Gel Manicure: Worth the cost?

Gel manicures are extremely popular, and when I asked friends and readers all were eager to share the benefits of the process. Many claimed it lasted two to three weeks, and nearly everyone agree the gel finish meant that chipping was minimal.

Note: I have edited this article to reflect that the process I paid for was a gel manicure, not shellac per Julie’s comment below. I guess I need to try shellac now too!

Most friends I spoke to said it wasn’t worth it all the time, but that for special events or vacations gel manicures far outlast regular manicures.

To start let’s talk nail care. I don’t regularly get manicures and pedicures because the cost is prohibitive. I didn’t even have my first mani/pedi until my sister was married (that means I didn’t for my own wedding either).

Many nail aficionados and readers have extolled the benefits of home manicures and pedicures for cost-savings. Personally I have no knack for it. My nails come out looking like a 5 year old painted them, so normally I go all-natural and simply trim and file my nails. I get pedicures a few times a year (you can find Local Spa Deals 50% off or more on Groupon typically) just to keep the ick off my feet.

Occasionally I get my nails done for conferences, or just for a fun day of pampering. However, it’s not a regular cost I would add to my budget, especially given my lifestyle. Dishes three times a day hardly make nail polish care simple.

When I was prepping for our trip to DisneyWorld for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration I knew I needed a pedicure (my feet have been in boots all winter!) and thought it would be fun to try a gel manicure to see what all the fuss was about. With packing and managing kids I thought it would be a great test of how long gel polish can last.

What’s a gel manicure?
Gel manicures are harder and tougher than regular polish. Available in limited colors (my salon had about 15) the manicurist trims and files your nails like a typical manicure. Next he or she will apply one coat of the gel nail polish. The gel polish is dried under a UV light for a minute or two repeating two to three times.

My manicurist applied polish to my pinky, ring, and middle finger and placed those under the light before moving on to my index finger and thumb. She repeated the process on my other hand and then again for a second coat. Finally she touched up areas that needed it, and I was all set! No waiting to dry.

The gel polish is meant to last two weeks (or more) and you pay more for gel manicures because of this unique feature.

Here they are on Day One.
Gel Manicure Day One

How much is it?

I didn’t have any discounts, Groupons, etc. so I paid full price $45 plus tip. Prices vary widely even in my area, but look for a reputable nail salon with great ratings from customers.

Health Concerns?
There have been concerns raised over gel manicures in terms of the UV light exposure, the application process, and more. The main concerns are: concerns about skin cancer risk from the UV lights, damage to nail beds, and nail infections. I found conflicting opinions on both, but I think it’s safe to say that you should proceed with caution, and it shouldn’t be a regular thing until more is known about the health concerns.

Gel Polish Removal
Getting the polish off isn’t as simple as a regular manicure, and there have been concerns that it can damage your nails if it’s not done properly. I have yet to take it off, but I’m debating the DIY approach versus heading back to the salon to get a professional to take off my polish.

Is Gel Polish Worth the Cost?
Gel Manicure Day 9

I’m now on day 9 of my manicure and I can safely say it wasn’t worth the cost for me. My nails grow extremely fast so the gap under the polish is too obvious. While the tops and most edges have held up under all the luggage carting, hand-holding, typing, ticket-swiping, swimming, and more that I’ve done I’d prefer the regular polish since I could have removed it 6 days ago.

The verdict?
While I prefer painted nails, chipping is a problem for me. It often happens the say I get a manicure! I am terrible at DIY manicures, so I think I’ll stick to au natural most of the time and the occasional (regular) manicure when it’s necessary. After all I can always get my girls to do touch-ups for me since they do a better job at manicures than I do!

What’s your take? Are you a DIY mani-er? Do you love gel polish? Do you prefer all natural nails?

Kelly

More reading on beauty treatments: ‘Is Laser Treatment Worth the Cost?

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About Kelly


is the founder of The Centsible Life, a blog where motherhood and money meet. Her goal is to help readers live well on less. Kelly is a mom to 4, and loves that she can stay at home with her kids, and still pursue her passions for writing, personal finance, and social media. You can often find her on twitter and Facebook talking money and motherhood.

  • Rose

    People need to really look into what your getting from a gel polish. Yes the price is different depending on location. Regular polish on natural nails does not stay on for 2 weeks. If you’re an active person with your hands polish will start chipping off soon. But gel polish should last up to 7-10 days. But again if you’re active with your hands (having your hands in water a lot , gardening, sports) it can start chipping . Removing the gel polish needs to be soaked off…..picking it off removes thin layers of your own natural nail so they become weak and thin.
    Soaking it off is very easy but it does take some time..15-20 min. It is also drying to your cuticles, so make sure your putting some kind of cuticle oil on for moisturizing the cuticles. You won’t know if you don’t ask….

