Drop Zone: How to Keep Nails Healthy Under UV Gel Manicures

by Janine on 25 June 2012 · 28 comments

ombré Artistic Colour Gloss soak-off manicure_in Owned and HypeArtistic-Colour-Gloss-ombré-mani_Owned-and-HypeOne of the questions I get most about UV gel manicures such as Shellac, Gelish, OPI GelColor and so on, is about whether the nail can “breathe” under the lacquer. Others include Is there a way to keep the nails healthy? and Is it a good idea to take a break between soak-off manicures?  So… here’s how to keep nails healthy under uv gel manicures.

how to keep nails healthy under uv gel manicures

Can nails breathe under soak-off manicures? Nails don’t breathe the way skin does. They are a bit porous, however — we’ll come back to that.

Remember that nails continue to grow. Within days you’ll see that sliver of bare nail at the base; it’s quite significant after two or three weeks.

Is there a way to keep nails healthy under the under the polish? Healthy nails are linked to healthy cuticles. This is where nail porosity comes in. Think of the cuticle as a conditioning drop zone: a drop of oil there benefits more than just the skin around the nail.

“Use cuticle oil daily — it penetrates the nail plate. As the nails grow, they become more flexible and resilient,” says Leeanne Colley, whose busy Toronto salon, Tips Nail Bar, has a huge number of fiercely loyal soak-off manicure clients. “It helps peely nails, too,” she adds.

Best to apply cuticle oil immediately after you’ve washed your hands in warm water — the oil will sink in efficiently and help keep skin hydrated.

Do you need a break between soak-off manicures? Not really. If you have naturally strong nails, take a break if you like. But if you’re like me and have soak-off gel manicures to give your naturally weak nails extra strength, taking a break will only leave your bare nails unprotected, once again vulnerable to the easy chipping and breaking that used to drive you nuts.

Have you been asking these questions too? Will you try the cuticle-oil trick?

Pink + orange ombre manicure by Leeanne Colley at Tips Nail Bar, with Artistic Colour Gloss soak-off gel in Owned and Hype. Photo via Fujifilm Finepix F770EXR.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Natasha 25 June 2012 at 10:23 am

I’ve used a couple of cuticle oils and never see any sort of improvement. Right now i’m using Witchcraft Almond Oil for Nails & Cuticles. Do you have any recommendations for cuticle oils?


Janine 25 June 2012 at 10:49 am

Actually, I’m only an occasional oil-dropper. My nails are peely and weak (without soak-off gel), but despite only occasional cuticle conditioning, they always look healthy, with nice pink nail beds that I see for a few minutes every three or four weeks between applications.

When I do use oil on my cuticles, I tend to use body oils because I have them all over my place — similar ingredients, it seems. I used to use conditioning cuticle pens, though. Olay had one I loved, but they were too ahead of their time for mass consumers. Discontinued years ago.

Have you tried OPI’s Avoplex to Go? It’s nicely emollient and convenient. Witchcraft is also a trusted name in nail world, so that you’re already trying one is good. How long have you been using it?

I suspect it takes a while to see a difference in the nail itself because by the time it becomes visible, it’s essentially “dead” like hair.


Kristina 25 June 2012 at 3:01 pm

try CND Solar Oil – Body Shop’s cuticle oil pen is pretty awesome as well & easy to use/store :)


Janine 25 June 2012 at 7:18 pm

Great suggestions, thanks Kristina!


Laura Merzetti 25 June 2012 at 8:22 pm

Also remember to get the cuticle oil underneath the free edges of your nails – the nail here absorbs the oil which keeps it hydrated, healthy and less prone to breaks and tears. It also keeps the gel polish plasticized (I know, too much techy) and flexible, ultimately extending the life of your mani :)


Janine 25 June 2012 at 10:41 pm

Thanks for that tip, Laura!


