• Acrylic Nails vs Gel Nails: A Horror Story {Beauty School}

    Hello you lovely lot!

    I’ve missed our little Sunday Beauty School meetings. Truth be told, I’ve been a bad student.

    Way back when I started Bridal Musings and these beauty posts I shared my story of going from beauty school dropout to beauty queen. Well, someone who looked half decent on her wedding day, at least. A big part of that story was learning to take care of my nails. I had been biting my nails my whole life but in the run up to my wedding and beyond I managed to grow and maintain long, pretty, healthy nails {with a little help from bio-sculpture gel}.

    {via All About Fashion }

    However, in the last few months, without the motivation of ‘the wedding’ and being under quite a bit of stress, I started biting again. Oh the shame.

    Anyway, as some of you may recall, I had a glamourous wedding industry soiree to attend a couple of weeks ago which I was rather nervous about. I had the dress, and my hair and make up plan sorted {ish}. But when I tried on my outfit a couple of days before and did a few poses in the mirror with my imaginary champagne glass {you all do it too don’t you?} I gasped at my stumpy bitten nails. They just wouldn’t do. But as I only had 2 days till the soiree the only way to miraculously go from bitten to beautiful was to go artificial.

    In hindsight, I think bitten nails would’ve have been a fair better option than what I am left with. As I type this post, I’m looking down at dried out, paper thin, ridged, broken, sore nails.

    Let me tell you the story of the worst beauty treatment of my life…

    I saw that the local high street salon had a sign for ‘gel nails’ I popped my head in to ask for more info and to see if they could squeeze me in. The receptionist ushered me into the seat in front of their specialist nail therapist {who didn’t speak much English at all}, she grabbed my hands and asked what I wanted. I said ‘gel nails’ and before I knew it she had turned on this horrific buffing machine and was using what looked like a dentist’s tool to scrape the top layer of my own nails off!!!

    There was a moment when I thought, shall I run? But then I remembered the soiree…and thought how lovely it’d be to have pretty nails.

    {Dream nails via Style Frizz}

    There was no sanitizing of hands or products, I noticed the therapist had rough hands and uncared for nails herself ~ which is never a good sign. She didn’t soak my hands in hot water or gently push back my cuticles but gave them a quick, harsh poke with an orange stick. I was shocked at how roughly she handled my hands and fingers. When I think of that buffing machine it makes me shudder ~ it made such an awful sound when it was cutting through my poor nails and the therapist rushed through each nail like it was a race.

    I later realised that it really was a race to fit as many people as possible because as my treatment was coming to an end and the therapist was finishing my 2nd coat of polish, another lady came in and asked if she could have her nails done so I was swiftly instructed to move to the corner of the table {sans a topcoat} to dry my nails in the little drying machine while the therapist grabbed the other lady’s hands and got to work. Talk about a conveyor belt!

    Also, the therapist took a call. Yes that’s right, as she was doing my nails, she answered her mobile and started chatting away for 10 minutes.

    But worst of all…she didn’t actually use gel {at the time I was wondering why the process was so different to how Chantal, my lovely therapist, who did my gel nails in the run up to my wedding did them}. It was so different because she was actually applying ACRYLIC NAILS! If I had known they were acrylic I would have steered clear.

    I wanted to scream at the unprofessionalism of it all and although the finished product looked OK, the service was appalling and ‘after care’ was not in their vocabularly…

    {Me, Annabel of Love My Dress, photographer, Neda and my half decent looking red nails at the soiree.}

    I asked, how do I take them off? The therapist said ‘acetone nail polish remover ~ it’s easy’. I asked if I should come back to the salon to have them removed she said ‘no, use acetone’. I also asked the receptionist, who spoke fluent English, just in case I’d misunderstood, and she agreed ‘you just soak them in nail polish remover’.

    Folks, let me tell you it’s NOT that easy. Last night I popped my nails into a bowl of acetone nail polish remover thinking half an hour should definitely do it as I choked on the chemically smell. Yet when I pulled them out, nothing had happened apart from the top layer went gloopy! Another half hour later and I ended up with dried out, prune like hands and gloopy, sticky nails that were just not coming off.