    • http://www.thecentsiblelife.com/ Kelly Whalen

      Rose, all great points.

      When I wrote this post and tried out the gel polish I did ask some questions but as I shared I did this for a trip. I don’t typically have a manicure because I’m a busy mom and they just never last more than a day or two.

      In this case I wasn’t being active with gardening/washing dishes/etc like I would at home so I had hoped they’d hold up for at least a week while I was away. Instead I was left wanting to remove it by the third day, but with no way to safely do it while I traveled it stayed on until I arrived home.

  • Laura

    One thing I learned after my first gel manicure was to pay the extra and get a French manicure…as my nails grow, the gaps aren’t as obvious. I also only pay $20-$25 but only do it as a special treat. I started it to actually protect my nails a bit to help them grow out. It did weaken my nails when it was removed, but at that point I was able to maintain them and strengthen them myself.

    • http://www.thecentsiblelife.com/ Kelly Whalen

      Smart idea!

  • K

    I have the same problem with the growth. I have started having a light base and the the fun color feathered I midway to tip. Lasts three weeks that way. I only pay $25 and find it frivolous. It does however, make me feel good to do something fun for myself. Try a new place. Def do it yourself to remove.

  • Terri Ingraham

    I’ve tried shellac and it made my nails so thin. I love the concept but it’s not worth it to me!

    • http://www.thecentsiblelife.com/ Kelly Whalen

      It can be really tough on your nails!

  • Casey

    Yikes! You definitely overpaid! I pay $25-30, depending on which place I go to. I go between two different spots – depending on what side of town I’m on. If I get a “french gel manicure” then it’s $30-35. Everyone has different experiences & preferences; however, for me I get them done every 2 1/2-3 weeks & believe it’s worth every penny. In the last year, I of course have had a imperfect gel mani, but only two – both times were at places I don’t normally go to but did because I was out of town. It happens…

    Definitely try it again (at a different place)!! It may take a couple times to find “the perfect place”. If you find the right person/place, it WILL last 2 weeks minimum! Also one of the other perks about it, is when they’re done, it’s instantly DRY! You can play with your kids, shop, run errands etc & not worry about messing them up. Even as your nails grow out the polish should remain – at the earliest it may start to peel on sides at 2 weeks. Most of my gel mani’s last 3 weeks! Chipping should be very rare (unless of course your profession is tough on your hands). Many places will “re-do” a nail for free, if it starts to come up within 2 weeks (because it shouldn’t). I used to get regular mani’s all the time, but ALWAYS messed up a nail or two before the end of the day – it drove me crazy.

    As far as taking it off. Yes it’s a pain. Some places charge $5ish for them to take it off for you & it takes about ten extra minutes. If you wait long enough yourself you can peel them off yourself – however, by doing so yourself, your nail will need some filing, smoothing, oil etc.

    Just my two cents! :)

    • http://www.thecentsiblelife.com/ Kelly Whalen

      Thanks for sharing your experience! I will definitely have to give it another try at a different place.

  • http://twitter.com/JulieMPron Julie

    You’re not the first person I’ve heard who didn’t enjoy her experience. But there are some key things missing here, some I think most people don’t realize:
    1. Gel is different than shellac. It’s almost like lumping apples and orange into the same category. Gel is the predecessor (and lesser priced) companion of Shellac. You know how someone has a great idea, does it and pushes it out to the product line to be first? That’s gel. Shellac took it’s time and made it better before bringing it to market.
    2. I really think you overpaid. Really. I don’t pay that much for my shellac manicures. (Where did you go?)
    3. there’s a big difference in experience if you oil your nails after your polish. I rarely do this but have seen the benefit for when it’s done
    4. I’m VERY picky about who i let Shellac my nails. There are places that do it right and places that don’t.

    I’m constantly surprised when people don’t like the process and the results, probably because I do enjoy them so much. I can go about 2 weeks with nice-looking nails, and that means something to me. I don’t have them done all the time (this weekend I did my own nails) but find when I’m traveling a shellac is definitely on my must-do list.

    • http://www.thecentsiblelife.com Kelly

      This is GREAT info! I had no idea there was a difference between the two. Now I need to try shellac I guess! I’ll edited the post to reflect that this is solely about gel.

    • http://www.thecentsiblelife.com/ Kelly Whalen

      Not sure why my comment disappeared here! Adding it back. :)

      >>Thanks for pointing that out! I’ll update the post to reflect the difference.

      Good to know that adding oil can make it last longer.

  • http://twitter.com/craftygrdenmama Becky Elmuccio

    I tend to go natural. Between gardening, knitting and life, manicures never last very long for me.

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