Test Driving: To gel or not to gel? That is the question

There are three rules for manicures — great color, bright shine and staying power. /Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images
There are three rules for manicures — great color, bright shine and staying power. /Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images

Test Driving w/ Tia

Welcome to Test Driving. I’m S. Tia Brown, a Senior Editor at JET. As a seasoned journalist, life coach and licensed therapist, I’m going to test drive something new every week and give you the lowdown. Buckle up. 


Am I the only person who feels cheated when their polish chips after a day? Or on the way home from the salon? Or smudges in the shower!!?

Like most women, I am perpetually in search of the perfect manicure.

Whenever I need a pick-me-up I treat myself to the service. The requirements are simply a great color, a bright shine and, with prayer, that it lasts for more than three days. Finding all three has proven to be a challenge. And I inevitably end up spending $10-20 on service that lasts about two days.

So after some coaxing, I elected to give a gel manicure a try. My hesitation was due to two reasons: I didn’t want to ruin my natural nail beds and I’ve heard bad things about the UV rays (like they are cancer causing — who cares about pretty nails in chemo?). Still, I figured I should try it. Once or twice wouldn’t hurt, I hoped. Plus, I’m in an out-of-town wedding next week and I wanted to look sharp for the BMWs.

I took the jump. I went to my favorite mid-range mani/pedi spot and asked them to throw some gel on ‘dem things. The process is very detailed. First you get prepped with your basic manicure, then hit with several layers of paint and shellac-like coatings, in between putting your hands under a UV light.

It was cool.

When it was all done, I got a final coating of a setting polish and I was off. Totally dry. That was the best new nail polish night. I had errands man — and I did them. The laundry. Dishes. I even wiped graffiti off my front door. Still it stayed. It seemed like my O.P.I. gel manicure was built Ford tough. It never smudged. It never cracked. It did however, start to chip. Sigh.

Around day four I noticed the corners of nail beds rising like dried glue smeared on the hand (come on, I know I wasn’t the only kid who did that!). I felt myself constantly fighting the urge to peel it off. It’s a battle I barely won— but I persevered. And I did it for the people… by people I mean boys (they’re always looking!). Just kidding. I just wanted to see whether my $35 manicure was worth it.

Depends on what you’re willing to invest. My gel manicure definitely lasted seven days— but it didn’t make the promised 14-21 day mark. By day 10 it started looking extra raggedy so I began the tedious process of soaking them off (it took about 20 minutes).

Am I a believer in the House of Gel? Nah. I found it’s only worth the investment if you are going away or will be in an event and want to ensure there is no chipping. My gel manicure got into this awful phase (about day five) when it looked kind of dull and was pre-noticeable chip, but not ready to come off. I felt trapped. They looked mediocre. I was over it.

Check out my before and after pics below:

BEFORE: My fresh, fab manicure

AFTER: The gel coat starting to lift