How to Prevent and Repair Damage to Your Nails After a Wedding Gel Manicure

Close-up of bride and groom's hand holding skull-shaped shot glasses with clear liquor inside them

Photo by Jami Laree Jeskey

Your wedding-day nails might just be the most important bridal beauty step. From wedding ring shots to photos with your bouquet to shaking hands with guests all night, your hands will never get this much attention again. Brides, understandably, will do anything to get their digits in order before the wedding, including gel manicures and other nail enhancements.

A gel manicure is perfect for busy brides because of its wearability. Unlike regular nail polish, gel polish will last for up to two weeks, taking you from your rehearsal dinner through your entire wedding weekend. Other nail enhancements last even longer. Some brides opt for acrylics or extensions to give their hands a more dramatic vibe to match their overall bridal look.

Between the endless polish color, nail shape, and length options, there are many benefits to gel manicures—but, with all those positives, there's the possibility for potential damage if not done properly. “The benefits outweigh the risks in my opinion of getting a gel polish manicure,” says nail expert and celebrity manicurist Michelle Saunders James. “When applied properly, they should adhere to the natural nail for up to two weeks. When removed properly, it should come off easily and effortlessly. If it doesn’t, then it’s not gel polish.”

Meet the Expert

  • Michelle Saunders James is a licensed manicurist and the owner of Saunders & James, a San Francisco Bay Area–based nail salon providing personalized service and custom nail art.
  • Fleury Rose is a Brooklyn-based celebrity nail artist, microblader, and illustrator.

The best way to ensure you are getting a top-notch job is to go to a professional. Celebrity nail artist Fleury Rose can’t stress that enough. “Your nails should not sustain a lot of damage to begin with if the enhancement has been done by a skilled professional,” she says.

But sometimes, unfortunately, botched nail jobs happen. Luckily, our experts let us in on a few things brides can do to prevent (and repair) any nightmare nail damage.

Do Your Research

Always do research on nail salons and nail artists before booking. "Being referred by a friend or researching the salon is important," says Rose. If you can't get a recommendation, read online reviews, check out the salon's Instagram or portfolio, and see if they list what products they use.

“Many ‘chop shop’ salons use a product called MMA acrylic, which is highly toxic and damaging but a cheap alternative to real acrylic,” Rose adds. “If the price is too good to be true, chances are you aren’t going to receive a quality service.” Before you get too far into your appointment, there are also some things you should look out for at the salon. “The salon should be clean, sanitary, and use branded nail products,” Rose says.

If you can't find the information online, call the salon or manicurist before you book an appointment to make sure you are comfortable with the products they will be using for your service of choice.

Prep Your Nails

While too much prep shouldn’t be required before your appointment—leave that to the pros—there are a few things you can do all the time to make sure your nails are ready to go. “Always moisturize and always use cuticle oil," says Rose. Arriving with clean, unpainted nails can also cut down on time at the salon (and you can avoid a potential added charge for polish removal).

Get Them Professionally Done

When it comes to nails, it's better to pay a little extra for pro treatment than to try and pull it off yourself or go somewhere cheap. “The risk mostly lies in where you go to receive the service,” Rose points out. Higher-end salons may be more expensive, but it's worth it to splurge when you know the manicurist has the health of your nails in mind.

“An experienced nail professional can perform both a gel or acrylic manicure safely, with minimal damage to the client's nails," she says. "It’s also important to be sure the salon is using high-quality, brand-name products." Consider it a red flag if you see unmarked bottles of gel polish or acrylic.

Get Them Professionally Removed

The real window for damage opens when it comes to removal. As much as you might want to try on your own, it’s best left to the pros. Rose says, “Never pick, rip, or pry them matter how tempting it might be!” If money or time is a concern, Saunders recommends watching a tutorial on easy removal before you give it a try.

Never rip acrylics clean off—you'll remove layers of keratin off your natural nail. If you must remove them at home, soaking your nails in pure acetone and scraping the acrylic off with a cuticle pusher will do the least damage.

Know How to Spot a Bad Job

Both Rose and Saunders James say you can spot a bad job even before you take your nails or polish off. “A good nail enhancement does not hurt!” Rose assures. “If you’re experiencing pain during or after the service, that’s a huge red flag.” Saunders James adds, ”They should stay on, not chip, and feel comfortable.” During the process, be wary if your manicurist is excessively filing your fingernails before application, as this can weaken your nails and lead to more damage.

Be Patient

If you do find yourself with a nail nightmare, one of the best remedies is patience. It will take time for your nails to be restored to their original glory. Rose says, “Your nail needs to grow out the damaged portion for it to return to optimal health.” Applying a nail strengthener containing ingredients like keratin, biotin, and collagen may speed up recovery time.

Use Nail Oil

While you’re waiting for your nails to grow, nourishing them with oil can help their appearance. Saunders James recommends keeping your nails short and getting a regular manicure in the meantime. “Remember nails themselves are ‘dead,’ just like hair,” she says. “If they become dry and damaged, just trim the nails short so new growth can come in.”

Saunders James and Rose recommend keeping hands and cuticles moisturized. Rose says keratin treatments like CND Rescue RXx can do wonders for sad, damaged nails. For a natural option, Saunders recommends avocado and almond oils.

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