Gel nails are fetch. They are the Regina George in the world of nail polish. They look fancy and stay aesthetically awesome for much longer than your regular nail polish. So why does it seem like everyone is putting it in their burn book and looking for an alternative to gel nails?
Well, because they are not-so-secretly nasty. Think about it for a second. The only reason gel polish is dubbed to be a 2-week manicure is because of your cuticles growing out. It is so durable; it is literally often indestructible.
Doing a DIY removal? The only way out is soaking them with acetone then filing them down. You can get away without the filing part if you have a gel extension.
Well, it turns out karmic justice is real. Gel polish is relatively easy to dry but still takes time to remove. Removing it yourself will take patience, several cotton balls, and surprise! Aluminum foils.
And if you are the regular polish kind of person, this may feel like a lifetime of uncomfortable removal for you.
The tale doesn’t end there, unfortunately.
Acetone dehydrates the nail bed. So if you happen to wonder why your nails look parched, it’s because you need to do the after-care step of moisturizing them with oil or cuticle serum.
Gel polish is also known for another disappointing thing: lifting.
Lifting happens due to a poor prep routine. The polish will start peeling off at the end of its long life. Words of wisdom, though, even if your nails look less than perfect, do not forcibly pick the gel nor the skin around them.
You may feel tempted to just physically strip those gels but don’t rush into what could spell disaster for your nails.
If your reason for going to this more expensive mani is that you are unsatisfied with your natural nails, then you would get instant regret from DIY-ing that removal process.
First of all, white spots. No, not the Dalmatian cuteness you could have probably pulled off. These are the ones with irregular textures and seem chalky. It’s technically a bruise due to improper removal.
Can you believe you are committing abuse against your nail beds? Terrible.
You are probably thinking right now of the days you chipped them off despite warnings. Nothing really happened. There is no need to make a fuss about something trivial, right?
Repeated picking leads to weaker nails. If you have that habit, your nails must be suffering from thinning. They can also make your nails dry, flaky, and cracked, which adds to the bumpy texture.
What about totally growing them out? The sight of it wouldn’t be so terrible.
That is not a smart option, honestly. When you grow it out, you also create a weight imbalance. The top becomes heavier, and the lower part becomes strained.
The removal process can be downright discouraging. It’s not the worst, but it may already be a hassle for you. Is it time to quit gel nails?
While you can wiggle yourself free from the guilt of destroying your nails by saying you can just take a break from gel polish, you might want to consider the other shady character in this story.
Namely, the reason why you do not have to blow your nails until you get dizzy just to get them dry— UV light.
This one might have just had that possible consequence that no break can heal.
CHECK OUT: Why does my gel polish peel off
But first, why even use UV light?
UV light helps with the “curing” process. It involves a polymerization reaction that hardens the resin in the gel to give you that smooth and indestructible quality. If that sounded alien, just think of your plastics. It’s basically the same stuff, but you are on the receiving end this time too.
So what’s the tea?
Ultraviolet light which comes from the sun causes skin cancer. In theory, these UV dryers may cause similar damage to your skin, too, given your exposure to it.
In theory, of course.
Scientific studies show the risk is low. And scientists will tell you there is just no huge amount of data to conclude anything. So you sit there and wonder.
Often, imagining the what-ifs might just be enough to terrify you of the whole idea of UV light.
What are the alternatives to UV light for gel nails?
Pause for a moment.
Now go back and return that LED lamp to where you got it from.
If a UV dryer is the Flash, then an LED lamp is Quicksilver. They might look like they are from an entirely different universe, but they work the same. LED lamps also have a UV light. They might lower exposure by drying your nails faster, but it’s still the same horror movie you are trying to run away from.
And while you’re at it, stop standing out there under the glaring sun, hoping to “air-dry” your nails. Have mercy on your skin, please.
No sun and no LED to help, what then?
CHECK OUT: How to dry gel nail polish without UV light
Ice-dipping might be one uncomfortable option to take, but it’s an undeniably effective one. You just gotta endure it.
You often need to soak those nails repeatedly to dry both the top and base layers. So don’t get fooled and make sure everything has hardened.
And by the way, if you are feeling brave, the freezer is available.
On the scale of 1-10, 10 being most effective in drying, this one is at the top. It can even dry your nails in as fast as a minute!
A word of warning: These sprays are flammable!
If somehow you aren’t game on investing in a proper spray, you got to try cooking spray at least.
Surprising, isn’t it? But never say never!
Oil is, by far, the least unpleasant of the bunch and even a healthier way to dry your gel polish. When in a pinch, drip some olive or baby oil to your nails. It even hydrates, so that is a plus!
