Are Gel Manicures Actually Bad For Your Nails?

We demanded answers from the experts.

A model wearing an iridescent top holds a fresh manicure up to her face.
(Image credit: Spotlight/Launchmetrics)

A gel manicure in the best nail trend might last for weeks and leave behind a dreamy shine in a gorgeous summer color, but they've still acquired a bit of a bad reputation. Some claim that gel manicures are responsible for their flaky nail beds, weakened nails, and skin damage. So, the time has come to ask (and answer!) the big question: Is gel nail polish actually bad for your nails?

"My personal opinion, and what I have observed in my practice, is that most of the damage from gel manicures is from the removal process, especially if manufacturer's instructions are not followed, or two different brands are mixed and used," explains Dana Stern, M.D., a dermatologist and nail specialist in New York City.

We spoke to experts to find out what's hearsay and what's the truth. Here, Dr. Stern, along with nail artists Michelle Nguyen and Juanita Huber-Millet, share everything there is to know about nail health and gel polish.

Will Gel Manicures Ruin My Nails?

Gel polish isn't necessarily going to ruin your nails, but it can weaken them if you don't follow proper aftercare instructions. "While gel polish offers a longer-lasting and chip-resistant finish, improper removal can potentially weaken or damage your nails. I always advise visiting a professional to ensure proper care and maintenance regardless of the type of polish you choose," says Stern.

Nguyen, CEO and founder of PLA, adds that gel polish itself is unlikely to affect natural nails. In fact, it can make them even stronger by protecting them from the environment.

Are Soft Gels or Hard Gels Better?

There are two different types of gel that you can receive in salons: soft gels and hard gels. “Hard gels are the traditional gels of the '80s that are impermeable to acetone and need to be filed off, while soft gels are the newer ‘soak-off’ gels that can be removed without aggressive scraping,” says Dr. Stern. Unsurprisingly, hard gels are way more damaging than soft gels.

"When selecting a gel polish, I recommend researching the brand to ensure you're choosing a product that aligns with your nail health goals," says Huber-Millet. "Additionally, seeking out reputable salons that prioritize the use of high-quality, tested products can further ensure a healthier nail experience. Ultimately, it's about making informed choices that prioritize the health and well-being of your nails."

Does UV Curing Cause Skin Damage?

Gel manis require exposure to UV light (regardless of whether it’s a UVA lamp or an LED lamp), which can contribute to skin damage. Unfortunately, there isn't much research yet on UV rays as related to gel manicures—and what is out there reveals mixed findings.

A 2020 study in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found that there have been no cases reported of patients under 40-years-old with a history of chronic gel manicures diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer or melanoma on the hands or nails. Meanwhile, there was little to no change in the incidence of melanoma among patients under 65.

More recently, a 2023 study in Nature Communications found that chronic use of the dryers can damage your DNA and cause human cell mutations that could increase the risk of skin cancer. Even so, researchers agree that more data is needed to make any conclusions.

closeup of a uv lamp with a female hand inside

Gel polish often requires a UV lamp for curing. While one hand is in the machine, your tech can paint the other.

(Image credit: ferrerivideo)

“Dermatologists tend to be cautiously optimistic people, but I still advise protecting your hands or feet with either a broad-spectrum sunscreen applied 15 minutes before exposure, or using either fingertip-less gloves or pedicure socks in order to protect the skin on the hands and feet from the aging effects of UV light,” Dr. Stern says.

Will Gel Manicures Thin My Nails?

If your nails are already thin or brittle, you might want to opt for regular polish instead of gel. “A study out of Miami School of Medicine used ultrasound to demonstrate that gel manicures do cause nail thinning,” says Dr. Stern, noting that the exact reason for the thinning was unclear to the authors.

The master of the manicure paints nails with nail polish during the procedure of nail extensions with gel in the beauty salon. Professional care for hands.

Gel polish application, from one perfectly primped hand to another.

(Image credit: dimid_86)

Can I Strengthen My Nails With a Gel Manicure?

If you're trying to ensure optimal nail health, your best option is seeing a professional for both application and removal. "To achieve stronger nails, maintain constant hydration by moisturizing regularly with cuticle oil and hand cream throughout the day," says Huber-Millet. "These practices have been game-changers for me in achieving healthier and stronger nails."

How Long Can I Wear Gel Polish?

We're not saying you have to swear off gels for the rest of your life, but if you are worried about possible nail damage, you can try a few things to mitigate the effects. Remove your gels on time (two weeks is a good timeline) and take breaks between manicures to let your nails return to normalcy.

“Before the manicure, ask how the product will be removed and make sure that they won’t be using a gritty file, sander, or other tool to scrape the product off vigorously,” says Dr. Stern. “Gel polish should come off easily after soaking in acetone, and these other methods can cause tremendous, and sometimes irreversible, damage to the nail and cuticles.”

You need to be your own advocate in the salon, because nobody else cares as much about your nails as you do. “If something is wrong," says Stern, "you should speak up.”

Meet the Experts

A woman with red hair smiles at the camera.
Dr. Dana Stern

Dr. Dana Stern is well known for her unique expertise, as she is one of the only dermatologists in the country who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and surgery of the nail.  She is a board certified dermatologist and an assistant clinical professor of Dermatology  at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City where she teaches dermatology residents nail surgery.

Dr. Stern’s expertise focuses on the treatment of nail infections, inflammatory disease of the nail, cosmetic issues related to nail disease, surgical nail procedures including biopsies, excisions of the nail unit and cancers of the nail.

Dr. Stern graduated Summa Cum Laude from Emory University where she majored in Biology & Anthropology and received a medical degree from New York Medical College in 2002.  She completed her medical residency in dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, where she served as Chief Resident.

Dr. Stern is a contributing editor for Nails Magazine, where she writes a column entitled; “A Day in the Life of a Nail Doctor.”  She has been interviewed about nail care and nail cosmetics in Allure, Vogue, Natural Health, Woman’s World, Women’s Health, Nails Magazine,,,, WebMD and more.

A woman with long blonde hair sitting on a white couch in a white suit with a black tank top.
Juanita Huber-Millet

Juanita Huber-Millet launched Townhouse with one goal: to elevate the nail salon experience. Townhouse has thrown away the rulebook and reinvented it for the modern age, using years of industry research to perfect every aspect from start to finish. Say hello to flawless treatments, beautiful salons, and impeccable service that you can rely on every time.

A woman with chin-length hair sitting on a pink couch.
Michelle Nguyen

Coming to the scene as a self-taught lash artist in 2008, Michelle Nguyen knew how difficult it could be to truly break into the beauty industry. After running her salon for 6 years in Reno, Michelle ultimately decided to sell it to focus on Paris Lash Academy, or PLA — a way to share her vast lashing experience with lash artists all around the world. Today PLA employee over 50 employees at the PLA headquarters in Reno. She is proud to own multiple lash manufacturers in Vietnam, where she was born and raised on a coffee farm. These manufacturers allow Michelle to give back to her community, providing jobs for over 700 women who would otherwise be working in harsh farming environments.

Chloe Metzger
Beauty Editor

Chloe Metzger is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, overseeing the editorial content and growth strategy of the hair, makeup, and skin space on digital, while also obsessively writing about the best hair products for every hair type (curly girl here; whattup), and the skincare routines that really, truly work (follow her on Instagram to see behind-the-scenes pics of that magazine life). She brings nearly a decade of writing and editing expertise, and her work has appeared in AllureHealthFitnessMarie ClaireStyleCaster, and Parents. She also has an unhealthy adoration for Tom Hanks and would like to please meet him one day, if you could arrange that. Thanks.