside to Gel Nails: Side Effects and Risks to Watch Out For

Gel nails have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their durability and long-lasting effects.

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This type of manicure involves the application of a gel polish that is cured under a UV or LED lamp, resulting in a glossy finish that can last up to three weeks.

However, while gel nails are considered to be a convenient and aesthetically pleasing option, they also come with potential side effects and risks that should not be overlooked.

The downside of gel nails lies in the fact that the curing process involves exposure to ultraviolet light, which can lead to skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer.

Additionally, the removal process typically involves soaking the nails in acetone for an extended period, which can weaken and damage the nail bed if done improperly.

Furthermore, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to the ingredients found in gel polishes or suffer from infections caused by unsanitary tools used during the application process.

As such, it is important for those considering gel nails to be aware of the potential side effects and risks involved before making a decision.

Exposure To Uv Light

According to a study conducted by the Skin Cancer Foundation, exposure to UV light from gel nail lamps may increase the risk of skin cancer.

The study found that the UV lamps emit UVA radiation, which can cause skin damage and premature aging.

Additionally, prolonged exposure to UV radiation can lead to an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

It is important for individuals who frequently get gel manicures to take precautions, such as applying sunscreen or wearing protective gloves, to minimize their exposure to UV light.

Acetone Soaking

Acetone soaking is a common method used to remove gel nails. However, it can have negative effects on the nails and surrounding skin.

The prolonged exposure to acetone can cause dryness, brittleness, and weakening of the nails. In addition, it can also irritate and dry out the skin around the nail bed, causing redness, inflammation, and peeling.

Some individuals may also experience allergic reactions to acetone, resulting in itching, swelling or hives. It is important to limit exposure time during acetone soaking and moisturize the nails and surrounding skin afterwards.

Alternatives such as using a nail drill or filing down the gel layer should be considered for those with sensitive skin or weak nails.

Allergic Reactions

While acetone soaking is a common method to remove gel nails, it can cause dryness and brittleness in the nails.

However, there are other risks associated with gel nails that go beyond the removal process.

Allergic reactions are one such risk that individuals should be aware of.

Some people may develop an allergic reaction to the chemicals present in the gel nail products or even to the UV light used for curing the gel polish.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include redness, itching, swelling, and even blistering on the skin around the nails.

It is important to note that repeated exposure to these chemicals can increase the likelihood of developing an allergy over time.

Therefore, individuals who frequently get gel manicures should be vigilant about any signs of an allergic reaction and seek medical attention if necessary.

Unsanitary Tools

Gel nails are a popular way to achieve a longer lasting, shinier manicure, however, the unsanitary tools used in the process can lead to various side effects and risks. Dirty nail brushes can be used with multiple clients, leading to the spread of disease and infection. Furthermore, shared implements such as nail files and metal cutters can harbor bacteria, creating a breeding ground for potential contamination. Lastly, the enclosed environment of a nail salon can be a bacterial breeding ground, especially when proper hygiene is not practiced.

Dirty Nail Brushes

One of the downsides to gel nails is the use of unsanitary tools, particularly dirty nail brushes.

It is important to note that nail brushes can harbor bacteria, fungi and viruses if not properly cleaned and sanitized. These pathogens can lead to various infections such as bacterial paronychia or fungal onychomycosis.

Furthermore, the use of dirty nail brushes can also compromise the quality and appearance of the gel nails, resulting in a less than satisfactory outcome.

To avoid these risks, it is recommended to regularly clean and sanitize all tools used during the gel nail application process.

Shared Implements

Another factor contributing to unsanitary tools in gel nail application is the sharing of implements.

Salons and nail technicians may reuse tools such as cuticle pushers, nail clippers, and files on multiple clients without proper sanitation measures in place.

This practice can lead to cross-contamination of pathogens between clients, increasing the risk of infections such as hepatitis B and C or HIV.

In addition, shared implements can also compromise the quality and appearance of the gel nails due to leftover debris or residue from previous use.

Proper cleaning and sanitation protocols should be implemented to ensure that all tools used in the application process are safe and sanitary for each client.

Bacterial Breeding Grounds

Another factor contributing to the unsanitary conditions of tools used in gel nail application is their potential to serve as bacterial breeding grounds.

Nail salons are often bustling with activity, providing an ideal environment for the growth and spread of bacteria.

This can be exacerbated by the lack of proper cleaning and sanitation measures in place for the tools.

For instance, if a technician fails to sterilize a tool between clients, it may become contaminated with bacteria from one client’s nails and then spread it to subsequent clients.

As a result, individuals may experience infections or skin irritations caused by these harmful microorganisms.

Therefore, it is crucial that nail technicians prioritize hygiene and implement strict cleaning protocols to eliminate any potential for bacterial growth on their tools.

Nail Bed Damage

According to a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, gel nails can cause damage to the nail bed. The research found that 33% of participants had nail bed damage after wearing gel polish for an extended period. This type of damage can lead to thinning nails and even permanent changes in the nail plate.

It is important to be aware of this potential risk when considering gel manicures. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Gel polish requires filing down the top layer of the natural nail, which can weaken the nail bed.
  • Prolonged exposure to UV light during gel curing may also cause damage to the skin surrounding the nail.
  • Removal process can be harsh on nails, especially if done improperly or too frequently.
  • Regular breaks between gel manicures can help give nails time to recover and prevent further damage.

Overall, while gel nails may offer a long-lasting and shiny manicure option, it is crucial to weigh the potential risks and take precautions to protect your nail health.


Gel nails have been a popular trend in the beauty industry for years. However, it is important to be aware of the potential side effects and risks associated with this type of manicure.

Exposure to UV light during the curing process can increase the risk of skin damage and even skin cancer. Acetone soaking, used to remove gel polish, can also cause dryness and weakening of the natural nail.

Allergic reactions are another concern when it comes to gel nails. The chemicals found in gel polish and other products used during the application process can cause itching, redness, and swelling in some individuals. In addition, unsanitary tools or improper techniques can lead to infections or other nail bed damage.

It is crucial for both consumers and professionals to educate themselves on these possible risks and take necessary precautions.

By using sunscreen during UV exposure, opting for non-acetone removal methods, properly cleaning tools, and seeking medical attention if any allergic reactions occur, one can minimize negative consequences from gel nails.

In conclusion, while gel nails may provide an attractive aesthetic for many people, it is important to consider the potential downsides before committing to this manicure option. By being aware of these risks and taking appropriate precautions, individuals can achieve a beautiful look without putting their health at risk. As Maya Angelou once said: ‘When you know better, you do better.’