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Why are my gel nails lifting? - Issues with premature lifting, cracking and chipping

While this article centers around Gel Nail Polish many of the ideas and comments are applicable for Poly Gel Nails, Nail Dipping Systems and other nail products

So you just spent nearly an hour prepping, applying and curing your newly purchased gel nail polish. Then only a few days later you notice that the polish is chipping or even a whole section is starting to lift. What went wrong? These nails should have lasted weeks! 

While not all gel nail polishes are created equal, with proper preparation and curing they should remain looking their best for at least 2-3 weeks. There are a few reasons why yours could be lifting prematurely, these what we have found to be most common:

  1. Improper preparation. Before applying any gel product to your nail you should always ensure you have:
    1. Trimmed and shaped you nail.
    2. Pushed back any unruly cuticles and removed any dead skin.
    3. Lightly buffed the surface of the nail. The base coat requires a slightly roughened surface to adhere to.
    4. Thoroughly dried and removed any oils from your nail and surrounding skin.  Leaving moisture and contaminants behind will block proper adhesion.
  2. Weak or damaged natural nails. The integrity and health of your natural nails is vital. Applying gel nail products to an unhealthy nail will not only will cause the gel product to crack and peel easily but it also puts you at risk of doing more damage. Giving our nails breaks between applications and keeping your nails and surrounding skin well hydrated will help your gel nail polish to last longer.
  3. Not using a base and top coat. To ensure proper adhesion and finish it is important that you do not skip these steps. Where possible it is preferable to use the same brand top and base coats as the pigment coat. 
  4. Applied product too thick or too thin. It is always better to apply a few thin coats than applying one thick coat. To achieve a rich pigment coat, it is often advisable to apply 2-3 coats, making sure you cure correctly each coat.
  5. UV Lamp variations. Lamps come in all shapes and sizes. The size and power output of your nail lamp will affect the curing time and therefore the overall curing process. There is a bit of trial and error required. Test a few different curing times until you get to know your lamp so you can get the perfect cure every time.
  6. Brush and product contamination. Where possible use a different brush for each product type and ensure your brushes are thoroughly clean and dried between each application. 
  7. Not covering nail tips. To minimise the risk of chipping alway ensure you coat the front face/tip of the nail.
  8. Colouring outside the lines. Gel polish that ends up on your nail cuticle or the surrounding skin will soon start to lift as the skin moves. To avoid this leave a small gap (hardly visible) along the edge of the nail to ensure the product remains fully adhered. 
  9. The weather. Seasonal changes in temperature and humidity can affect the adhesion process. Again this is a trial and error situation, if you find that the way you were doing thing in winter is now not working so well in summer, try changing the coat thickness, curing times or perhaps try a different gel nail polish.

While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the reasons you may find that your gel nails are not lasting as long as you had hoped. However don’t let this list put you off trying gel nails at home. You can get great, long lasting results at home with relative ease and often the more practice you have the better the results will be. 

If you have any other reasons we might have missed of have any tips that we should add, please let us know by emailing us at or send us a message on our contact us page

Kara Matthews, 


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