Can I Get a Gel Manicure While Pregnant?

man painting pregnant woman's toes

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If you’re working your way through the long trimesters of pregnancy, it’s the little comforts, the stolen moments of rest, the rare minutes of calm, that can help you cope with all the changes. As self-care comes in many forms, it’s not so off-base to think that a relaxing manicure, or a foot rub and pedicure, could recharge your batteries.

One of the most popular nail treatments today is a gel manicure. It involves the application of a long-lasting nail coating that, in many salons, is often cured by a UV (or LED) light. As there are multiple components and ingredients involved, it can make a pregnant person pause. From potential ultraviolet exposure to chemical ingredients, there are certain factors you'll want to consider.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does regulate polishes, as well as devices that might be used to set them, so there are resources to help you navigate the nail industry. While some experts give gel manicures the green light during pregnancy, you can go over the available details and advice from healthcare providers to determine if this treatment is your ticket to bliss.

What Is a Gel Manicure?

Nail polish has come a long way from the lacquers that would dry by the breeze of a fan, and chip after a few minutes of household chores. Today there are “gel” formulations available for professional and home use.

Store-bought formulas inspired by the salon gel treatment are often labeled as "gels" on their bottles. What sets gels apart? “Gel manicures are typically longer lasting than traditional polish manicures, and shine remains for a longer amount of time,” shares Jin Soon Choi, a New York City manicurist and founder of Jin Soon Hand and Foot Spa.

Another plus is that you don’t have to wait as long for gels to dry; in salons, most gel manicures cure via a UV (or even LED) light. At-home gel products often rely on their chemical ingredients to create a set, dry surface relatively quickly.

However, it's important to keep in mind that the phrase “gel manicure” can mean many different things, as various nail brands continue to create formulas that contain different ingredients, says Ginger King, a cosmetic chemist and president of Grace Kingdom Beauty. Each formula might need different circumstances to set, or “cure.”

Some gel manicure systems require a base coat before color coats, and even perhaps a top coat. Some require fewer steps. But all of these variables can change, depending on which gel system, formula, or nail brand you choose.

Gel Manicures at a Salon

To facilitate one of the biggest perks of a gel manicure, the quick drying time, salon professionals typically paint on gel formulas that cure under an LED, or a UV (ultraviolet) light. In just minutes, the nail coatings harden and set into a glossy, chip-resistant finish.

Gel Manicures at Home

Today there are various "gel" formulations from popular nail brands that dry and harden without the help of a UV light. These formulations typically employ chemicals and polymer builders to create that hard, chip-resistant surface within minutes. So, you could get the convenience of a quick dry time, without exposure to UV light.

While there are at-home gel manicure kits that come with curing lights, they’re not as common today as gel products that set without light. "The ones used in salon(s) require UV rays to cure the setting; those have the strongest bonding and can last longer," says King. "The ones [that] do not require UV or LED light gives a glossier gel feel coating, compare(d) to conventional thinner liquid formulas. It has to do with [the] added polymers in the gel formula."

Is it Safe to Use Gel Manicure Products While Pregnant?

As the phrase “gel manicure” can mean different things nowadays, it’s important to first decide if you’ll be going to a salon for a manicure, or doing a gel application at home. Remember, in-salon treatments may require exposure to ultraviolet rays,

In general, though, some experts say gel manicures can be used during pregnancy. Because you're not ingesting the ingredients, and the nail acts as a kind of absorption blocker, there's no expected cause to think they'll be problems in your pregnancy, shares Ilina D. Pluym, MD, a board-certified doctor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UCLA.

You might be concerned about acetone-based removers that are often used to remove gel formulations. But again, you'll want to think about the length of time and at what quantities you'll be exposed to the chemicals. "Those sorts of dangerous exposures would be expected with drinking acetone or potentially inhaling it in large quantities over a prolonged period of time," says Michael Beninati, MD, who practices maternal-fetal medicine at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin.

Research on this topic can be scarce, so you and your healthcare provider can make a personal judgment call that feels right to you. "I would say that commercially available gel or acrylic polish should be considered safe in pregnancy and would ideally be applied in a well-ventilated space," says Dr. Beninati.

Benefits of Using Gel Manicure Products While Pregnant

First and foremost, the pampering aspect of gel manicures is a huge plus. Considering the changes your body goes through and the toll they take on your physical and mental health, a gel manicure or hour-long pedicure can ease aches and give you a pretty visual to look at for weeks. Here are some of the additional benefits you'll find with gel manicures.

They're Low-Maintenance

Relatively speaking, once gel polish is applied to your nails, they require little tending. The cured finishes are more chip-resistant than traditional nail polishes, and won't flake off after washing a sink full of dishes. The shine also holds up through your daily to-dos.

They Dry Fast

You're growing a baby. You're busy. Once the gel is cured, or the store-bought gel hardens and sets, you're good to go. And that can happen as quickly as just a few minutes (typically with a light source).

Safety Precautions

Pregnancy is a time to question and be a bit more critical about what you put on or near your body. Do not hesitate to talk to a healthcare provider about a gel treatment, with these precautions in mind. And if you want to go to a salon for a manicure, take time to pick the best spot. Look for an airy, open space where fumes won't be an issue. Make sure the salon's practices are in line with your expectations. You can even consider bringing your own nail tools, if you have them.

The Removal Process

Some salon gel manicures, which required a light source to cure, may require more remover to get off the layers. With gel polishes, 100% acetone must be used, which will dry nail beds and can be damaging if not used properly, says Choi. If this is concerning, store-bought products (often with "gel" in the title) can typically be removed quickly and with minimal acetone exposure, comparatively speaking.

UV Exposure

Remember that the ultraviolet lamps that might be used to cure the polish (especially in salons) emit UV rays and radiation. While the FDA notes that exposure is typically minimal and isn't cause for major concern, you might consider applying sunblock before your manicure.

Keep in mind that pregnancy can make your skin more sensitive, so you might want to skip the UV-curing altogether and choose a UV-free gel manicure, or another type of polish.

A Word From Verywell

While some experts say gel manicures are OK during pregnancy, you may feel like there hasn't been enough research done on the topic. Some formulations are very new, and not every "gel" works in the same way, or with the same exact ingredients. So before you indulge in a gel manicure, talk to a healthcare provider. Go over the treatment, and see if you're comfortable with moving forward. If you aren't, there are still plenty of other polishes to keep your nails looking good.

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5 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.
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