Gel Nails Keep Chipping? Here’s 9 Reasons Why

Why do your gel nails keep chipping?

Gel nail polish can chip or peel due to so many reasons.

I will explain precisely why gel nails chip and how to bypass common nail prep blunders.

peeled gel nails

Client’s not following aftercare, mismatching products, systems and curing lamps, and purchasing low-quality products are some of the big reasons gel manis pop off post manicure.

How annoying is it when 20% of your clients return to the salon with chipped gel nails, but the other 80% seem rock solid?

Sound familiar? It’s pretty frustrating.

You might have this problem, and if you are anything like me when I first started nails, an issue with peeling gel polish might be a much more common occurrence.

Read this guide, and I’ll explain a few ways in which I improved this problem.

Through much trial and error with different techniques and products, I wanted to share what worked best for me.

1. Proper Nailbed Prep

Some clients would say, ‘Why do my gel nails peel off after one day?’ so I researched.

“Prep is key”; I saw this phrase pop up often, and learning what this meant was the solution to all my nail tech problems. Although very important, poor prep is not the only reason gel manicures are popping off, but let’s start here.

Some techniques just aren’t taught, or perhaps you have forgotten the steps after training, which might be why some gel nails fall off unannounced!

So why is nail prep so crucial for keeping those gels on?

The reason is that gel nails peel off because oily, smooth nails aren’t going to stick to anything but your finger.

An example of expertly prepped nailbeds

“If you think about a woodworker, they would scratch the surface of the wood before glueing it to anything else to promote adhesion. This is one of the key aspects of how to make your gel last longer.”

First step: Remove cuticles by pushing back with a sharp cuticle pusher (remember the side walls).

Second step: file the free edge and buff nails (See notes below*). If you don’t rub the free edge, oils will remain and cause peeling.

Third step: Use an Isopropyl alcohol nail cleanser and scrub the nail firmly around the sidewalls and free-edge to remove oils.

Fourth step: Brush on a dehydrating nail prep solution to remove oils further.

Fifth step: Keep your client from touching anything by placing a towel or object on their hand, such as a cotton pad. This ensures your client doesn’t touch their face, which will transfer oils to their just prepped hands!

Chipped Gel Trouble Shooting; Be aware of the following:

The critical aspect of a gel manicure that lasts is performing a dry manicure rather than a wet manicure. A wet manicure is when nails are soaked to help remove cuticle skin, but this is unsuitable before gel application. Gel requires a moisture-free base to grip before application.

The nail bed needs to be roughed up with a file suitable for natural nails, do not use nail files for acrylic shaping, as this will be too harsh.

Make sure you file the free edge, rough up 100% of the nail, around the sides, near the cuticles and the edges, or the polish will peel off at the most usual points.

Don’t rough the nail up too much! Nails need to be lightly scratched to ensure proper product adhesion. However, I have found that too much buffing weakens the clients’ nails, which makes nails more susceptible to bending, eventually tearing the Shellac or gel over time, causing the gel to chip.

If you’ve scratched the nails at an angle, don’t go over it again, especially at a different angle, as this is just going to smooth out the scratch you’ve just made (Things are getting technical)

After shaping, buy a block buffer to remove any ‘frilly’ bits still attached beneath the nails. This will ensure the nail is not bumpy after polishing.

2. Is removal destroying your client’s nails?

Removal with acetone will save your clients from picking off their gel nail polish and taking layers of the nail bed with it.

However, poor removal will destroy the strength of the nails, which will, in turn, affect your service and have your clients asking, “Why does my gel polish peel off?”.

After 2-3 weeks of wear, the best thing you can do is remove gel nails with acetone, ensuring that your clients have solid and healthy beds, but sometimes beauty therapists can rush removal due to clients being late.

Top Tip: How to keep nails from breaking by applying IBX under the gel.

Why you should book extra time for removal or take steps to ensure clients aren’t late

Rushing the removal process due to late arrivals will weaken the nail plate. This is because you haven’t allowed enough time for the acetone to penetrate the hard polish fully, ensuring it peels off easily.

You will then have to take further action to get the polish off. Scraping and buffing to achieve a polish-free nail will come at a cost to the strength of the nail surface. This weakens the nails as you will be taking layers of nail plate off when doing so. This results in nails that are more likely to bend, and guess what bends with it? The polish will eventually tear the gel, and the polish will peel.

“Gel polish doesn’t ruin your natural nails. However, poor removal, harsh preparation and clients peeling off their gel manicures will guarantee to ruin natural nails over time.”

Note: Use a remover that is gentle on the nails. I found a considerable difference in the chalkiness (white appearance after removal). A remover that isn’t as harsh on the nails will not dry out the nails as much as pure acetone. Dry nails will become brittle and break off more easily.

If your client’s gel nail polish is not coming off with acetone, it may be hard gel, in which case you will have to buff the gel off, making sure to leave some still left on to prevent further nail damage.