    Then I did a bit of internet research and tried different tactics ~ putting a bowl of hot water under the bowl of nail polish remover, wrapping my nails in acetone soaked tissue and clingfilm…then tin foil and using an orange stick to gently scrape them off. This took me over 2 hours. When that wasn’t working and I was in a sticky, gloopy mess, with no hope of getting to the salon till Monday, I ended up having to pry them off. Something I do not recommend at all!

    It was like a horror film in our flat last night!

    Ok so my nails looked pretty for the soiree…they looked pretty for the next week and a half, in fact. But looking at them now, it’s definitely not worth it.

    Friends have told me of this sort of quick fix horror story happening to them in the run up to their wedding and having chipped, broken, damaged nails by the end of their honeymoon. And I don’t want any of you to go through what I did last night, especially when you’re trying to look your best for your wedding so here’s some more information on different types of artificial nails and more on my preferred option gel nails.

    So what have we learned from my ‘quick fix’ mistake?

    ~ Do your research and find a therapist you feel comfortable with ~ there are some FANTASTIC therapists and salons out there!

    ~ Never go for panic beauty treatments, especially in the run up to your wedding! Here’s a fabulous guide on big day beauty preparations from an expert.

    ~ Remember that you get what you pay for ~ I only paid £20 for that treatment

    ~ Make sure you understand the after care instructions ~ in the case of acrylic nails, from my experience, I’d say get a professional to take them off for you so as not to risk damaging your own nails

    Have a lovely Sunday, whatever you’re up to. I will be spending mine applying hand cream and nail oil to my poor little, traumatized nails.

    Anyone else had good/bad experiences with gel nails? Or any beauty treatment horror stories?!

  • Loveaudrey

    Oh how awful :(

    I’m afraid that in my youth I regularly abused my nails with these cheap treatments by wearing acrylic nails for almost 3 years. When I finally stopped, my nails were so thin and sore it took years for them to return to normal. I now manage to keep them in fairly decent condition but I still think they don’t grow as long as they might have if I’d stayed clear of the horrible falsies!

    Hope your hands are back to normal asap. 

    Loveaudrey xXx

    • Anonymous

      Thank you, lovely. Sorry to hear about your horrid acrylic experience too, can’t believe it took years to get them healthy again! x

    • Anonymous

      Thank you, lovely. Sorry to hear about your horrid acrylic experience too, can’t believe it took years to get them healthy again! x

  • Totally agree with this my bestie was formally a beautician
    and a nail queen and one of the things she despised were those buffing
    machines.  My acrylics were a nightmare
    to remove and I remember that they (my nails) had been buffed down so much that I couldn’t
    put my hands in hot water for over a month without it being painful – these awful
    red spots where the nail layer had been removed were absolutely awful.

    Since then I have never, ever, ever had false nails applied
    I just work with my natural nail and I have a great manicurist who I go to
    now.  So right about finding a good
    person to go to, and stop underselling yourself beautiful lady you look
    stunning in your wedding pictures J

    • Anonymous

      That is shocking about your hands in hot water ~ ouch! Yep I’ve got pink spots and these awful ridges where you can see where the nail was applied. Glad you’ve found yourself a fab manicurist now :) xx 

  • anna and the ring

    Yikes. Horrible. I think I am very lucky to have relatively strong nails. No fakes for me. It always seems a bit too scary.

    • Anonymous

      You are a lucky lady with your nails of steel. Yep I’m definitely scared of fakes now too! ;)

  • oh my goodness that does sound like a horror!  (but they do look great in the photos at least!!!!)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your ‘glass half full’ comment, Erin :)

  • katsein

    if you have a problem with dry/brittle nails, or bite your nails, try using “shellac”. its a coloured gel that is applied and actually helps you grows you nails and makes them feels healthy. 
    i’ve been through acrylic, and gel, and bio-gel and everything else there is. these really do work the best. plus theres are a ton of colours and they can usually do them french as well when the nails get longer!
    and it lasts much longer than nail polish as well (no chipping or peeling) so if you work with your hands this is also a great option!

