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SNS, Gel, Builder or Polish: Which Manicure is the Healthiest?

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SNS, Gel, Builder or Polish: Which Manicure is the Healthiest?

Love how long gel and SNS last but find they weaken your nails? Worry about dangers of LED lamps? Find a regular polish lasts about three minutes before chipping? We speak to two nail experts for all the inside info.

Gemma Watts

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There were a lot of things I missed during lockdown.


Behind family, friends, and the distinct joy of being able to eat a meal knowing I wouldn’t be doing the dishes afterwards, I was legitimately shocked by how much I missed having my nails done.


There are a number of reasons why I love having beautiful, professionally polished nails. The clacking sound they’re making on my keyboard at this moment. Being physically unable to look at my phone for 45 minutes (a treat!). The knowledge that if I paint them myself, the polish will be chipped, smudged and borderline non-existent within roughly 8 minutes of application.


It appears I am not alone in my appreciation of a beautiful manicure, given how many nail polish options have emerged in recent years.





Between regular polish, a gel manicure, SNS and the new kid on the block, Builder in a Bottle (known as builder or BIAB for short), choosing the right option for your preferred finish, your overall nail health and your lifestyle can feel overwhelming. 


“How long a manicure lasts will ultimately come down to the type of treatment you choose, and how well you look after it,” explains Natalie Ferrari, founder of Sydney’s The Parlour Room. “It’s important to note that [how long a manicure lasts] will vary based on the individual and their day-to-day activities.” 


“BIAB lasts for 4 weeks before you should go back in for an infill service to fill the new growth and balance out the nails,” adds Emma Forrest, founder of Melbourne’s Buff Studios, as a rule of thumb. “SNS will last you around 3 weeks, and with regular polish you can expect up to a week of chip free wear.” 

Given the disparity in wear time between regular polish and a professional solution, why do so many people still opt for regular polish over a gel or a powder? “If you like swapping your colour on a more frequent basis, every week or so then polish is the way to go,” Emma explains. “Regular polish is a convenient short term solution as it can be easily removed at home,” Natalie agrees, “and it’s great if someone has damaged nails.”


Natalie and Emma are both vocal advocates for Builder in a Bottle, telling me that it combines the strength and wear time of SNS and traditional gel manicures with the nail-health benefits of regular polish. 


“BIAB is a gel based product cured under an LED lamp like gel polish or Shellac with the hardness and durability of SNS or Acrylic,” Emma explains. “Instead of undergoing a harsh removal process each visit, you come in for an "Infill" service every 3-4 weeks where the new growth is filled and the nails rebalanced.”

“It’s one of the most popular treatments at the moment,” confirms Natalie. “Similar to a gel in terms of flexibility, its unique formula mimics the strength and durability you find with SNS and acrylic but is by far much healthier for your nail plate underneath.


"Where SNS and acrylic can be quite restrictive and harsh on your nails, often leaving your nail plate extremely weak, dry and dehydrated, BIAB can last longer than a typical gel mani and combines all the benefits people know and love from these treatments, including flexibility, strength and durability, without impacting the health of the nail.”

Whether you choose a Builder gel or a Shellac style gel, an LED lamp will be used to cure the nail polish- an element of the manicure that often strikes concern amongst SNS and regular polish devotees.


“I believe this concern originated because the old lamps used to emit a low concentration of broad spectrum UV light, similar to what solariums used, and as we know, continued exposure to UV rays can be harmful,” shares Natalie.


“Nowadays, we use LED (light-emitting diode) lamps which project a much narrower spectrum of UV wavelengths and are much quicker at curing which means less time under the lamp.”


“The position and advice from leading authorities on the topic,” adds Emma, “Is that given exposure time is so short and the UV levels from lamps are very, very low it means there isn't enough to increase your risks of cancer.”

Despite the growing number of salon manicure options, there are still many people (all of whom are clearly more coordinated and patient than I) who prefer to paint their nails at home- so why is it that my home manicures last about a tenth of the time as a salon polish? “The key to a long lasting manicure is all in the nail prep,” explains Natatlie.


“When we paint at home we’re often short on time and miss some of those important steps your therapist is meticulous with. This is why you'll find a typical nail appointment can take upwards of 45 minutes.


From cutting, filing and shaping the nail, tidying up the cuticles and ensuring the nail plate itself is buffed and scrubbed so that it can hold the treatment, in addition to the application of particular painting techniques such as capping the the polish - nail technicians are highly skilled at what they do and it shows in the quality and longevity of their work.”


“I have three top tips for maximising the wear of an at-home mani,” Emma tells me. 

 

+ A clean, dry nail plate - meaning no oils or dirt on the nails (a swipe of alcohol or acetone does the trick)

+ Avoid polish touching your skin, it can lead to peeling/lifting of the polish 

+ Apply polish in thin, even coats - even if this means more coats, thin layers minimise the risk of chips.”

“The most important thing, regardless of which option you choose, is that you keep your nails healthy and hydrated,” adds Natalie. “Using cuticle oil daily is an absolute must as it helps retain moisture in the cuticle and surrounding skin which prevents dryness and resulting splitting and chipping. 

 

Like anything, for them to last you need to look after them. Using household cleaning products and general wear and tear throughout the day can cause premature lifting, so just be careful and make sure you’re looking after them. Hydration is key.”

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