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My first soak-off-gel UV manicure was in April of 2010. My last was in July 2020. Here's what my nails look like now.
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decade of soak off uv gel manicures aftermath

Ten years of soak-off UV manicures – is there a reward for that? Actually yes: I had 10 years of nails as strong and long as I wanted, shiny and striking with simple nail art that made them look their best. Okay, there were stretches of regrowth time so long (record was nine weeks, I think?) that Tips Nail Bar owner Leeanne Colley resorted to ordering me back to the salon for a fresh manicure, but that's on me. For most of that decade, my nails looked amazing. Except for one July 2020 visit, all that stopped when the pandemic hit and people not following the guidelines forced shutdown after shutdown.

after a decade of soak-off uv gel manis

My nails are naturally quite flexible, peel-y at the tips, and prone to easy breakage. After my last soak-off manicure had pretty much grown out, my nails were a bit fragile, partly because gel had made them so strong that I'd learned not to be careful when opening boxes, tins, etc. 

Now, eight months later, my nails are completely, utterly, 100% back to normal. Yep, that's right. BACK. TO. NORMAL. They aren't perfect – if you look closely at the photo and the embedded reel (once I figure out how to do that), you can see they want to do some future peeling at the tips, and they're a bit ridge-y, too. And of course, my shaping skills aren't anywhere near as good as Leeanne's, and I don't buff. But that's what my nails had always been like before; it's their normal.

not quite normal

Wait, they're actually not quite normal. Something's different with my cuticles.

One of the most interesting side-effects of UV-gel is that the cuticles seem to take a growth break. For the most part, they stay neat and tidy by the sidelines, letting the gel take on the role of nail protector. And one of the most interesting after-effects of a decade of soak-off gel manicures is that my cuticles are still neat and tidy, quietly staying on the sidelines despite having resumed their protective duties.

So my nails are in fact slightly better than normal!

My naked nails after 10 years of back-to-back soak-off uv gel manicures: back to their normal

My naked nails after 10 years of back-to-back soak-off uv gel manicures: back to their normal

my hand and nail care

And my hand/nail care is so simple:
1) apply cream to damp hands after a wash or rinse
2) use mostly Aquaphor Ointment or The Body Shop Hemp Hand Protector
3) massage ointment or protector into cuticles and nails
4) use gloves when doing dishes
5) use an X-acto knife or scissors for opening boxes

I've shown my naked nails after years of back-to-back UV manicures before. At the three-point-five years mark, I posted this about my bare nails post soak-off gel, after Leeanne had buffed and shaped them beautifully.

Anyone who tries to convince you that soak-off UV gel manicures are bad for your nails has got it wrong. It's not the process itself that damages your nails. "It's the fools, not the tools," Leeanne has said for years. My nails are proof.

Fun fact: my first soak-off manicure in April 2010 was unplanned; I was at Tips (on Lesa Hannah's recommendation) to interview Leeanne for a Metro News story on "dry manicures" in which the nails aren't soaked before polish. After the interview, I marvelled at Leeanne's shiny perfect nails; I'd never seen a pristine manicure on someone who did them on others. She told me all about OPI Axxium, and booked me an appointment then and there. It was the start of a beautiful friendship, literally.

And you bet that I'll be back at Tips as soon as it's safe to go because I miss Leeanne and her incredible team, and I miss having long, strong, shiny, beautifully shaped and compliment-worthy nails I don't have to fuss over.

Have you had much experience with soak-off UV gel manicures yourself? How did it go? How have you managed since salons were forced to shut down?