    • Anonymous

      Katsein thank you so much, what great advice! I’ll definitely be checking out ‘shellac’ :)

  • Neda Lahrodi-Blake

    Thank you for featuring my picture, you look fantastic and I look forward the future beauty advise you will be sharing as always x

  • Hannah

    I used shellac for my wedding nails, it was brilliant. It comes in colours but I had a lovely pale pink nude. It took about 20 minutes the night before the wedding and it stayed looking perfect for the whole honeymoon. I took it off myself with acetone and my nails were stronger and longer afterwards than they were before. 

    I would definitely recommend shellac, your poor nails! make sure you use lots of cuticle oil now… the one I like is the cnd almond solar oil. 

    xxx Hannah

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Hannah, that’s so helpful ~ great to hear from a bride who used shellac! I am definitely booking an appointment as soon as my nails start to look healthy again. When I was using bio sculpture gel, I nearly always opted for a pale pink nude too :) xx

  • CanaryLiz

    How terrible!  I’m sorry you had to go through that…  I had a great experience with gel nails, though they did use the slow speed handpiece. (I’m currently a 3rd year dental student – it’s basically the same machine we use to polish your teeth!)
    Tell me, how did you stop your nail biting habit?  What tips can you give us “chewers” who are trying to grow long healthy nails before their wedding?   (aside from this bio-sculpture gel, which I can’t seem to find in my area!)

    • Anonymous

      Only just seen this, thanks for your comment Liz. That is quite worrying about the teeth polishing machine! ;)

      As far as tips for ‘chewers’ go, I found that starting a regular routine of applying hand cream in the morning or evening and during the day really helped me. I was more aware of my hands so treated them a little better. 

      Also I think part of the appeal of bio sculpture (or shellac as others have suggested) is that your nails look pretty ~ so maybe applying nail polish may help? Though, I realise there might be the temptation to pick at it!  

      Best of luck, hope you’re wedding plans are going well :)

    • LostControl

      I have chewed my nails my whole life, and only recently have started growing my nails long. I’m a nervous chewer – I chew when I am stressed – usually without thinking, so I don’t realize I’m doing it. Years ago I tried the paint-on-tastes-terrible stuff, which certainly works – I would put my finger in my mouth absentminedly, and quickly be reminded of my mistake. The problem is that every time you eat something and lick your fingers, you get the terrible taste – it gets frustrating. Using nail polish has helped the most – as a finger goes in the mouth, it feels different, so you’re automatically reminded not to chew. I allow myself to chew my thumb nail if I really am stressed – but now that the others are all long, I’m more motivated to just let the thumb grow long too. Best of luck!

  • Julez

    Shellac doesn’t help anything grow, acrylics are just as bad for your nails as gels if they’re applied roughly like what you experience, and they would’ve just soaked them off the same way had you gone back to the salon. It takes TIME. You’re dissolving plastic. The easiest way to remove acrylic nails (and the Shellac system) is to saturate a cotton ball and stick on on the nail, cover the whole forefinger in foil, and wait. After about 15min, push off the gloopy part with an OWS. Repeat until everything’s dissolved.
    A technician who knows how to use her (or his) drill is just as safe as a tech with a file, and you can do JUST as much damage with a file as with a drill with a sanding bit on it.
    Gels cure in UV LIGHT. If they’re not putting you under a light several times throughout your procedure, they’re not gels.
    Protect yourself. Be an informed consumer. Learn how the products you want work and how they should be done.
    <3 Julie the Nail Tech

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much for your comment, Julie. 

      This is really helpful and informative advice. It was definitely acrylics that were applied to my nails. That’s interesting that a nail file can do just as much damage as a drill! 

