Gel Nails Keep Chipping? Here’s 7 Reasons Why

Why do your gel nails keep chipping?

Gel nails can chip or peel due to the use of low-quality gel products, damage by the client, improper removal or preparation of the nail plate.

peeled gel nails

How annoying is it when 20% of your clients come back into the salon with chipped gel nails, but the other 80% seem to be rock solid!

Sound familiar? it’s pretty frustrating, isn’t it? 

You might have this problem, and if your 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 I found worked best for me.

1. Proper Nailbed Prep

Some of my clients would say, ‘why do my gel nails peel off after one day?’, so I decided to do a bit of research.

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

There are some techniques that you don’t learn or forget after training that might cause them to just fall off unannounced!

An example of expertly prepped nailbeds

So why is nail prep so important 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 own finger. 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 file the free edge, oils will remain and cause peeling

Third step: Use Isopropyl alcohol nail cleanser and scrub the nail firmly right around the sidewalls and free-edge to rid of oils

Fourth step: Brush on a dehydrating nail prep solution to further rid of oils

Fifth step: Make sure you keep your client from touching anything by placing a towel or object on top of 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:

    1. The nail bed needs to be roughed up with a file suitable for natural nails, do not use nail files that are for acrylic shaping as this will be too harsh
    2. 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
    3. DON’T rough the nail up too much! Nails just need to be lightly scratched to ensure proper product adhesion. In fact, I have found that too much buffing weakens the clients’ nails, which makes nails more susceptible to bending, eventually tearing the Shellac or gel overtime causing the gel to chip
    4. 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)
    5. Buy a block buffer to remove any ‘frilly’ bits still attached beneath the nails after shaping. 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. This ensures your clients have strong and healthy beds, but sometimes beauty therapists can rush removal due to clients being late.

Top Tip: How to keep nails healthy under gel with IBX.

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 result in a weakened nail plate. The reason for this is that you haven’t allowed enough time for the acetone to penetrate the hard polish fully, which ensures it peels off with ease.

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. This 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 kind of damage can also come from the client’s peeling or picking off gel polish.

3. Applying The Polish 

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 was applying a thin layer of polish and capping 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 even resorted to sticking them in-between my thighs to warm them up during prep, I found that 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 same curing times as ‘just bought’, straight out of Sweet Squared polish. Why? Because it’s thicker, and 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. This really 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. By the time you’ve finished all 5 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 that 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 keeping up to date 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 with 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 we are 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!

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

Let’s start with why capping the free edge is so important. With 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 and turn your brush the other way to point towards you and let the brush fall backwards onto the edge. Make sure you just 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’s going to 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!

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 properly in the lamp (not fingers pointing downwards)

More viscous gels will require a different light emission to guarantee the gel is cured, if not they will just peel off or chip.

7. Your client is misinformed about aftercare

Are you or your client filing after the gel manicure is complete? Your client may think that it’s ok to file after a gel manicure, however, this will break the seal on the free edge. 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, picking off labels or perhaps they are a healthcare worker who has to 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 up at the edge of the nail.

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

Treatment for damaged nails 

  • Try an alternative to gel nails such as CND Vinylux
  • Ensure your nails are soaked off properly
  • Use the famous nail strengthening treatment IBX  

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 if they are not properly applied, but much less than normal polish.

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

The gel top coat usually peels off if it isn’t cured properly, 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 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. 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.

If they have chipped, it’s best to purchase a matching polish to fill in the missing piece of 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 why gel won’t stick to your nails.

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

Learn to do gel nails

If you want to learn how to do gel nails, it would be in your best interest to attend a gel polish training course with a well-known gel brand company such as CND Shellac, The Gel Bottle etc. The reason for this is because each brand will have a different way of applying their polish giving you the best chance of giving your clients chip-free gel nails.