5 Reasons Gel Nails Chip or Peel too Soon and How to Fix It

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“A chip in my gel nails? But I only had them done four days ago!”

This was the thought that led me down the “how to stop gel nails from chipping” rabbit hole.

Here’s what I discovered.

If your gel nails are chipping within the first week, then something has probably gone wrong during the application process. The most common issues that cause gel nails to chip are poor preparation of the natural nail, failure to cap the free edge, and over curing. Chips are also more likely if your natural nails are in poor condition (thin, brittle, or peeling) and can also be caused by using your nails as tools.

Turns out I’m not the only one experiencing chipping within the first week.

It’s a fairly common problem with gel nail polishes.

Let’s look at the problem in a little more detail.

In this article, we’ll go through all the main reasons that gel nails chip.

So hopefully, you can get to the bottom of what’s causing your mani to chip so soon.

Then, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to put a stop to that pesky chipping (and peeling) so that your mani will last for the full 2-3 weeks that the folks who make gel nail polish promise!

Sound good?

Let’s dive right in.

So, what causes gel nails to chip and/or peel so soon?

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Reason number 1: Unhealthy or damaged nails.

All the experts agree that gel nail polish should never be applied to unhealthy or damaged nails.

If your natural nails are weak, thin, brittle or prone to peeling then gel nail polish just isn’t going to work for you.

So what can you do?

Well, take a good look at your nails.

Then look at the list below and see what gels with you (shameless and absolutely intended pun!).

● Peeling, splitting, and dryness.

If your nails are peeling and or splitting, then they are probably too dry.

Dry nails are typically caused by a vitamin deficiency so you might want to think about changing your diet to include nail healthy foods like fruits and berries, lean meats, and dark leafy greens.

You can also take a supplement like Biotin (click to check price on Amazon) to improve your overall nail health.

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Dry nails can also be caused by the overuse of harsh chemical products like nail strengtheners, polishes and removers.

Acetone is a chemical found in most nail polish removers and using acetone is the most common way to remove gel nails.

However, acetone is renowned for drying out nails, so try to avoid using it if your nails are a little on the dry side to start with.

You can get acetone-free nail polish removers almost anywhere so consider switching to one of those as well as moisturizing your nails and cuticles with suitable oil.

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● Tiny white spots on the nail plate.

Are you a nail-biter? Or are you just guilty of having way too many manis?

If you have tiny white spots on your nails, it means that you either need to stop biting your nails or stop painting them so much!

Give your nails a well-deserved break and you should start to see an improvement in a couple of weeks.

If you can’t live without painted nails, try alternating between gel nails and regular manicures done with normal non-gel polish and avoid using harsh chemicals like acetone as much as possible.

There are some great acetone-free nail polishes on the market so ask your manicurist to use one or buy some for your home manicures.

It does take twice as long to remove your gel polish using a gentler formula, but your nails will be much happier!

● Sore cuticles, redness around the nails and or swelling.

Your cuticles are there to protect your nails from fungal and bacterial infections.

If they are in poor shape due to biting, or rough treatment during manicures (like using a metal cuticle scraper for example), then this can affect the overall health of your nails and the quality and lasting power of your mani will suffer.

If your cuticles are sore, red or swollen, then they need some TLC.

Whatever you do, don’t cut, bite or pick at your cuticles!

If you have a hangnail, clip it off with the proper tool, and always keep your cuticles clean and moisturised.

Medication, diet, and poor circulation can all influence your overall nail health, so the bottom line is that you should always look after yourself and your nails.

Reason number 2: too much moisture in the nails.

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Nails need to be dry before gel nail polish can be applied successfully.

Your nails are a little bit like sponges, they soak in water and swell.

So, if you are painting your nails too soon after you have had a shower or a bath, or even shortly after you have washed your hands, then you are asking for trouble.

What happens is, your nails soak in the water, then they swell, and you then paint them.

Then, as they dry out, they shrink, reducing in size ever so slightly and causing your nail polish to peel.

Too much moisture in the nails is the main cause of peeling with gel nails.

