Ask your group chat how long a gel manicure should last and I guarantee you'll get 10 different answers (also, wow, brag—you have 10 friends? OKAY). Even though I've been getting gel manicures regularly for the last two years—since regular nail polish tends to chip in, like, five minutes for me—I've never gotten the final world on how long gel polish should last. Is two weeks the standard? Is three weeks a sign of next-level gel? Is four weeks even humanly possible? Does the world end at five weeks?!
Since these are the actual questions that keep me up at night, I decided to settle things once and for all by chatting with a nail expert to find out everything you've ever wondered about gel manis, starting with how long they ~really~ last.
How long do gel manicures last?
I'll give it to you straight: The longest you can wear a gel manicure without compromising your nail health is two weeks, says Evelyn Lim, chief educator of New York-based nail salon Paintbox. Even though your manicure might look perfectly fine after two weeks, you run the risk of damaging your nails if you keep 'em on any longer.
"When you have gel on your nails, the polish continues to cure in direct sunlight or in any exposure to UV—which is all around us," says Lim, adding, "the longer you keep your polish on, the longer it cures, which makes it much harder to remove." The safest bet is to head to your manicurist after two weeks, where they can gently remove your polish without damaging or stripping your nails.
How can I make my gel nails last longer?
1. Use cuticle oil religiously
Okay, so even though you shouldn't be wearing your gel manicure for longer than two weeks, there's still a handful of things you can do to keep your nails looking nice and pretty for the entirety of those two weeks. Step one? Invest in a cuticle oil right this very second. "In addition to hydrating the cuticle itself, a good oil will strengthen and condition your nails, which can prevent them from chipping, breaking, or becoming brittle," says Lim, who suggests using your cuticle oil "at least once or twice daily."
2. File regularly and wear a topcoat
"You want to treat your nails like you would a pair of tights—if you get a minor nick and you don't nip it in the bud, it can turn into a huge run," says Lim. "So if you have a little snag on your nail, smooth it out with a file or buffer to prevent any further chipping, splitting, or tearing."
Lim suggests keeping a mini nail file in your bag to make quick touchups totally doable. And while we're on the subject, throw a clear topcoat into your bag, too. While it won't really do anything to make your manicure last longer, a quick layer of shine will give your gels a nice refresh if you need it.
3. Keep your nails dry
Even though you don't need to worry about your gel polish chipping as much as you do with a classic mani, Lim suggests wearing rubber gloves while you're washing the dishes or cleaning your apartment. "When your nails get wet, they expand, and when they dry back up, they contract," says Lim. "When you have that back-and-forth change, it can cause chips in your nails." Bottom line: Keep your hands and nails as dry as possible.
That's why some salons like Paintbox believe in dry manicures (read: no water or soaking), since working with nails in their natural state can help your polish stay on much longer. If your salon falls into this category, make sure to show up to your appointment with completely dry nails—that means no wet nails for at least 30 minutes prior to your mani.
Does gel ruin your nails?
Nope. As long as you go to a skilled manicurist, gel polish isn't going to mess with your nail health. "If your nails are naturally thin and brittle, putting gels on isn't going to change that," says Lim, "but if you're doing everything the right way—from application to removal—you can't really do true damage to your nails."
Shocking, right? "I think the misconception about gel ruining your nails comes from the fact that a lot of people don't know how to properly remove it," adds Lim. So even though it might feel #oddlysatisfying to peel off your gels at week two, you're actually doing a lot of damage. "Your nails grow about one millimeter a week if they're healthy, so if you peel off your polish, it will take about three months for all that damage to completely grow out," she says. Tl;dr: Always, always always have a professional remove your gels if you want your nails to stay healthy.
How long should you wait between gel manicures?
While the beauty world is kindaaaa split on this answer, the time you take between gel manicures is entirely up to you. "I've had gel on my nails for four years straight," says Lim. "If you're applying and removing it properly, there's no harm in getting gel manicures back to back."
That said, if your nails are brittle, weak, or just need a lil' breather, substitute your gel mani for regular polish rather than foregoing polish altogether. "If you have something on your nail, it restricts moisture, creating somewhat of a barrier so your nails can harden," says Lim. "So it always helps to have something on the nail."
The Final Word
Yes, gel manicures can last more than two weeks, but if you, IDK, care about your nails, you should definitely have your polish removed professionally after 14 days. And in the meantime, make sure you're stocked up on cuticle oil, files, and a topcoat to keep your nails in tiptop shape throughout the life of your manicure.