Natasha 25 June 2012 at 9:13 pm

Thanks ladies :)


Lindsay 26 June 2012 at 8:01 am

I use cuticle oil (Essie apricot oil) every time I do my nails, as the final step. I feel naked (and dry) without it. And I carry The Body Shop almond oil nail and cuticle oil pen thing in my purse. I’ve been known to bust it out on the train and slather my finger tips with it.

I also have a jar of natural shea butter at my desk, which I apply a few times a day. And a regular hand cream. Also from The Body Shop almond oil line.

Clearly, I have a moisturizer problem. But whatever.

I have weak and bendy nails as well, and I’ve tried a LOT of strengthening products. Witchcraft Hard as Nails has made a big difference. I use it as a base coat and my nails are significantly stronger and break less.


Janine 26 June 2012 at 8:06 am

Have you done a nail necessities post on SometimesFancy, Lindsay? I’d link to that — all this info is great!


Lindsay 26 June 2012 at 10:04 am

I have not! But I will. And I’ll let you know when it’s up.


Janine 26 June 2012 at 10:28 am

Yes, please! Peeps want to know!


YouLookHotToday 26 June 2012 at 8:23 am

Laura, you sound like you know stuff so I’ma fire a question at ya!

It never occurred to me to use cuticle oil under the tips of my nails when I have a gel manicure. My experience with oil product is that it tends to make things less sticky. Like if I have a sticker on the bottom of a glass or on a mirror, I sometimes use butter to beat the sticky. I just figured that if I put oil under my nails, somehow it’d end up making the gelpolish lift. Did I go wrong in the science of that? If the oil particles are small enough to be absorbed, would they not eventually make their way through the nail and cause issues with the gel?

As it stands, I’m careful not to use hand cream on the day of a gel manicure – it seems to mess with both the application and the staying power of the manicure. I can, however eat fried chicken and strips of bacon afterwards and have noticed no ill effects…

My peely nails clearly need some additional moisture as they’re being robbed by awesomely nail-weakening chemicals (even with the protection of a gel mani). If I can safely apply cuticle oil to the underside and still have my Tips last for 21 days, then your kinda science is The Best.

As sort of a nerd myself, if you have some science-nerdness to help me get how it doesn’t jack with the gel, I’d love it. If you don’t, maybe the Geek knows – she’s a Geek – she loves science-nerdness! Somebody here hasta know…


YouLookHotToday 26 June 2012 at 8:24 am

Oh, and by the way, Geek, nice mani.


Janine 26 June 2012 at 10:35 am

Thanks, You — it’s fun, right? *grin*


Jessica Ellison 27 June 2012 at 9:23 pm

Just a tip for “You Look Hot Today”…
You are on the right track regarding oils! It is up to your Manicurist to ensure no oil is left on your nail plates before application. Once the adhesion of the gel mani product has occured, no need to worry about oils. Oil is an absolute must! Think of it as conditioner for your nails. After all, they are made of the same keratin material as your hair. You prob would never dare go without your hair conditioner right?! A tiny molecule like jojoba is best. Try a pro brand with a natural blend including jojoba and massage in everyday. Your gel mani will shine and last even longer!


Janine 1 July 2012 at 9:11 am

Thanks for your great tips, Jessica!


YouLookHotToday 28 June 2012 at 8:42 am

Thanks, Jessica!

I make it 21 days between gel manicures and the only reason I go back is because of the regrowth. The mani generally stays shiny, lift, and chip-free so I could probably go longer but for the dreaded regrowth. The reason I made the move to gel was so I could keep some kind of length on my nails. They peel and split on their own. At some point, I might just want to see my bare nails again (unlikely due to the magic of the girls @ Tips) but if that time comes, I’d like my nails to be healthy. I’ma try this oil tip under my tips!

Mucho appreciation,


Jessica Ellison 29 June 2012 at 8:23 pm

I’m certain those Tips Nail queens have them looking gorgeous! :)


Dream Mom 1 August 2014 at 11:45 am

My long, natural beautiful nails were never the same after four months (weekly applications) of CND Shellac. Cuticle oil didn’t help and I was left with very thin, peely nails for some two years. This year, I tried olive oil and it helped a lot! I soak them in olive oil for 5 minutes (after my manicure and before I polish) and it made a huge difference. The peeling is gone for the most part although I do my nails twice a week (no more gels of any kind) although I have one or two fingernails where I have some peeling every now and then. My long hard nails are only about 30-50% of the strength they used to be though. And yes, I’ve tried everything to get them back.


