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Gel manicures have staying power but use caution

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM

Gel manicures, with the promise of chip-free, perfectly polished nails that last up to three weeks, continue to be one of the hottest salon nail trends, despite some cautions from experts. And with the holidays here and women searching for a convenient way to keep their digits flawless, a gel manicure or Shellac manicure, both chip-proof, seems like a no-brainer — one hour at the salon, glossy nails for at least two weeks.

“[Gel manicures] are very popular right now. I think more people know about it and it lasts for much longer than a regular manicure. It stays shiny and the polish doesn’t chip,” says Izabela Pirzada, owner of Izabela nail salons in Lincoln Park and on Michigan Avenue, where a gel manicure runs $35 (a standard manicure is $15).

However, nail experts do not recommend gel manicures on a regular basis as they can damage nails.

“The problem with no-chip is that it’s hard on the nails because your nails are covered all the time,” Pirzada says. “If you do it all the time, it does weaken nails. I recommend doing it every other time. It’s better to take a break.”

With a stronger formula that bonds to your nail, gel manicures last two to three times longer than a regular manicure. The longer wear time makes them ideal for times when getting to the nail salon is a hassle rather than a treat.

“Gels are best suited for people who travel for more than a week, people who constantly wash their hands and brides who want to be quite certain that their polish won’t chip for their wedding and honeymoon,” says Jin Soon Choi, the beauty and fashion industry’s nail doyenne and creator of the JINsoon nail polish line, available at Sephora and Nordstrom. Choi has three nail salons in New York City and has offered Shellac manicures and pedicures since Creative Nail Design (CND) launched the product in May 2010. CND has trademarked the Shellac the “original Power Polish,” and Choi says it’s much better than any gel on the market.

“It’s a great innovation and I love how durable an application it is,” she says, “despite the issue regarding drying the nails.”

Yet, if you’re a woman whose polish preference changes from week to week — or even day to day, think twice before booking a gel.

“Gel is not suited for those who like to change their nail polish often,” Choi says. “It’s also not suited for people with weak, dry or damaged nails.”

Aside from the possibility of weakened nails, some people might be sensitive and develop contact dermatitis as a result of exposure to acrylic, which is found in many of the gel polishes or acetone, which is the only way to remove the gel. The removal process requires one to sit with your nails in pure acetone for up to 15 minutes.

Allure magazine’s senior beauty editor Elizabeth Siegel says this should not be a deterrent but “just something to be aware of.”

Depending on the formula, the manicures are dried under LED or UV light, and Siegel recommends wearing a SPF on your hands.

The advent of do-it-yourself gel manicure kits, gel topcoats and gel nail stickers will likely spark a new wave of interest in having long-lasting, shiny nails. In October, Essie, the leading polish maker, introduced a line of professional gel manicures that claim to condition, rather than deplete, nails of moisture. The Essie colors will dry via LED light, not UV. The color names will be different to distinguish the line — “Dance Class” is the gel version of the pink-hued “Ballet Slippers,” for instance.

Siegel says she loves gels — in moderation. “I get them every now and then. I do enjoy them,” she says. “I just got a really cool manicure with a really cool JINsoon color. I was sad it was going to chip so I was going to put a gel top coat on it to last a little longer.”

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