A close-up photo capturing a woman's hands gently applying cuticle oil to her perfectly manicured gel nails, showcasing the importance of hydration and maintenance for long-lasting, healthy-looking nails.

How To Care For Gel Nails

Gel manicures have become extremely popular thanks to their chip-resistant finish and long-lasting color. But keeping your manicured nails looking fabulous involves more than just regular polishing sessions at the salon.

Proper at-home care is essential for maintaining the health and appearance of gel nails between appointments.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Avoid picking or peeling the gel polish, use cuticle oil daily, and apply gel nail polish remover correctly when it’s time for a change.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about caring for your gel manicure including tips for protecting and hydrating your nails, properly removing gel polish at home, and determining how often to get gels filled.

Protecting Gel Nails

Avoid Picking and Peeling

Picking and peeling gel nails can damage the natural nail underneath. The bonding agents in gel nail polish adhere strongly to the natural nail, so prying the gels off can pull off layers of the nail plate. This can lead to thin, cracked, or peeling natural nails over time.

Instead, properly soak off gel polish every 2-3 weeks during fills. Using cuticle oil daily also helps weaken the bond for easy removal.

Use Cuticle Oil

Applying cuticle oil 1-2 times per day under gel nails moisturizes the skin and nail to prevent cracking or lifting. The oil conditions the nail plate and surrounding skin, allowing some expansion and contraction without damage.

Cuticle oil also keeps the nail flexible for clean detachment during soak-off. The best cuticle oils contain vitamin E, coconut oil, jojoba oil, and essential oils to nourish the nail bed.

Wear Gloves for Household Chores

Wearing rubber gloves during household cleaning protects delicate gel nails from damage. Chores with exposure to chemicals and hot water can weaken gel bonds over time. According to nail care experts, 50% of gel nail damage comes from unprotected exposure during cleaning or dishwashing.

Waterproof gloves form a barrier to keep gels intact for their full 2-3 week lifespan between appointments. You’ll get more mileage from your manicure while preventing cracks and pops.

Maintaining Gel Nails

Get Fills Every 2-3 Weeks

One of the keys to maintaining healthy and beautiful gel nails is getting regular gel fills every 2-3 weeks. As your natural nails grow out, you’ll start seeing a gap between your cuticle and the gel polish. Getting fills helps fill this gap and prevents your nails from cracking or breaking.

Going too long between appointments can weaken nails and damage the nail bed. Most manicurists recommend gel fills every 2-3 weeks to keep nails looking fabulous.

Hydrate Nails Between Appointments

It’s equally important to care for your natural nails in between salon appointments. Gel polish creates a hard, protective layer that can lead to dry, brittle nails underneath. Make sure to hydrate nails daily with nail oil or lotion.

Brush oil over the bare parts of your nails, pressing it into the nail and cuticle. You can also massage lotion into your hands to improve circulation and nourish the skin around your nails. Keeping nails moisturized prevents breakage and peeling between fills.

Choose a Breathable Base Coat

Choosing a base coat formulated for gel manicures is one of the best ways to maintain the health of your natural nails. Look for a base coat that is breathable and allows moisture and oxygen to pass through. This prevents nails from suffocating under the gel polish.

Using a high-quality base, like CND Shellac’s Solar Oil, can help reinforce weak or brittle nails underneath gel. Avoid cheaper base coats that can seal in moisture and gradually damage nails. Taking this simple step goes a long way in maintaining strong, healthy nails for gel manicures.

Removing Gel Nail Polish

Use Gel-Specific Remover

When it’s time to remove your gel manicure, it’s crucial to use a remover made specifically for gel polish, rather than regular nail polish remover. Gel removers contain different solvents that can break down the thick, hardened layers of color.

Some popular gel remover brands include:

  • CND Shellac Gel Polish Remover
  • OPI GelColor Soak-Off Gel Polish Remover
  • Red Carpet Manicure LED Gel Polish Remover

Using regular acetone nail polish remover will not properly dissolve the gel layers, making removal difficult and damaging to the natural nails.

Soak Cotton Pads Thoroughly

After choosing a specialized gel remover formula, next soak cotton pads, foam wrap tips, or tin foil thoroughly with the product. Cotton pads allow maximum saturation for effective gel breakdown. Foam wraps help hold the acetone against the nails for steady gel dissolution.

According to nail care brand Essie, you’ll need enough remover solution for 20-30 minutes of soaking, ensuring full saturation of every nail.

Take Your Time

Patience is key when removing gel manicures properly! First, wait 10-15 minutes after filing off the shiny top layer to allow the nails to dry out a bit. This prevents possible overexposure to acetone.

Then soak each nail with gentle rubbing for up to 30 minutes if needed, until the gel coating starts peeling off. Avoid pulling or scraping roughly, as that can pull up layers of natural nails.

The average soak time is 15-20 minutes. But if you’ve had the gel manicure on for a while or have multiple layers, a longer soak helps lift all residue. Rushing the process can damage nails and leave gel behind.

Caring for Nails Post-Removal

Moisturize and Restore

After gel nail removal, it’s important to moisturize and restore your natural nails. The acetone used to remove gel polish can leave nails dry and brittle. Massage a rich hand cream or cuticle oil into nails and cuticles at least twice a day.

Products containing jojoba oil, vitamin E, and shea butter can help replenish moisture. You can also apply a hydrating nail strengthener or hardening base coat to help fortify nails.

It may take a few weeks for nails to fully recover from gel removal. Be patient and consistent with moisturizing. Avoid using nail polish for at least a week to allow nails to heal. Once nails regain strength, use a nail strengthener as your base coat under polish.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals

Chemical exposure from gel manicures can weaken nails over time. Give your nails a break by avoiding gel polish and avoiding excessive exposure to water and cleaning products. Wear gloves when washing dishes or cleaning to protect nails.

Harsh ingredients like acetone, acrylics, and artificial UV light can damage nails. Look for “7-free” nail polishes that are free from the most damaging chemicals. Or explore plant-based gel nail polish alternatives like Olive & June that use less harsh ingredients.

Let Them Breathe

It’s best to give nails some breathing room after removing gel polish. Avoid immediately covering them with acrylics or dip powders. If enhancing your nails, opt for natural looking tips or extensions applied with adhesive tabs rather than hard acrylic or gel.

Go bare periodically and give nails a break from any overlays. Around every 2-3 months, leave nails free of gel polish for 1-2 weeks. Keep nails short if you regularly get gels to avoid excessive pressure and allow the nail bed to be exposed to air.


While gel manicures require more care and maintenance than regular polish, taking the right steps at home allows you to enjoy long-lasting color with healthy natural nails in between appointments. Be gentle when removing gels, hydrate nails daily, protect hands from damage, and get consistent fills to keep your manicure looking fabulous.

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