Damage to natural nail bed from poor removal of gel polish. This damage can also come from the client’s peeling or picking off gel polish.

3. Polish application

I did all the prep correctly but still had issues with gel staying on the nails and found that this way worked best for me to eradicate chipping nails.

Curing times: I applied a thin layer of polish and capped the free edge, but that still didn’t stop the gel nails from chipping and peeling.

My theory?

Even though I shook up the bottles and resorted to placing them between my knees to warm them up during prep, the base coat kept getting thicker with every use.

If there’s one thing I remember from Chemistry, solvents will evaporate if open to the air. Eventually, every time you take your brush out, the solvents that thin the polish will evaporate, leaving you with a gloopy product.

Gloopy products will not have the exact curing times as ‘just bought’ straight out of Sweet Squared Polish.

Why? Because it’s thicker, thicker gel products need more time for the UV or LED light to penetrate them.

I decided that the recommended 5-second cure time in the CND lamp was not working for me, so I upped it to 60 seconds just to be sure. Unfortunately, this wasn’t ideal for me, so I switched to “Artistic Colour Gloss” and “The Gel Bottle” as I found their products non-gloopy.

Shrinkage: The last thing I want to share with you is shrinkage.

Shrinkage is the movement of gel on the nail plate.

For example, imagine you started painting the pinky finger, and now you’ve made your way to the thumb. Then, when you’ve finished all five fingers, you look back at the pinky, and the polish doesn’t look the same.

It doesn’t look neat anymore, you are miles away from the cuticles, and the free edge you just capped is no longer sealed!

That, ladies and gentlemen, is shrinkage.

Purchasing high-quality gel polish products will require an initial higher cost outlay, but your nail salon will reap the benefits later by using products designed for professionals.

Examples of good quality gel nail products are ‘The Gel Bottle, CND: Shellac, Gelish and Artistic Colour Gloss. Each brand is constantly updated with the latest trends and technological improvements to enhance your nail bar’s service.

Notice the pieces of glitter on the sidewalls and be conscious about removing them before sealing them with a top coat, as this can cause the gel nail polish to peel.

Shrinkage can occur for numerous reasons:

  • Old gel bottles
  • Poor quality gel products (please, I am begging you, ditch Bluesky if you’re going to open a salon)
  • Highly pigmented colours (neons, black etc.)
  • Bottles haven’t been shaken before use (you need to mix the solvents in the bottle)
  • It just happens!

BIAB (Builder in a bottle)

If your BIAB nails keep lifting, there are a few things you can do to fix this.

Remove all the cuticles on the nail plate (sometimes it is not visible). Use a cuticle pusher, then buff away the rest with a nail file.

Regarding the application of builder gel or ‘rubber base’, paint a very thin gel layer but do not cure it. Instead, take a blob (half a pea) of gel onto your brush and place it just above the centre of the nail and push it up the way, then drag it down to the tip of the nail. Use the floating method to retain a smooth, even shape.

4. How to fix shrinkage & ensure the free edge is sealed

Let’s start with why capping the free edge is so important.

Time the polished free edge will wear away with time, so the stronger those layers are, the less likely they will chip off. Sealing the nails also prevents oils and water from getting underneath the polish and loosening it.

I now paint two nails at a time, capping the edge of both nails just before I put them in the lamp. This gives me peace of mind that my client’s nails are sealed and as close to the cuticle and side walls as possible.

I also have another trick that has helped me seal the edges of clients with shorter nails. Long nails are easy enough to cap with a swish of your brush, but short nail capping can get messy and time-consuming.

Here’s how I do it: Paint the nail, turn your brush the other way to point towards you, and let it fall back onto the edge. Make sure you use a thin layer of polish for this!

Watch the video above to see how I do this!

5. Seal those babies! 

There’s no point in going to all that effort and forgetting the product that will seal in all your hard work!

Best way to apply topcoat:

  1. Shake your topcoat at the start of the appointment and allow the gel to settle
  2. Paint the top coat on two nails at a time, then cure, making sure to paint it the teeniest bit beyond where you started to apply the product around the cuticle and sidewalls to seal it
  3. Cap the edge just before you put the hands in the lamp to ensure no shrinkage has occurred away from the free-edge

6. You’ve got the wrong lamp

It’s simple; you need a top-quality lamp to properly penetrate the gel to make it stick to your client’s nail bed!

For example, most well-known gel polish brands such as CND Shellac, ‘The Gel Bottle’, OPI, and Gelish sell lamps designed to cure their products.

Some UV or LED nail lamps have a light emission frequency unique to the brand, meaning that only lamps sold explicitly by the brand will guarantee the curing of their specific products.

For example, the ‘The Gel Bottle’ LED lamp should only be used with ‘The Gel Bottle’ products to guarantee the gel is cured; if not, they will just peel off or chip.

