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Why Does Gel Nail Polish Peel Off? [Causes & Fixes!]

Gel nail polishes are known for their long-lasting shine and durability, which makes it especially disappointing when you notice that your manicure has started to peel. While any nail lacquer will eventually start to peel, especially as you pass that two-week mark, sometimes it happens sooner than you’d hoped. It’s almost always unexpected, and you’re still a ways from your next visit to the nail salon. 

So, why does my gel nail polish peel off? Gel nail polish can peel for various different reasons, although the most common causes are that the gel is not fully or properly cured, or your natural nails weren’t prepared properly. Poor product, incorrect technique, or improper care after the manicure can also exacerbate and fasten peeling. 

While a professional fix is always ideal, a DIY solution is a great option, too. 

There are many ways to prevent nail polish from peeling, and there are many ways to fix a peel when you’re in a pinch. 

Keep reading to find out exactly what you can do to fix peeling gel nail polish.

Reasons Why Gel Nail Polish Can Peel

Let us now explore each of the potential causes in a little more detail so you can start to get a better idea of what may be the culprit for you.

Improper Nail Prep

Gel polish can start to peel for many reasons, the most common being that the nails were not prepared properly. 

Preparing the nails before gel polish application is the most important step to achieving a long-lasting gel polish manicure or pedicure. 

Prepping the nails ensures that excess dust, dirt, dead skin, moisture, and oil are removed, as these can cause gel nail polish to resist the surface of the nail. 

They can also act as a barrier between gel polish and your nail, blocking the polish from sticking to the surface of the nail. 

If your nails aren’t filed and buffed, and cuticles pushed back, gel polish could adhere to those unwanted areas and begin to lift prematurely.

Improper Curing

Gel polish can also peel because it was not cured properly. 

Gel nail polish needs to spend a certain amount of time under LED or UV light to cure properly. 

Skipping this step or removing your hands and feet from the LED or UV lamp too soon could spell disaster, as under-cured nails are more vulnerable to smudging, bubbles, and peeling.

Missing Product 

Gel nails are likely to peel if you missed the base coat, top coat, or both.

A base coat is an important step in preparing your nails to receive whatever nail polish is being applied. 

Base coats are especially important when working with gel nail polish, as it is designed to help the additional layers cure. 

Top coat has a similar purpose and function, with the added bonus of protecting all of those colorful layers and giving them a glossy finish.

Poor Quality

Your gel polish is not the best quality. 

Low-quality gel nail polish can start to lift and peel sooner than high-quality formulas. 

This is because low-quality gel nail polishes use ingredients that aren’t as durable as their high-quality counterparts.

Improper Care

Gel nails are durable but don’t love harsh conditions. 

If you work with your hands or are often in contact with abrasive chemicals, your gel manicure is likely to begin showing some signs of damage faster than usual.

Something as simple as washing your hands and forgetting to moisturize could begin to dry out your nails and cause gel nail polish to lift and peel around the edges.

Unhealthy Nails

Your nails aren’t their healthiest. 

Brittle or weak nails can sometimes have trouble hanging on to gel nail polish. 

If your nails are already compromised by damage or infection, applying gel nail polish could result in peeling, or worse, further damage to your nails.

How To Prevent Gel Nail Polish From Peeling

There are many ways that you can prevent your gel polish from peeling:

Filing Your Nails

Filing your nails before applying gel polish helps remove residue and excess dead skin, all of which can prevent gel nail polish from bonding properly to the nail.

Filing the nails also creates a slightly roughened surface (not damaged!) that allows gel polish to easily grip onto the nail.

Soak Cuticles In Warm Water

Soaking your hands in warm, soapy water is a relaxing and important part of every manicure.

A quick soak (or a lengthy one, no judgment here) works to soften cuticles and make them easier to push back.

Taming your cuticles, whether they’re pushed back or cut, will prevent gel polish from getting on your cuticles and peeling sooner rather than later.

