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The Low Down on Nail Treatments

Mar 8 2021
6 min read
A close-up of a woman's painted nails.

Want to celebrate yourself? Get a manicure.

Today there are more nail treatment options than ever — providing you with many ways to create unique expressions. Here’s a quick list of options:

Gel and Gel-Polish Hybrid Manicures

A gel manicure is just like a regular one, except that a gel-based polish (which is thicker than the kind you’re used to) is added in between coats of regular nail polish for a harder finish. A gel-polish hybrid manicure exclusively uses a special paint with a thinner consistency than a true gel polish, but that offers a similar result. Both types of manicures require you to place your nails under a UV light drying device after each of several steps.

Why People Like Them: When your gel or gel-polish hybrid manicure is done, your nails are completely set. You don’t need to spend extra time under an air dryer, and you can rifle for your keys without worrying you’ll smudge. You can also expect your nails to stay chip-free for up to 14 days.

To Consider: Little is known about potentially harmful effects of these options, as they’re still fairly new. However, studies suggest a possible link between UV light exposure during nail treatments and skin cancer. Some gel polishes contain methyl acrylate, a chemical that can cause skin irritation and redness. A salon professional must remove gel polish, and your nails may have to be filed down in the process. You can remove a gel-polish hybrid manicure at home by soaking nails in acetone polish remover, but that dries out nails. Repeated exposure to acetone may even lead to breathing trouble in some.

If You Want a Gel or Gel-Polish Hybrid Manicure: Look for a salon that uses LED instead of UV driers. If you opt to use the latter, applying a broad-spectrum physical sunscreen containing zinc or titanium oxide first can offer some protection. Ask your manicurist about the ingredients in their gel polish before she reaches for it. Also keep in mind that gel manicures are usually dry manicures (depending upon the brand) and may offer minimal cuticle work; it’s common to forgo soaking and softening cuticles in water.

Polymer Nail Strips

These nail applications function similar to stickers and come in a myriad of colors and designs, from plaids to animal prints, and more. They are heated to make them flexible, and then applied to the nail. Filing helps the strips fit perfectly.

Why People Like Them: They can be a fun alternative to regular polish, especially since some nail strip designs might not be easily replicated by hand. This nail treatment involves no drying time, so it’s great if you’re in a hurry. Polymer nail strips can be removed at home with a blow dryer; simply apply low heat and peel.

To Consider: Polymer nail strips may not last as long as even regular polish, especially if you work with your hands a lot. The heat you apply to remove them can be damaging, drying out both hands and nails.

If You Want Polymer Nail Strips: Moisturize your hands, including your cuticles, before and after your salon application (and its removal). You may also want to consider at-home nail strips, which are made of regular nail polish. They offer many of the same benefits of their polymer counterparts — a range of colors and designs, easy application — but can be taken off with regular nail polish remover.

Acrylic Nails

The veteran of this group, acrylic nails, aren’t nail treatments as much as they are actually fake nails. Made of acrylic polymers, they are glued on top of your regular nails, which are no longer seen when the application is complete.

Why People Like Them: Acrylic nails are a quick way for women who want longer nails, but have trouble growing them, to get them. When applied correctly, acrylic nails cause no harm to the natural nail underneath.

To Consider: As your own nails starts to grow out, gaps can form between the fake nail and your own, creating a warm, moist environment ripe for infection-causing bacteria growth. And FYI, some people may be irritated by fumes from acrylic nails and adhesives, or even allergic to the products themselves (redness, pain and swelling after application are signs of a reaction).

If You Want Acrylic Nails: Choose a nail salon that is well-ventilated and that properly sterilizes tools. Make sure the nails are secure before heading home. If you are prone to allergic reactions, consider getting one nail applied before a full set as a test. As an alternative to acrylics, you can also consider press-on nails, which have come a long way in recent years and are made of alternative materials.

Dazzle Dry System

It’s a nail system that consists of nontoxic, vegan, long-lasting nail polish that includes a base, color, and top coat. You can buy it online and DIY at home — OR you can get it done at select nail salons at typically the same cost as a regular manicure.

Why People Like Them: Dazzle nail polish lasts about two weeks, so it’s comparable to the gel/no-chip manicure in length. It’s not a no-chip polish, so that means no UV rays are used, and it comes off with normal nail polish remover at home, so people can avoid the more toxic removers at a salon. Being vegan is something many prefer as well. As mentioned, if done at a salon, expect to pay less than a no-chip manicure, but perhaps $5 more than a normal manicure. It varies per salon and city, but is always less than a gel manicure.