We don’t want our new nail color to last forever of course. Think of the wardrobe nightmare in trying to match the color of your nails with your outfit.
But we spent a good amount of time comparing nail gels that are only about a shade lighter than the others. We also don’t want the winning nail color to chip off too soon.
Why gel polish peels off fast isn’t always a you-problem, but what you’re doing before, during, and after your nail appointment contributes to the issue.
Nail color and social class
The world’s love affair with nail colors did not emerge just recently: Our history with nail polish goes back a long way. As early as 3200 BC, people have been painting over their nails. Nail color was used to show off one’s rank either in the military or in one’s society.
Today, you could walk out of the nail salon with whatever color you set your heart out. Red nails are for anyone bold enough to seek them. In the past, that may have been your death sentence. Because you can remain in your social standing for life in some cultures, you may never wear certain colors.
Thank heavens for people who made nail colors available for everyone.
How do nail colors work?
The pigments in the nail polish will not do much beautifying on your hands if they would just drip or slide from your nails. The polish has to adhere to your fingernails. In the bottle, the polish is liquid. But when it is already brushed onto nails, it has to harden in a process called polymerization. It is how nail gel works.
Polymerization is just smaller molecules, called monomers, connecting into a chain, called a polymer. Different kinds of nail-coloring products achieve polymerization differently — by air or by light.
Traditional nail polish
A traditional nail polish dries on its own after it is applied to nails. It’s a type of polish or coat that leaves a shiny finish.
It contains solvents like acetate, butyl acetate, and ethyl acetate which will evaporate upon application of the product. The solvent gives off that distinct smell.
Pigments and other nail polish ingredients create a smooth and glossy film that will harden as the solvent leaves.
The film does not fall off after it dried because of the resins in your nail polish. Resins keep the nail polish attached to your nail. To keep the film from breaking too soon, manufacturers also add plasticizers. Plasticizers allow flexibility of the film.
Your traditional nail polish may also contain additives that help protect the finished product from sun damage or add adornments like glitters or pearls.
Gel nail polish
Unlike traditional lacquer nail polish, gel nail polish does not dry on its own. Its molecules have to be joined and bonded together through a chemical reaction. Ultraviolet light jumpstarts this bonding which initiates the drying process. This is also known as curing the nails.
Don’t we get UV light from the sun? Yes, we do. However, the UV dose that we are getting may not be enough to activate the photoinitiator in the gel. If the light is too little, the reaction does not happen. If the light is too strong, it may damage the fingers because there is too much heat.
Since gel polish does not depend on evaporating solvents, they don’t have the signature smell of traditional nail polish.
Gel nails are strong. But if the finished product is also too rigid and stiff, it would break easily, like a thin biscuit. So, nail gel polish also contains plasticizers to prevent early breaking and chipping off.
But the plasticizers in your nail polish won’t prevent chipping and peeling by causes other than the nail polish itself.
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Why is my gel nail polish peeling off?
Gel nail polish is supposed to last longer than traditional nail polish. It is stronger and less susceptible to chipping.
You may ask, “If that is true then, why does my gel nail polish peel off so easily?” And despite the promise of longevity, you could be the next person asking, “Why do my gel nails peel off after a week?”
If the issue already exists during the manicure process, painting over the problem won’t fix it.
Your nail cuticle is in the way
If you look at your fingernails, a thin layer outlines the base part of your hard nails. This is your cuticle. When you paint over your nails with the cuticles still protruding, some of the polish sticks to the cuticle and not the nail itself. This would cause gel nails lifting and peeling because of where the polish is adhering to.
The gel polish could not stick properly
Another reason why your new gel nail polish lifts and peels too soon is that it didn’t have a tight grip on the nail plate in the first place. Unlike when it was just your cuticle in the way, the gel polish barely has anything to hold on to this time.
You could be upping your lazy-day game and just painting over old polished nails. Or you didn’t wash your hands first before whipping out your nail kit. Old polish and oils keep your nails smooth.
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The curing process was not right
Gel nail polish requires exposure to UV light from special lamps. It is what transforms the polish into a dry and strong film on your nails. The chemical reaction from UV light alone perfects the manicure process. If this process did not go as expected, your freshly manicured nails did not dry properly.
Not all UV light lamps are not created equal. While there is a common range of wavelengths (340 to 380 nanometers), wavelengths alone do not tell the whole story.
The intensity of the light differs as to bulb wattage (in watts). How many bulbs there are and how far they are from the fingernails also affect how the lamp cures your nails.