Janine 1 August 2014 at 11:49 am

Oh dear :-( I hear the most lasting-damage-related stories in connection with Shellac. Your olive-oil trick is a good one. Have you tried coconut oil? It’s the only natural oil that can actually penetrate the hair shaft; I wonder if it would be more effective for nails since they’re made of the same kind of stuff (don’t quote me on that; I need to check!).

When you soak, do you simply apply a generous coat of olive oil or actually dip your fingertips into a little bowl?


Dream Mom 1 August 2014 at 12:25 pm

Thanks, Janine for such a quick reply. For olive oil, I put some in a bowl and then slather it all over my hands and nails and then rest my nails in the bowl for 5 minutes (I use a timer, lol.) so my nails are in the bowl the entire time. It’s the best thing I’ve tried to date. I’ve tried many different cuticle oils and butter but I read about the olive oil trick and saw the You Tube video and that works the best. I was born with naturally long beautiful strong nails so the damage from the Shellac was devastating. I only used it because I have a special needs child and have to wash my hands a lot so I thought that the Shellac would be great since the polish wouldn’t chip. Currently, I stick to Zoya or OPI polish with Seche Vite top coat over my natural nails.

As for coconut oil, I am actually a huge advocate of organic coconut oil (I find Now Foods Organic Coconut Oil is the best and I use it as a make up remover, moisturizer (remove make up, cleanse then moisturize), hair conditioner, use it for cooking and for health issues (son); of course I keep the organic coconut oil for beauty in a glass dish in the bathroom and separate from the one for cooking!) however I don’t find organic coconut oil is as good for nail hydration or as a lotion compared to olive oil. It’s fantastic for your face and lips however. The hyalauronic acid smoothes away fine lines in the eye area and my skin looks amazing. I use it before bed each night and under my foundation.


Janine 1 August 2014 at 12:29 pm

Ahhh… is it because olive oil has a thicker consistency and coating action than coconut I wonder? Thanks so much for all the great detail in your reply!

Do check out our Sally Hansen Miracle Gel and Revlon Gel Envy posts. Both those new nail polish lines are getting crazy raves for durability. Miracle Gel (like Gel Envy, it’s a polish despite the “Gel” in the name) is slightly ahead; some readers are having mysterious bubbling issues with Gel Envy. But those who aren’t are in LOVE with the line. Perhaps one of those two brands would hold up better to your manicure challenges? xo


Dream Mom 1 August 2014 at 12:45 pm

Thanks, Janine. The Seche Vite holds up pretty well so I am good for now but thank you for thinking of me. I do use a few of Sally Hanson’s other products which I like so I’ll keep that in mind.


Tricksie 11 August 2014 at 12:06 pm

@Dream Mom
You might try Gelous with your Seche as well. I’m a little concerned you needed a new gel application weekly, that is a really short throw on wear and honestly, no wonder you’re just as happy with regular polish because applied correctly, it should wear that long. So just tossing into the ring that a coat of Gelous and then Seche to seal the dry time should wear amazingly well for you.
Gelous is really a base coat, but it’s a great top coat for chunkier polishes like glitters or Liquid Sands/textures. My only complaint is that I can’t get it to dry on it’s own as a top coat so I Seche over it and that takes care of it nicely.
I was reading your comments and thought this might help you sneak a few more days out of your manis and get a little more wear. I find it works even on my hard to keep polish on clients.
I’m not sure if you’re in Canada or the US, but we can get it here in the US at Sally. Not sure if those are in Canada or not.

I’m so sorry about your Shellac issues. That is heartbreaking. We work so hard on our nails! They’ll rebound, it just takes time. Keep up with the olive oil, it’s a great moisturizer!


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