Can I Get a Gel Manicure While Breastfeeding?

Hands in a beauty salon getting nails polished

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Some new parents might be caught off guard by the number of questions they have about their bodies after they give birth. The changes of pregnancy don’t end the second you deliver your baby. Hormones are still fluctuating as the body is adapting and healing. And if you’ve chosen to breastfeed, you’ll likely be asking your healthcare providers about ways to encourage a healthy milk flow and ensure your supply is as safe and nourishing as possible.

For many people, part of the breastfeeding journey includes being thoughtful about what you eat, what you drink, and what you expose to your body and senses. This means you’ll also likely still be eyeballing ingredient lists with suspicion, and turning up an inquisitive eyebrow at chemicals.

If you’re a beauty-product lover, this journey can be particularly fraught with questions. As a breastfeeding parent, are you confined to the natural and organic product aisles? Turns out, fun, pampering products, like nail polish, may still be worn in a safe way. If you’ve wondered specifically about "gels," which, generally speaking, are long-lasting coats that set or cure on nails, you're in luck. There are encouraging details here, as well as expert words of advice to help you consider the treatment.

What Is a Gel Manicure?

Not so many years ago, a “gel manicure” was defined by the UV light needed to cure, or dry, the gel formulas on the surface of nails. Today, you can most often find those types of gel treatments (which use a UV or LED light) in salons. And now many brands have created gel-inspired formulations for at-home use, which typically dry much faster than regular polish, and last longer, too.

In Salons

In salons, curing gels with the help of a UV or LED light can still be common. Typically, every layer of gel (whether base or color) is cured with the light source within minutes. And many of these long-wear gel formulas require a bit of time exposed to nail polish removers (which often contain acetone) to take them off.

At Home

For home use, dozens of brands have developed formulas, in a rainbow of high-shine shades, that dry and harden as a result of chemical additives. No light source is required for them to set. The results typically last days longer than regular polish, though some say the telltale “cushiony” look of a gel manicure is less pronounced with some at-home varieties.

Can I Get a Gel Manicure While Breastfeeding?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates nail products (for personal use and in-salon treatments) and, as gel manicure products are not meant to address any medical issues, the FDA regulates them as they do cosmetics. But most gel formulas contain chemicals. And if you’re breastfeeding, it would be understandable if you questioned whether or not the ingredients are safe to use. However, the FDA notes that the nail can act as an absorption-preventing shield.

When it comes to "gel" coats, as well as the nail-polish remover that might be needed to take them off, you might want to consider the question of quantities. “Acetone is a by-product of isopropyl alcohol and both can be harmful in large quantities," says Michael Beninati, MD, who practices maternal-fetal medicine at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin.  "That being said, [I can find] no substantiated reports of topical exposure (i.e. absorbing the chemical through the nails) leading to any meaningful degree of ingestion." 

As for removing gels, that process is most often done with an acetone-based liquid. While some solvents are flagged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for being potentially problematic for expecting and breastfeeding parents (like toluene, for example), they don’t single out acetone.

Also important to note is that the acetone can be targeted to the nail bed to minimize exposure.  However, the CDC does advise people to discuss potential exposure to solvents with their healthcare providers before engaging in any actives that might include them.

Benefits of Getting a Gel Manicure

Whether or not you're actively breastfeeding, the benefits of a gel manicure over a traditional nail-polish manicure are the same, and they're enticing. Plus, if you've got your hands full with a new baby, this trio will be even more tempting.

Superior Long-wear

First off, the finish lasts longer, as it's resistant to chips and dents. Some users will get a few pristine days, while others can go for a week without major chipping. But this, of course, depends on the type of "gel" formula you use, as they're all created differently. Parents who love having polished nails can rejoice knowing that their gel manicure will likely last through more than a few bathtimes and blowouts.

Seconds to Dry

With most gel manicures, the dry time is dramatically slashed (meaning you can get back to holding your little one in no time!). In some salon cases, you can get fully cured nails in minutes. And if you remember blowing on your nails for an hour while you watched television and waited for your manicure or pedicure to dry, this will no doubt be convincing enough.

An Overall Luxe Look

Gels typically offer supreme shine. The colors look glossy, and the coatings thick, so nails have a freshly done appearance for days. Gels can make for fewer touchups. Which means you can stay busy "babysitting" your newborn, not your manicure.

Safety Precautions

If you are interested in getting a gel manicure, consider these points to make your experience as safe as possible.

Avoid Over-drying

Salon gel manicures can last a long time. As in, you could be looking at over a week of wear. And if you're busy and want to stretch your mani, you could go even longer.

Just keep in mind: "A two-week long-lasting mani can dry your nail beds," says Jin Soon Choi, a manicurist in New York City, and founder of Jin Soon Hand and Foot Spa. "I recommend moisturizing your nails with cuticle oil often." From her line, JINsoon Nail Lacquer, the Honeysuckle + Primrose Cuticle Oil can help keep fingers and toes hydrated.

Another tip is to take breaks in between manicures, especially of the gel variety, says Choi. "Going au naturel every now and then is beneficial for the overall integrity of your nails."

Eye Suspect Ingredients

Whether you’re talking about gels or “regular” nail polish, there are some ingredients that should be avoided. Formaldehyde is the top among them. Also worth flagging is dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and toluene (a solvent), advises Ilina D. Pluym, MD, a board-certified doctor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UCLA. But to ease your mind, today most brands skip these ingredients in their formulations.  

Protect From UV Light

Most in-salon gel manicures use UV or LED lights to cure coatings. (Most "gel" products sold for at-home use do not.) You can think about wearing sunscreen to offer more protection. And if you are shopping for at-home gel manicure sets, think about opting for ones without curing lights, as they tend to be unregulated.

Look For Ventilation

If you decide to head to a salon, make sure there’s ventilation. Can you find a spa with an outdoor patio, where you can lounge while you receive your service? Book there, as opposed to an indoor windowless space. If not, ensure that the salon of your choosing does have solid ventilation to help keep the air cleaner and prevent you from breathing in chemicals for long periods of time.

A Word From Verywell

If you're breastfeeding and thinking about getting a gel treatment, it's worth discussing with your healthcare providers. The treatment does generally involve exposure to different chemicals.

So if you're planning to give yourself a gel treatment, bring the bottle of gel "polish" to your doctor's office; you can look at the ingredients together and figure out if you're comfortable painting them over your nails. The nails can act as a barrier for potential absorption, but things like acetone-based remover might get on your skin—though the amount could be relatively small.

While expert opinions can differ, talk to your team so you can make the choice that feels good to you.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Reinecke JK, Hinshaw MA. Nail health in womenInternational Journal of Women’s Dermatology. 2020;6(2):73. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2020.01.006

  2. Schwartz CT, Ezaldein HH, Merati M. Ultraviolet light gel manicures: is there a risk of skin cancer on the hands and nails of young adults? The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2020;13(7):45.

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Nail Care Products.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Solvents - Reproductive Health.

By Angelique Serrano
Angelique Serrano is an independent journalist, award-nominated writer, reporter, and editor. She specializes in beauty, wellness, and lifestyle content, and has expanded into parenting, family, and health. Her work has been published in many publications, both print and digital.