      I totally agree about being an informed consumer and have learnt from my mistakes!Best wishes, Elizabeth 

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  • Favsocialhazard

    I’m having trouble realizing what part of this story is a horror story. You walked in, asked for gel nails, and you got it. People who usually ask for gel nails get acrylic put on, and a gel topcoat. You don’t usually get this done just to rip it off a day or two later. They’re meant to be kept up. You go every two weeks for a fill to keep them looking beautiful. After a few weeks, and lots of soaking in water, they’ll just pop off like nothing. Maybe you should research before walking in and claiming to be a victim. You even said that they looked fine after your terrible ordeal.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing your opinion, it’s good to hear from someone who has had positive experiences with acrylic nails.

      However, I did not get what I asked for. I asked for gel nails but acrylic nails were applied (unhygienically and roughly). I was also not given any after care instructions.

      I agree with you 100% on researching treatments and salons ~ the reason for the post is to share my experience in the hope that others will learn from my mistakes.

      • Jamie Peery Warren

        Important detail: no appointment nessasary nail shops/techs with “prices too low to seem real”..frankly you get what you pay for. Cheap nails aren’t nice and nice nails aren’t cheap. Licensed nail techs like myself take pride in our work & care about our clients nail health…find a reputable, licensed nail tech and be willing to PAY him/her for quality over quantity. The kind of place you went to are referred to as “chop shops” in our industry & they get that nickname from services like what you received. I have properly applied and removed acrylic, gel and shellac and the nail afterwards are healthy and damage free.

    • nikki0078

      Bc what she is saying is also that she got acrylics..idk why u don’t understand but when u ask for gel nails u are supposed to get gel which is a gelish substance that is already mixed up then applies..these salons are putting on acrylics then curing ue nails then simply adding a topcoat of top it off gel coat which is not gel nails..btw acrylics don’t need a light and that is where they are tricking u..when u see them filing and dipping into liquid then powder that is acrylic not gel..understand?

  • Spooky Strangechild

    I had a woman grind through several of my nails as a teen, then apply uneven acrylics over the remaining nail bed. I couldn’t get the acrylics off either, and was afraid of exposing my bare nail bed to acetone, so I ended up filing the acrylic nail down from the top to get the acrylic to run parallel to my nail. After all that, the manager refused me a refund so I called the Better Business Bureau who in turn called the health department. I got an apology and a gift certificate for another set of nails (?!) at their salon. Not that I would have taken them up on it, but the shop closed up shortly after that.

    • bridalmusings

      Sorry for the super delayed reply but wow, your experience was definitely a horror story! I can’t believe after all of that, they offered you a gift certificate! Crazy.

  • Chinoerikawedding

    I’m about to take off my gel nails, which are basically acrylics with a gel coating. I have a year until my wedding and I know mine will heal in enough time. I will take care of them myself, after all in California, East Bay, I spend about 90 dollars not including tip, a month. That is almost 1200 dollars! Yes, I am thinking about everything.

  • Rae

    My mother is a beautician (she does hair and nails) and has owned her own salon for over 30 years.  She exclusively did acrylic for many years and for the last 5 years probably has done gel as well.  The thing of it is that acrylic are intended to be long term…they are not inteded for weekend wear and then removal.  Most of her clients who do acrylic have been coming to her for years to get fills (which is where you fill in the back where the nail has grown out and file the end off to the desired length).  Gel nails are intended for short term wear such as weddings, proms, etc.   So really your rant here is rather uninformed as you are comparing products with totaly different uses….its like making the comparison between real hair dye and that colored hair spray you buy at Halloween!  Im not denying that acrylic is tough on your natural nail…chemical hair dye is tough on your hair too.  Gel nails on the other hand are less harsh but they are also not durable…I am a florist and so my hands are in water all day and I am tough on my hands so gel nails are not a realistic option for me (I would have to get them redone every other day to keep them looking nice).  All in all one is not better than the other…you just have to take into consideration your intended purpose. 

    • bridalmusings

      Hi Rae,

      Thanks for your comment (sorry I’ve only just seen it). I totally understand where you’re coming from re durability – I can see acrylic nails are more of a long term solution. Though as you say (and I found out the hard way) they are tough on your natural nails.