If you are in a rush, you can dry your nails out a bit using a hairdryer, just be careful not to overdo it as nails that are too dry are just as bad as wet ones!

A lot of people make the mistake of washing off the particles after they buff, and this is a big no-no!

During your manicure, dust and debris should never be washed off. Instead, try removing it using an alcohol wipes or rubbing alcohol and do not use cotton wool pads as this will dehydrate the nails.

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Never use a cuticle oil before painting your nails.

This is so important!

Buffing your nails is what helps to create an abrasive surface to make it easier for the polish to stick.

Putting an oily substance on your nails right before you paint them is just going to create a slippery non-stick base. Not what you want for creating the right conditions for a lasting manicure.

You need to be careful with moisture not only during the application process but also for the duration of your manicure, as exposure to hot water can cause your gel nails to peel.

You can minimise the risk of your gel nails peeling due to moisture by wearing gloves when you wash dishes and when you are washing your hair.

Reason number 3: base coat doesn’t properly cover the nail.

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Getting the basecoat coverage right is crucial to avoid chipping and peeling.

If the base coat doesn’t properly cover the whole surface of the nail, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

That’s why it’s super important to have great lighting so that you can see what you’re doing.

I have been to nail salons that use dim lighting in order to create “an experience” but that is a recipe for customer complaints!

Make sure your salon has good lighting and if you’re painting your nails at home, use a spot lamp or the light on your phone to do a thorough check.

To check the coverage, turn the nail to the right, then to the left and pay particular attention to the edges and corners.

If you’ve missed a bit, go ahead and apply another thin coat to fix the issue.

Reason number 4: poor positioning of your fingers under the lamp.

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If your fingers are not in the correct position under the lamp, your nails will not cure properly and will be more prone to chipping and peeling.

Led lamps have dark spots at the edges which can hinder the effectiveness of the cure.

Your hands should be flat with your nails facing directly upwards and they should be centred so that they are not too close to the edges of the lamp where the light is less likely to penetrate.

A good tip is to cure your thumbs and fingers separately.

So, start with painting both of your thumbs, then do four fingers on each hand.

Reason number 5: using an incompatible lamp.

“Are your gel nails not lasting as long as you’d like? It might be because you’re using the wrong lamp for your gel polish formula.

Every gel nail polish is different, and many companies design their lamps to match their specific formula.

Mixing and matching different gel polish brands with just one lamp can cause issues like chipping and peeling.

To ensure the perfect cure and long-lasting nails, it’s best to stick with the same brand of polish and lamp.

That way, you can be confident that your lamp is specifically designed for that formula

Reason number 6: under or over-curing.

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Getting the perfect cure isn’t always easy. It’s a balancing act that may take a little trial and error, especially if you are doing your nails at home.

Curing for too short a time will cause your nails to become soft and fudgy.

On the other hand, over curing will make them brittle and likely to chip.

Curing is a complicated science, which is another reason why you should always use the same brand of polish and lamp.

Be aware that your nails will look hard and shiny when they only 50% cured, you want 90% for optimal results.

If you want the best chance of success, my advice is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter.

Final thoughts: How long should gel nails last before chipping?

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If you follow the advice in this article, there’s absolutely no reason why your freshly painted gel nails shouldn’t last 2 weeks minimum.

If you’re lucky, you might even get 3!

To maximise the length of your manicure, remember to always make sure that your nails are not too moist or too dry before painting.

Make sure that you apply the polish correctly, full coverage with several thin coats and proper curing times using a matching polish brand and lamp.

finally, look after your nails (which means no using them as tools).

Do these simple things and your nails should last a lot longer.

I hope that you have found the advice in this article interesting and useful.

For more info check out our guide on how to make your gel polish last longer

Thank you for reading and happy painting!

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  • Phoebe Meadows

    Phoebe Meadows is a self-proclaimed nail addict, always on the lookout for the latest trends and techniques. When she's not creating stunning nail designs, you can find her researching the latest nail care products or experimenting with new techniques.