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Gel nails are practical, strong, durable and pretty. They are not without risk, however. Have you considered the possible long-term effects of regular gel manicures?

Health and inner beauty are important, but most of us also want to look good. Women have gone to extreme lengths to ensure their looks present a positive image to the world throughout history. Think foot-binding, wearing numerous metal rings around the neck, corsets, and plucking hairs to raise the hairline all the way to the crown. 

Modern western women engage in their fair share of torturous activities to beautify themselves too. You're probably wearing high heels, you might have been on a fad diet, could have undergone plastic surgery and chances are you have a tattoo or two. You've also got less radical ways to look good, of course — great clothes, working out regularly, a nice haircut and blow dry, and some makeup.

Which category do gel nails fall into — routine beauty treatments or something more extreme? You may well be enjoying the lasting finish that comes with a gel manicure right now, but are you aware of the potential risks?

Are Gel Nails Safe?

The benefits of gel nails are obvious. Spend an hour and a half at your local nail salon, and you're good to go for two to three weeks. Gel nails are strong, durable, and pretty. Are you trying to look great? It's just not the same if you've got a nice outfit, beautiful hair, perfectly applied makeup and... horrible, stumpy nails! Good nails add the finishing touch to any look. 

Have you ever examined the lasting negative effects gel nails can have, though? The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has a few different concerns about gel nails. 

Gel Can Lead To Weak And Brittle Nails

In one study, five women with weak and brittle nails were examined by dermatologists. Another woman underwent reflectance confocal microscopy and ultrasound scans both before and after getting gel nails applied. The research team concluded that the study subjects' weak and brittle nails were caused by gel manicures, and the woman whose nails were examined most closely was found to have significant thinning of the nail plate after her manicure. 

The AAD says it isn't clear whether the brittle and weak nails were caused by the gel itself, or by the acetone in which hands are often soaked to remove gel nails. 

Gel-nail addicts with brittle nails should, of course, ask themselves if their gel manicure is ruining their real nails. I wonder how many people who have naturally strong and beautiful nails feel the need to apply a layer of gel to their nails, however. Are gel nails the cause of brittle nails, or the solution? If your natural nails are horribly weak despite a healthy diet and nutritional supplements to strengthen the hair and nails, gel might be the only way to enjoy "strong nails" — real or not.

Acetone Baths Are Bad For Your Hands

Gel nails can last up to three weeks in almost perfect condition, and removing them is quite a job. The AAD is concerned about the practice of soaking the whole hand in acetone in preparation for the removal of gel nails. This is because acetone dries the nails and surrounding skin out. In some cases, frequent exposure to the chemical can even lead to contact dermatitis

In their warning against the frequent application of gel nails, the AAD states that gel polishes "must be soaked in acetone for at least 10-15 minutes in order to rid the nail of the polish".

They advise against soaking the whole hand in acetone and instead recommend only soaking the finger tips. 

There are other options, however. You could opt to ask your nail technician to apply gel over your natural nails, or to use sculpting techniques to extend the nails instead of using plastic tips. She could then file the gel down gently until reaching your natural nails, and avoid the acetone soak altogether — but she will still need to use a primer or bonder before reapplying your gel nails.

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