You know what could also work? Cooking oil. That is one magic you can once again summon from your kitchen. How dope is that?
But if the alternatives for UV light don’t convince you to stay with gel nails, there is always its known competitor: acrylic.
Which is better for natural nails: acrylic or gel?
So, to switch or not to switch— that is the question.
Gels and acrylics are both the go-to when you want that extra oomph to your nails or nail extensions. But “better” is a subjective word here.
Aesthetically, there is nothing to complain about. They both give that mean boss vibes. The only way one is better than the other may lie in the ease and risk of the process itself.
So here’s a rundown of quick facts to help you decide.
The boon: The process takes less than an hour and can even be done at home. It stays for as long as 2 weeks and has a glossy finish. It is also more flexible.
The bane: An overuse of primer may lead to damage. When you have gel manicure removed professionally, the filing down process may weaken your nails. It is also more costly than acrylic nails.
CHECK OUT: Why is my gel polish sticky
The boon: The process involves a powder and liquid mixture to create a very durable material. It lasts up to 6 weeks. It also sets in minutes without any equipment. You get to customize more with this!
The bane: While gel can be done DIY, this one requires skill to apply and remove. It can look thick when applied wrong. And even worse? The smell is not something you’ll miss. It is not as flexible as gel and still tends to damage your nails.
If you are the type of person to experiment at home, gel polish is an easier route. You can even buy your own UV dryer these days and skip a costly salon visit.
On the other hand, if you are going on a month-long vacation and want those nails to be impeccable from start to finish, acrylics may be better for you.
If you remain unimpressed between the two, though, there are other options out there. They are not all meh, after all. Something ought to stand out.
CHECK OUT: Can you paint over acrylic nails
What can I use instead of gel for nails?
1. Dip powder
You instantly associate nail polish with painting your nails when you think of nail polish. But dip powders are Jackson Pollock paintings. They are different from what you are used to.
With dip powders, you apply first a primer, then literally dip your fingernails. The acrylic nature of dip powders ensures a longer-lasting manicure for you.
It’s not a trick. They didn’t just put “poly” there and sell you regular gel polish. PolyGel is a hybrid of all the good things a hard gel and acrylic have.
It is stronger than hard gel but more flexible than acrylic, and lighter than both. It can be applied directly on the nails, as tip overlay or sculpted over a form.
If gel or acrylic nails scream loudly of fake nails, then this patented polish may just be for you. Shellac is more natural-looking and has a breezy removal process. That being said, it has a shorter life span.
But you can always apply another again, and your nails wouldn’t be a deathbed scene. So, why not, right?
CHECK OUT: Alternative to Acrylic Nails
Other healthy alternatives to gel nails
In this day and age, everyone demands the lowest risk for every beauty product. Got something minutely shady? Instantly canceled.
Don’t worry; you’re not being a Karen. You are just opening your options wider.
When you walk down the healthy option aisle, you might be searching for this one particular phrase: vegan product.
We all love these labels, obviously. For some reason, we feel closer to nature when we choose them. And if you are the conscientious type, say no more.
SpaRitual creates the Gold Formulation line of 26 shades. It has a longer wear time than your regular polish and has a self-correcting feature if there’s a smudge. It is that flexible!
There’s probably another part of the healthy option you are particular about: the state of your nails.
Could you get that glossy gel finish without ultimately suffering possible nail damage afterward?
Yes, yes, yes!
This time, you won’t have to worry about any hard labor just to get them off. Your poor nails can finally rest!
Some great examples are Nails Inc.’s Gel Effect nail polish and Sally Hansen Miracle Gel nail polish.
And if you are worried about longevity, these regular polishes last longer than your basic go-to.
Revlon’s Longwear Nail Enamel and Deborah Lippman’s Gel Lab Pro.
You have a lot of options that either don’t have the difficulty associated with a gel manicure or even have gel formula at all.
If you are a newbie to gel alternatives, don’t be overwhelmed. It’s a trial and error basis. You go for what works for you.
And as you are a newbie, it might be good also to remember that what you might want may not suit you at all. Not to be an alarmist, but there might be a chance you are allergic to these gel alternatives. In such cases, stop and reevaluate.
You can always go for your regular polish or even take out those press-on nails you impulsively bought in a mall years ago and wear them.
And if you are stubbornly sticking to gel mani, just try to take long breaks to encourage your nails to still grow strong and healthy.
It’s not just about UV rays or the hassle; it’s about sustainability.
Do you want to do gel nails or other alternatives even when you’re older? Then take care of those nails and let them have that beauty rest when you can.
Always remember: You can’t paint art on a ruined canvas.