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How to take care of your nail enhancements - gel polish, overlays and extensions.

Nail enhancements are a luxury, it's good to know how to make the most of them and keep your natural nails in good order while you are wearing them.

Will wearing gel damage my nails?

No professional gel should damage healthy, normal nails. However my proviso here is that you should check to ensure that the product used is a professional brand manufactured in the USA, Europe, Japan or the UK - particularly where regulations are in place to limit the use of allergenic ingredients. Never be afraid to ask about the provenance of products about to be applied to your nails and remember that China has no safety regulations which has caused serious concern in recent times. Additionally, damage is much more likely to arise from poor application and removal techniques so choose your nail tech wisely!

Once gel is removed you might notice that your nails feel particularly soft and bendy for a couple of days or so - which could lead you to worry that some harm has been done. Fear not, all will be well...

While your nails have been sealed with gel they will have accrued higher than normal levels of lipids and oils that your body naturally produces to provide your nails with essential hydration. It will take a while for this to correct through exposure to air, the excess moisture will slowly evaporate and then the balance will return to normal and your nails will feel fine again.

This is the phenomenon that leads folks to believe that nails need to 'breathe'. More accurately, they can exude lipids and oils and can equally absorb moisture and oils rather than air. If your nails are continuously covered with enhancements they will remain quite safe underneath and only need a couple of days for moisture levels to settle once uncovered.

It can actually be more damaging to 'rest' nails in between gel polish applications as this means it will be necessary to soak-off on a regular basis with acetone, which is extremely dehydrating... and then re-prep them! On this note, it's now quite feasible to infill well maintained gel polish these days since builder bases have become popular, so there is no need to regularly soak nails in acetone and re-prep them at all.

A word about 'Home use' gel polishes.......

Whilst I am happy to assure you that professional gels should not pose any risk to you as trained nail techs are aware of application techniques. I should also discuss home use gels. Many low priced gels found online  - Amazon, Etsy, eBay etc - are manufactured in unregulated China using remarkably high levels of an ingredient called HydroxyEthyl MethAcrylate, mercifully called HEMA for short. It allows for very low production costs and produces gels that last a long time with high shine .

Where this substance is present it's imperative that the product does NOT come into contact with skin. You need to be very careful to leave a small margin of bare nail between the edge of the product and the skin around your nails as you apply it. It's also wise to use a high powered UV/LED lamp and double the recommended curing time to ensure the gel is fully cured as a nail gel can appear fully cured even at 50% of the process. A high powered lamp is more likely to provide a compatible UV/LED curing range than a mini or travel size version.

Skin contact and under-cured product are the two most likely ways to acquire a life-long allergic reaction to acrylates which are a key component of most nail products excluding nail varnish. They are also present in materials used in bone and dental surgery. If you notice redness, itching or small watery blisters, or your natural nail looks like the white area at the tip is growing down the nail length toward the cuticle (meaning your nail is slowly lifting off the nail bed!) then stop using the product straight away.

The IKON.IQ gels I use are extremely hypoallergenic as they don't contain any of the common allergens related to nail products. If you have reacted to home gels I'm happy to carry out a free test to see if you can wear my products safely.

What can go wrong with nail enhancements?

How long do you want or think your nail enhancements should last? I have seen advertising saying that your nails can last 4+ weeks.. but in that amount of time your nails will have grown so much that even the most robust legitimate nail coating will be suffering, simply because the outgrowth at the tip will be extra flexible and the anchorage to the nail plate will have reduced by however much bare nail you can see growing from the cuticle. There is a serious imbalance, it places a huge burden on the stress area of the nails - across the point where the nail extends beyond the fingertip... that exact bit where natural nails tend to break from the side.

 

Enhancements work by spreading load over the whole nail to create strength but when they are left too long they can no longer offer support... the bulk is concentrated over the tip of the nail with nothing remaining behind it to provide stability. On the surface everything might look fine - but under the colour coat there could be issues;

The growing natural nail tip will be prone to increased flexing and this will create lifting along the side walls, in more extreme cases the enhancement will begin separating from the natural nail entirely, from the cuticle area where it is thinnest.  

 

'Pocket' lifting, where the central area of an enhancement has detached from the nail plate is invisible and is usually caused by extreme impact at the nail tip where significant flex up or down occurred, your nail will hurt if you do this, don't ignore it. This can also happen with repeated minor flexing/twisting of a longer natural nail in need of an infill. The longer your natural nails are under a product, the more care you must take to maintain them.

Pocket lifting can cause a 'Greenie' if left too long - the seal of the enhancement is broken (but not obviously visible) so moisture and bacteria can set in between the nail and the nail covering in the central 'pocket' of unattached product. The resulting yellow/ green/brown discoloration of the natural nail is permanent, the longer it is left the darker the colour, and you will need to patiently grow it out. 

SO... how do you avoid all this?

Firstly, you need to have your nail enhancements maintained every 2 to 3 weeks. Nothing can go horribly wrong in that time and your nail growth will be manageable.

Above all - this is your best nail Mantra...  DO NOT BEND.... not even a little bit.. EVER!

The most common misbelief about nail enhancements of any kind is that they will make your nails so strong that you won't need to concern yourself with them... WRONG! I actually don't care if you wear gloves for housework or gardening because that's not the issue - that will only affect the shine.

The repeated structural damage I see with nails from basic gel polish to full-on acrygel is the same... sustained minor flexing.... 

  • How do you pick up a heavy parcel? Do you do it in a way that puts no pressure on your nails?

  • How would you find the end of a reel of cello tape, or remove a sticker - with your nails?

  • Do you use your nails as tools even in a really minor way?

  • Do you type with your nails?

  • When something you need to do puts even minor pressure on your nail tips do you register that it might cause damage? 

The moment itself may seem insignificant but repeated over time even the most tiny amounts of flexing and twisting to the enhancements can create major damage. This will be most evident on the middle and index fingers of your dominant hand.

Nail enhancements that are well cared for will need very simple prep for infills, only the new growth of the natural nail will need attention. Where enhancements are damaged previously prepped natural nail is exposed and will need to be prepped again which is not ideal. It also means your nail appointment time will be longer, damage must be carefully removed and other remedial work carried out.

Finally...

Be aware that regular contact with chlorine, some types of tinted lotions, spray tans, sunscreen, tanning lotions, insect repellents, mineral oil based products, some spices and hair colourants may lift or discolour your nail enhancements. Be sure to wear gloves or clean your hands after touching these products.

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