When it comes to buying a lamp, take this advice:

  • Pick a well-known brand name, e.g. The Gel Bottle, Artistic Colour Gloss, CND Shellac, OPI, Gelish etc.
  • Choose a brand and stick with it.
  • Don’t plug your lamp into a multi-plug socket, as this will emit less power to the lamp
  • Check your clients are placing their hands correctly in the light (not fingers pointing downwards)

7. Hand positioning

How your client positions their hands is essential for evenly curing the gel nail polish. 

Look inside your lamp and notice where the lights are located and if they are clean of hardened gel polish. This will give you an idea of where your client should position their hands.

Ask your client to spread their fingers and lay their hand as flat as possible.

If your client’s hand is too relaxed, the free edge will be pointing down the way, which could prevent the UV or LED light from penetrating the tip of the nail.

8. Your client is misinformed about aftercare

You would probably be surprised at the potential ‘nail chipping’ activities your clients get up to at home or work. 

Are you or your client filing after the gel manicure is complete?

Your client may think it’s ok to file after a gel manicure; however, this will break the seal on the free edge. So warn your client that this will happen before they leave the salon.

Is your client a rock climbing enthusiast? Does their job require breaking apart boxes and picking off labels, or perhaps they are a healthcare worker who must constantly use hand sanitiser? All of these tasks are going to have some effect on the nails.

Dishwashing, cleaning and gardening without gloves should be avoided at all costs.

Hand gel sanitising should also be avoided as the alcohol will eventually wear away the topcoat, and the gel will lift at the edge of the nail.

Cuticle oil is a must, too; you can read more about this below.

9. Get lit

It would be best to have good lighting at your nail desk to ensure you have done everything from start to finish.

I recommend a ‘day light’ desk lamp as it emits intense white light and is usually adjustable to your comfort level.

Nail desk lamps are fantastic for prepping cuticles, shaping nails, applying polish and nail art. A desk lamp will improve your work, and a finished set of nails will also look much more apparent in any photographs you take.

10. Oil up 

Recommending cuticle oil to your clients isn’t just for improving the skin around the nails; it can prevent them from chipping too.

Gel nails dry out over time, and they “shrink”, which causes lifting. Cuticle oil helps to moisturise them and keeps them from drying out; this can help gel polish lifting issues.

If you think about what happens when water and oil meet, oil is hydrophobic, which means it repels the water.

With this in mind, it’s not a wild theory that applying oil over your nails will protect them from chemicals and water. Also, cuticle oil prevents the gel from drying out, becoming brittle and chipping off.

Apply the cuticle oil around the cuticle, under the nails and around the free edge after every hand wash.

11. Too much damage

Nails that have experienced too much damage break and chip off, which can cause gel polish to chip or peel off.

Treatment for damaged nails 

IBX Treatment

Use the world-famous nail strengthening treatment IBX.


Give the nails a break from buffing and polishing, and apply ordinary nail polish as an alternative.

The CND Vinylux range from the makers of ‘CND Shellac’ is the closest product to actual gel polish, and we cannot recommend this product enough.


Ensure your nails are soaked off properly, keep them short until the damaged area grows, and apply cuticle oil daily. This can take a couple of months.


Do gel nails chip?

Yes, they do if you are not careful with them, e.g. washing dishes, cleaning or gardening without wearing gloves. They can also chip, much less than regular polish if not correctly applied.

Why is it just the top layer of my gel nails peeling off?

The gel top coat usually peels off if it isn’t cured correctly or has been applied over a colour gel or acrylic nails that have been wiped down with isopropyl alcohol. Each layer of gel is sticky and bonds to the next one, so if the tacky layer is removed, the next layer of polish will not adhere and will peel off.

How To Fix Chipped Nails If You’re a Client

Sometimes nails chip just as your jetting off on holiday, and there’s no way you can get back to the salon to have them fixed. So if taking matters into your own hands (literally) is your only option, then you have a few options.

If your nails are peeling, carefully placing a bit of nail glue under the gel polish will keep it in place.

Suppose they have chipped, purchase a matching polish to fill in the missing paint or file it down so the chip isn’t visible. This will break the seal on the topcoat and potentially cause further peeling, so the first option is probably better.

How to remove the sticky layer on gel nails

A possible reason for gel nails coming off too soon could be improper removal of the ‘tacky’ layer after curing the topcoat.

To remove the top film (sticky inhibition layer), use a foil or plastic-backed, lint-free pad soaked with 99% Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA). Removing this layer with acetone, for instance, makes gel polish dull and breaks down the topcoat prematurely, and that could be a good reason gel won’t stick to your nails.

Each brand will have its type of sticky inhibition layer remover. However, some brands, like ‘The Gel Bottle’, will not require the topcoat to be wiped after the complete application.

Learn to do gel nails.

If you want to learn how to do gel nails, attending a gel polish training course with a well-known gel brand company such as CND Shellac, The Gel Bottle, would be in your best interest. This is because each brand will have a different way of applying their polish, giving you the best chance of passing your client’s chip-free gel nails.