      I agree gel nails are well suited to shorter periods of time – weddings/honeymoons etc. But the point of my post was not to say acrylic nails are bad necessarily, just to share my personal experience – which was especially as I hadn’t asked for them in the first place! I actually asked the therapist for gel nails.

      To use your example, it was like asking for temporary, wash in – wash out coloured hairspray and ending up with a head of bleached highlights!

      I readily admit I wasn’t well informed, I hadn’t researched the salon at all – just popped in at the last minute and asked for gel nails as I’d had a good experience with them before. So I just want to warn other people – brides especially – not to make the same mistake.

      Thanks for sharing your positive experience with acrylics. I think it’s really helpful for people to hear from lots of different perspectives.

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  • Jolie

    I wanted to go get my nails done for a wedding I was going to be in. This wedding was in about two days and my nails still were short, naked nails. My friend and I went to this really nice day spa, and got our hair cut, ear brows waxed, and then it was time for our nails to be done. This really nice lady asked me what I wanted to get and since I had a bad experience with acrylic, I knew I didn’t want acrylics so…… I decided that I was going to try gel nails. Well why this lady was doing my nails I noticed that her nails were lumpy, yellowish, and her cuticles were blackish. I panicked….BIG time I said I had to go to the bathroom and all a sudden my nails were drying. My friend asked the lady if she had gels or acrylics before and the lady said “I had gel nails and I just got them off yesterday look what they did” and then she showed us her nails. I was freaking out but she said that she had problems with her nails before……That’s where I went wrong. I decided to keep them on because this wedding was in two days and then after that I’d come back and get them removed. So we left the salon, my nails were a little but I thought that was normal. After the wedding my nails hurt so bad I couldn’t wait to get them removed. I went to the salon and it turns out that the gel made my nails very thin and very easy to break, the lady that worked there was taking the gel off and my nail broke off close to where my cuticles are. It hurt so bad…. and the wedding was two months ago and my nails still aren’t growing. I have to put lotion on like every minute and this nail growing cream that works a little but I’m so uncomfortable about my hands that my boyfriend and I like barely hold hands. That’s going to change through. SO I RECOMMEND NOT TO GET GEL NAILS, NOT WORTH THE DAMAGE IT WILL DO TO YOUR NAILS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • bridalmusings

      Hi Jolie, thanks for your comment.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your experience. That sounds awful. I’ve never heard of anyone having such an extreme reaction to gels. You’d think if the therapist had such a bad reaction she would have warned you before you started the same treatment! (Most probably using the same products/techniques.)

      There’s a risk with all types of nail treatments – it seems the safest bet is going au natural! Hope your nails heal soon.

  • Dee

    Hi…. The best gel for nails is by Bio Sculpture. I used to get my nails done every 3-4 weeks for about 3 years and it never ruined my nails. The Bio sculpture gels used to protect my nails and let them grow. The colours are beautiful. Try it and you won’t regret it. I used to get compliments about my nails all the time.

    • bridalmusings

      Thanks for your comment Dee, that’s definitely my gel of choice too :)

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  • MyPoorShavedNails

    I am was so uninformed about any type of artificial nails (it’s been 19 years) I just went with a friend and supposedly had my nails done in fiberglass but now reading so much information I believe I was stiffed and just received acrylics. I’m here because my nails hurt and if I would have know about these cheap shops and how they use drills to file nails down, I never would have gone. I’ve always had thinner nails and now they are so thin underneath the fake acrylic tips, I can barely type this.

    • MyPoorShavedNails

      The moral is, do your research.

  • Audreylove

    Where can I find bio sculpture products?

  • AvedaLady

    Acrylic (or any artificial nails) are horrible for your nail plates and nail beds, unfortunately so since they’re so pretty and durable. :( Even having them professionally removed will do irreversible damage that you’ll just have to grow out. Gels are much better and can be removed at home by soaking in acetone, but still leave your nail plates dry and damaged. However THAT damage can be fixed in a fairly timely manner with regular applications of cuticle conditioner. The best way to stop biting your nails is polish, gel being the best choice.

