Cookie banner

This site uses cookies. Select "Block all non-essential cookies" to only allow cookies necessary to display content and enable core site features. Select "Accept all cookies" to also personalize your experience on the site with ads and partner content tailored to your interests, and to allow us to measure the effectiveness of our service.

To learn more, review our Cookie Policy, Privacy Notice and Terms of Use.

clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Everything You Should Know About Gel Manicures

‘Pretty Smart’ goes deep on the side effects of the popular nail trend.

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

They dry fast, they don’t peel, they last for weeks — but what are gel manicures exactly? It’s a good question, considering gel manicures have jumped in popularity in recent years; according to one report, 23 percent of female consumers got a salon gel mani in 2015.

And yet their popularity has also invited concerns over possible side effects. Gel nail polish is made of special molecules called monomers; when hit with UV light, the monomers link up into long chains that harden and strengthen, making your polish super durable.

That UV heating process is called curing, and your nails need to be cured just right for the gel to work safely. Overcure the polish, and you risk burning your nail beds. Undercure it, and the unactivated ingredients can eventually cause allergic reactions. Then there’s the fact that the UV light has been linked to skin cancer, as any frequent sunscreen wearer knows.

But it’s not all so dire — there are just some best practices to know before you hit the nail salon.

Follow Racked on YouTube for more videos | Like Racked on Facebook to never miss a video