Wipe Nail Surfaces With Rubbing Alchohol Or Acetone

Giving your bare nails a quick wipe with rubbing alcohol or acetone will wipe away unwanted particles and residue.

Dirt, dust, and oil could contaminate your gel polish and cause it to peel.

While peeling is certainly something we want to avoid, proper nail hygiene goes beyond the surface and keeps your nails healthy in the long run.

Use Base And Top Coat

Gel base coats and top coats are formulated to bond with your nail and the layers of gel nail polish you’ve already applied.

A top coat creates a hard, glossy surface on top of your gel polish, which helps to seal it and, most importantly, protect it from wear and tear. 

Hydrate Your Nails Regularly

Keeping your hands moisturized also keeps your nails hydrated, which is important for a durable manicure.

Just as nails that are too moist or oily can resist gel nail polish, so can nails that are too dry.

Keep Your Nails Healthy

Healthy nails will help your gel nail polish last longer and reduce the chance of chipping and peeling.

Keeping your nails healthy involves having a consistent nail hygiene routine and giving your nails some time to breathe between overlay treatments like gel nail polish.

Thin Layers

Apply thin layers of gel nail polish instead of thick ones.

Applying thin layers instead of thick ones allows each layer to cure quickly and easily, as the light of the LED or UV lamp can better filter through thin layers of gel nail polish. 

Cap Tips

Make sure the tips of your nails are capped.

That final swipe of nail polish across the tip of each nail? Vital. This seals the free edges and protects them from lifting as your hands come into contact with things throughout your day.

Keep in mind that nail shapes with more corners, such as square, will have more free edges and a greater chance of peeling.

Round or almond-shaped nails don’t have corners, just a consistent curved edge, so they are less likely to peel from the tip.

Proper Curing

Make sure your gel nail polish has cured completely.

Gel polish that is not adequately cured can crack and peel very easily.

Making sure that your nails are spending enough time under the curing lamp is a step that you certainly don’t want to rush. 

No Nail Picking

Try not to pick at your nails. It seems simple, right?

Nail picking can be intentional or can be something you do while you’re lost in thought.

Either way, it is a surefire way to damage your gel nail polish and cause it to peel.

Picking at your nails can also introduce harmful bacteria to your nail bed, which could create a problem that is much trickier to solve than a peeling polish.

How To Fix Peeling Gel Nails

The below tips and suggestions are what you can implement right away to help prevent further peeling, and help to restore what is left!

More Top Coat

Fixing gel polish can be as simple as applying another layer of top coat.

While this is certainly no long-term solution, applying another layer of top coat can actually flatten areas with minor peeling.

This gives you a few extra days to decide whether you need to do some heavy-duty fixing.

File And Spot Treat

File and spot treat. Depending on where your gel nail polish starts to peel, you may be able to file away some of the polish.

This helps reduce the peeling area and contain it from peeling further.

Be careful not to file the rest of the nail, as this will wear down the existing top coat.

Then, you can apply some top coat to that area, being careful not to get much excess on the rest of the nail.

Whatever you do, do not peel that peel any further unless you love a ruined nail.

Cut And Spot Treat

If you have a bigger peel on your hands, you can trim it with a cuticle cutter or nail clipper.

It is important to be careful here, as you don’t want to trim the part that has lifted away from the nail.

Then, you can fill in the clipped area with a dab of similarly colored nail polish until you’re ready to have it fixed professionally.

Moisturize More

Moisturize often, especially in colder months.

Who says a preventative measure can’t also be a solution?

Applying that extra bit of hand cream, or better yet, cuticle oil can help your gel nail polish stay in place a little bit longer than it would if your hands are always super dry.

Consider A New Mani

Maybe it’s time for a new mani? 

While a quick fix is great, sometimes it’s best to accept defeat and start from scratch.

Visit your favorite nail tech, have them remove the peeling nail polish, choose a new color (or give your nails a break) and you’re all set!