  • Lulu

    Arrgh this has just happened to me on Friday. My nails are hurting soo bad! One actually popped off! I got them done by someone who came to our house. I don’t know if she honestly couldn’t be bothered to do them properly or if she wasn’t a professional at all! My sister had looked into her and I was trusting. Now I’m dreading taking them off! Also I asked for gel. She put acryllic on then gel over the top?? Who knows how I’ll get them off!!!
    Well it’s a lesson learned anyway. That’s just going to take months to correct as the natural damaged nails grow out! I will def get a professional for my wedding.

  • Kade

    I know this is an old comment section, but I was worried when you said the nails she put on wouldn’t soak off! Did you make sure to use 100% acetone? You’d have to use a metal cuticle pusher to remove it periodically every 10 or so minutes for up to about 30 minutes. I’m afraid she could have used MMA acrylic, which is a big no no for nails (it’s too strong for nails). Just search online for more info. Also, never let anyone use an electric file on your natural nails. Never should that be done. I did that to my own nails about a year ago to myself and I’m still recovering!

  • Sheila E

    I have had acrylic nails for over 20 years with no noticeable negative effects. The trend is now for ‘gel’ nails but they must be removed each time which means more chemicals and processing, etc. I give my natural nails a breather for one to two months in the summer. Other than that time I use acrylics. They are strong and they last 2 to 3 weeks when done right. I’ve tried gels and don’t care for them as well. They are not as durable and not as strong, although they look nice and dry quickly.
    It is just a matter of preference for each person. However, I do not allow anyone to use a drill on my own nails, just a nail file and it works fine. I also don’t go to assembly line nail places. It may be a little quicker to use that method but there are too many negatives there for me. Find an individual who takes care of your nails like they were her own and gives them the time and attention they need. My nail tech treats my nails to an oil treatment when necessary. You may pay a couple of dollars more than the assembly line method but you and your nails are worth it.

  • Lucy

    This exact thing happened to me today. Went into a cheap salon asking for gels (had never gotten them before).she put on acrylic nail extensions on my nails and finished it off with shellac on top. my nails have been tender and stinging since i got home which lead me to google gel nails and i found this page which lead me to figure out what had happened. Now im panicking should i get acetone tomorrow and just remove them straight away??

  • Dibora Kuma

    Hello there, good story. I got acrylic done for the first time, it was my first time getting my nails done. But I had them on for about a month and they grew about halfway. But then I took them off at home cause i didnt want to pay to get them removed. And it’s been almost 3 weeks now and they barely grew. whats going on? is this normal should i wait at least a month to see them go back to normal growth??

  • barb

    I’ve been getting the gel version of acrylics for years, it’s the only way I can keep polish on. Recently I’ve read a great deal about the possible carcinogenic effects of the ingredients, decided to take them off, I knew I would have to cut my nails super short because they would be weak, breaking and peeling from the removal process. Went to the place I’ve been going to for years, they did not want to take off the gel coating, woman who runs place (only one who really speaks English) keeps telling me “just keep it on, if take off, must put on color gel”. Explained to her I wanted to go back to my natural nails. She told me “I be sorry”.

    Yeah, I’m sorry. Sorry I ever put the gel on my nails, sorry I went to this salon. Instead of dissolving the gel in acetone, they ground off the gel, along with a good part of my nail.What was left when they were done was thinner than paper, and it hurt. And I have pink and white blotches on my nails from their removal technique. Dermatologist said they should have removed them properly, with acetone (which he said is not great to have on your hands either). So now, just have to wait for them to grow back. Two weeks ago, my nails were so broken and peeling they were shorter than my nail bed. Thank god my nails grow quickly, they keep hitting the ends of my fingertips, I keep cutting. And i will till all of the nail they damaged is gone.

    • Annilynn

      If it’s true UV gel nails, it wouldn’t have been able to be removed with acetone. Gel nails can only be filed off. That’s why there’s also “soak-off” gel nails. Because true gel nails can’t be soaked off…


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