Gel-polish manicures have gone mainstream, with options for over-the-counter products easily accessible to any client brave enough to tackle the task. Between the informal training of most nail techs and the fallout of DIY gel options, public nail plates are experiencing abuse in record numbers.

The solution lies with educated professionals. We need more techs who are capable of both understanding and educating their clients about the potential removal problems. Create opportunities to discuss best practices with your clients. That conversation could go something like this:

Client: Do you think I should take a break from gel manicures? A friend of mine took hers off because her nails got really soft and these weird white spots appeared and wouldn’t go away.

You: No. You don’t need to take a break. When we’re done removing your gel-polish, you’ll be able to see your nail plates have no white spots. They may be a little soft when we initially remove the wraps, but that’s because they’ve been absorbing the liquid in the wrap. As soon as your nails dry fully, they’ll no longer be soft.

Client: Well, why would her nails have white spots?

You: I can’t say definitively without looking at them, but in general two things leave white markings on the nail. The first is an overall discoloring that indicates the nails are dehydrated. A similar thing happens to dry skin. Once we moisturize it, the white coloring goes away. The second is white spots.

Client: Like my friend had?

You: Exactly. Unfortunately, this has become a relatively common occurrence on nail plates because many people try to rush the removal of gel-polish. Let me explain: The base coat we use during a gel manicure literally bonds to the nail plate. To remove the gel, we have to break that bond. Many manufacturers recommend 10 minutes of soaking to break down the chemicals that form that bond. But that’s under ideal conditions: the wrap is adequately soaked, it’s pressed firmly against the entire surface of the nail plate, and the wraps don’t move or loosen. But even then, the removal process can take longer if the gel has been on the nail longer than the recommended two weeks. Many techs don’t take the time to let that bond break completely. Instead, if there’s any gel remaining when the wraps are removed, they use a tool to scrape it off.

Client: I take it that’s not OK.

You: Absolutely not. It’s not physically possible to scrape gel off a nail without taking part of the nail with it! What’s left is a nail plate full of divots and scrapes. Those ruts are damage to the keratin layer. In fact, those white spots we see are often a collection of cells that have been “shoveled” into a pile on the surface of the nail.

Client: Oh my! That sounds terrible.

You: Yes, it can cause a lot of damage. I want you to know I take precautions to avoid that possibility. First, I shorten the nails before I wrap them because this breaks the seal of the polish at the tip of the nail. Then, I wet the wraps liberally, wrap them firmly around the nails, then hug your hands in a warm, dry towel so you don’t move around. I want to make sure when it’s time to remove the wrap, every bit of the seal from the gel-polish has been released.

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