Add to those, there is no singular magic number for how long the nails should be kept under the UV light.
But the hard part in understanding UV light lamps is finding the perfect match for your gel polish. Brands differ from each other in the recommended specifications for UV light lamps. For instance, the photo-initiator of Brand X reacts at 340 nm while Brand Y’s only activates at 370 nm.
If you use specifications that are not meant for your gel polish, your manicure won’t cure properly.
The gel polish layers are too thick
You may have been too excited about your new nail kit that you applied too much of the product in between layers. Thick coats of the gel polish won’t cure in the same manner as the recommended coats. The time would be too short to perfect the curing process. The light won’t be as effective as well.
However, this does not mean you should keep your fingers under the lamp longer. Nor does this mean that you should use a stronger UV light lamp. The light could damage your skin if you do either.
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Not taking care of your manicured nails
Even if you’re sure that the manicure went perfectly, you can still get early gel nail lifting and peeling from not taking care of your nails. Manicured hands need extra attention. There are activities that you have to do a little differently when you have gel nail polish.
For instance, you could be working with harsh chemicals regularly. The chemicals can weaken and damage your fresh nails. Working with high or low temperatures can also make your nail polish flake away too soon.
How to fix peeling gel nails
Eventually, nail polish is going to peel and lift. You can still fix peeling polish. How you’re going to react when it happens can save or shorten the life of your nail color.
Picking on it is not the answer
If you have a habit of picking on nail polish even after you just applied them, the question “Why do my gel nails peel off after one day?” answers itself.
When you notice that your nails are prematurely peeling, you shouldn’t make it worse by picking on the lifted gel. Not only will this make the polish peel off faster, but you may also damage your nails. If you force the polish off by picking on it, you might also unintentionally slough off cells from your nail.
Cover and seal it
If the polish is just starting to lift from your nail plate, you can use a topcoat to reseal it. While this is a band-aid solution, it’ll help you get by for a while.
But if bits and pieces of the polish have already peeled off, you may have to visit your nail salon. They can recommend a long-term solution.
How to stop gel nails from peeling
For the several issues discussed earlier, the solution is simply to start the manicure right.
Prep your nails properly
Before you start painting over your nails, make sure that there is nothing that will prevent the nail gel polish from sticking on your nail plate.
And you should keep your cuticles in check so they don’t come between the nail and the polish. You don’t have to trim the visible layer. Instead, just make sure that you’re actually applying the polish not on the cuticle, but on the nail.
Curing process done right
Your UV light specifications should complement your chosen gel polish. Thus, you have to follow down to the letter what the manufacturer prescribed for their product.
By making a personal estimation and formula, you might be wasting a perfectly good product. Worse, you could irreversibly harm or hurt yourself from UV light exposure.
In following the correct specifications for wavelength, light intensity, duration, and distance from the light your nail polish would cure properly. It would not peel too soon. And you could set aside that nail appointment for later.
Use thin, even layers
Swiping on a singular thick layer to finish early seems like a logical way to apply gel nail polish. After all, it would take you a long time to achieve the same thickness if you apply several thin layers.
But this would only prevent your nail polish from curing correctly and completely. And if you use thick layers, that means you have to adjust the settings for your UV lamp or keep your hands under it for longer. You should not resort to this.
Your nail polish won’t be strong and long-lasting. You may even harm yourself if you stray from the recommended use of the lamp.
The answer to “Why are my gel nails peeling off?” may also be found in what you do after you get your nails done.
Protect your hands with gloves
Manicured nails should not stop your day. It just means that you have to be extra careful when you’re working with your hands.
A good pair of gloves keeps your nails safe from chemicals that would otherwise weaken your nails or damage your nail polish. Your hands will also thank you for taking this extra step.
Don’t bite your nails
If the edges of your teeth are sharp enough to cut and tear down food, they can also scrape your nail polish. Biting your nails can damage not only your nail plate. It can leave painful cuts and wounds on the skin around your nail. This habit should be curbed since it is an invitation for infections and diseases.
Keep your nails healthy
Keeping your nails healthy is an accumulation of habits that contribute to good nail health. Number one on the list is maintaining a balanced diet so that your nails won’t be deprived of nourishment.
Another habit that you should have started yesterday is using hand moisturizers. Taking care of your hands is also by extension taking care of your nails. When your nails are moisturized, you’re less likely to have chipped and peeling nail polish.
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