Are Regular Powder Gel Manicures Bad For Me?

The long-lasting nature of powder gel is also its downfall.
The answer is more complicated than you think.
Martin Novak via Getty Images
The answer is more complicated than you think.

A perfect manicure is a beautiful thing, and if you’re getting it done at the salon you want it to last as long as possible. Cue powder gel manicures, which have become an increasingly popular option, offering the quick-drying, chip-free qualities we love in gel manicures while also lasting even longer.

But is it bad to get regular gel manicures? Should you be taking breaks in between? Nail techs will tell you one thing, but HuffPost wanted to get the answer from board-certified dermatologists who can give the straight scoop about nail health. Here’s what they had to say.

What is powder gel?

Unlike traditional gel, powder gel does not need to cure under a UV or LED light. Instead, nails are dipped into a pot of colored powder made of titanium dioxide, benzoyl peroxide and acrylic ester polymer and an activator made of ethyl acetate, methyl propyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone and N,N-dimethyl-p-toluidine is brushed on top to lock in the polish. Once the activator is on, the powder gel sets. Dip powder manicures tend to last longer than traditional gel ― up to five weeks with proper prep, application and maintenance, compared to two to three weeks for traditional gel, since the glue used to apply it contains cyanoacrylate (the main ingredient in Krazy Glue).

Powder gel removal can be super drying

Powder gel is more difficult to remove than traditional gel. Both involve some soaking in acetone, but powder gel requires a longer soak to break down the product. Longer exposure to acetone can dry out your nails and even irritate your hands and cuticles, so it’s important to moisturize afterward with plenty of cuticle oil, cuticle serum and hand cream. Keep some in your purse, at your desk and on your nightstand to remind yourself to hydrate throughout the day.

Taking breaks in between powder gel applications can be beneficial

“Regardless of what type of manicure you are using, it is always good to take a break in between applications, at least once a month,” said Dr. Tamara Lazic Strugar, a board-certified dermatologist at Hudson Dermatology and Laser Surgery and an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Regular nail polish is least harmful, whereas gels (regular and powder) are more harmful and acrylics the most.”

Lazic notes that while it might be nice to have a manicure on for a month or more, the longer that any polish or chemical sits on the nail, the more damage it causes. The removal process for powder gels can also be damaging, not only because of the longer acetone soak, but also because powder gel requires more physical scraping to remove, which thins and dehydrates the nail plate.

“If the technician is too aggressive with the electric filing and the nail matrix gets damaged, this can result in nail discoloration and sometimes even lumps and scarring,” Lazic said. “Also, keep in mind that continued exposure to the many chemicals found in gel manicures can cause sensitization and skin allergies.” She recommends taking breaks between manicures if you can — at least a week, but ideally a month. If you don’t want bare nails, consider using regular polish during your break.

If your skin and nails seem to be tolerating dip gel manicures well, taking breaks might not be necessary. “Most people get gels done about every three weeks in conjunction with the natural nail growth cycle,” said Dr. Janet Allenby, a board certified-dermatologist and founder of Allenby Cosmetic Dermatology. “Most people tolerate them well, and it may actually be uncomfortable to give them a break since the hardened surface of powder gel is more durable than our natural nail.

Dr. Corey Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist at Skin Wellness Dermatology, echoed Allenby’s view, noting that regular gel powder manicures are fine as long as neither the powder nor the gel causes any irritation or allergic contact dermatitis.

Signs it’s time to take a break

No matter how often you’re getting powder gel manicures, it’s a good idea to check in between applications to see if a break is necessary. If you’re seeing anything abnormal on or around your nails, like an infection, allergic reaction or dermatitis, or you’re experiencing any inflammation or pain, Allenby recommends discontinuing powder gel manicures until the issue is resolved. “If there is any pigment other than the natural pink of the bed you should stop and see a dermatologist,” she said. “All races are susceptible to malignant melanoma of the nail bed.”

Lazic added that when you notice whitish or yellow discoloration of your nails, cracking or dryness, it is time for a break and some hydration. She recommends using plain Vaseline or Aquaphor on the nails and cuticles to help hydrate and heal them.

Beyond topical products, Allenby notes that good nutrition, supplements and a healthy lifestyle are the best ways to keep your nails in good shape. “Nails, like hair, are a reflection of our health and age,” she said.

So, are constant powder gel manicures bad for you?

It depends. If you have sensitive skin that’s prone to drying out and becoming irritated, the application and removal process of powder gel may exacerbate skin sensitivity. To help minimize your risk for a bacterial or fungal infection, Lazic recommends ensuring the salon you’re going to doesn’t use a communal jar for dip powder. “You should not be dipping your fingers in a jar used by someone else,” she said. “Salons should use individual disposable jars for each client.

As for nail products in general, whether you’re using powder gel, regular nail polish, gel or something else, Allenby notes that it depends on how much exposure to chemicals you’re willing to accept and the health of your nails. “The nail is basically the same as a modified hair shaft, which grows as an inert nail from below the cuticle area,” she said. “The bed under the nail is live, delicate, susceptible to injury and has availability to absorb chemicals.”

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