Why Are My Gel Nails Lifting? 16 Reasons Why Your Gel Polish Is Lifting

Why are my gel nails lifting? What to do when gel polish is lifting? How to fix gel nails that have lifted? Here are the answers to all your questions.

Even though gel polishes are very durable and can stay on your nails for a couple of weeks or more, one of the most common issues with gel polishes is gel nails lifting. That means that the already cured gel polish coating comes off your nails in large chunks. There are lots of reasons for this. And I’ll try to cover most of them in this article.

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Here are the reasons why gel nails lifting occurs

Cuticles left on the nails

Cuticles and any dead skin left on your nails prevent the gel polish from adhering to your nail plate properly.

You should always push away the cuticles at the beginning stage of your gel manicure process.

It’s a good idea to use a cuticle remover because it exfoliates all the dead skin stuck to your nail plate and the cuticle area.

For my gel manicures, I use Sally Hansen cuticle remover. It’s very good at softening and exfoliating the cuticles.

Sally Hansen Cuticle Remover

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Thin, weak nail plate

Very often the reason for lifting is not a badly done gel manicure but the condition of your natural nail plate.

If the nail plate is too thin and frail, and especially if the nails are peeling gel polish may not stay.

You may do an overlay with acrylic powder or polygel to reinforce your thin nails.

The overlay is similar to extensions because you use builder materials like acrylics, gels, and polygels to create it. But it doesn’t go over the free edge of the nail plate and doesn’t extend your nails.

You can use Makartt polygels for creating your nail overlay.

Makartt Polygel Kit

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Polygel is a cross between gels and acrylics.

It’s easy to use even for a beginner and it has all the best qualities of gels and acrylics combined.

I’ve described the process of using polygels for nail overlays in my article about nail overlays.

Nail shape

Square nails have corners where the stress is greater than in the middle of the nail’s free edge and that’s why gel polish may be lifting in the corners. While, for example, almond nails have no corners.

So square nails usually don’t last as long as almond nails.

Nails not buffed

In most cases, you need to buff the top, shiny layer off the nail plate before you apply any gel or acrylic nail products.

Buffing is also necessary to even out the surface of the nail.

Use a fine 240 grit file or buffing block for that. Don’t use a file with a medium grit.

Out of all manufacturers, only CND claims that buffing is not needed at all with their gel polishes.

Nails buffed with a buffing block to be too smooth

Be careful not to overbuff your nails. You’ll make them too smooth and slippery for any polish to stick.

The best grit for nail plate preparation is 240-320.

Makartt Zebra Nail Files 240/240 Grit

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Overbuffed nails when the nail plate is too thin

As I’ve said above, be very careful when buffing your nails not to overbuff your natural nail plate.

Overbuffing can make your nail plate too thin. And, of course, this will cause lifting.

Oily, moist, or unclean nails

If your nails are not dry enough, your hands are too moist, or you’ve used cuticle oil or hand cream before finishing your gel polish application then gel polish will fail to stick to your nail plate.

To prevent lifting you should always dry your hands and dehydrate your nails before you begin the application process

Always cleanse your nail plate with a cleanser or 99% Isopropyl Alcohol using a lint-free wipe.

This will help you to get rid of oils, dirt, dust, and debris left from the filing.

You should never use any oil-based products, like cuticle oil or hand cream before you’ve applied and cured all the polish layers, including the top coat.

Gelish Nail Surface Cleanser

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No dehydrator used

Cleansing the nails is not enough to get rid of all the natural oils and moisture from your nails.

So if you want to make sure your gel polish stays on your nails well you should always use a nail dehydrator before applying the primer and the base coat

No primer used

In many cases, gel nail polish lifting occurs when you apply the polish without a primer.

Non-acid and acid-free primers act as a double-sided scotch tape and bind the polish to your natural nails.

Primer is often optional for gel polish manicures but is always a must for gel extensions and overlays.

But if you often see your gel nails lifting then you really should use a primer.

You can apply it all over the nail plate for a better effect.

Bur if you want to be able to remove your polish easier later apply the primer only to the areas where the lifting usually starts. That means mostly to the tip of the free edge and a bit to the side edges of the nail.

Acid primer is only needed for very problematic nails. For example, you may use it if you have hyperhidrosis. That’s when your hands get too sweaty and moist and nail polish never sticks.

But use acid primer with caution to avoid getting it on the surrounding skin.

Mia Secret manufactures a popular dehydrator and primer duo set that works very well.

And the primer is an acid-free one, so it’s pretty safe to use.

In addition to that, it works with all kinds of materials, including gel polishes, gels, polygels, and even acrylics.

Few acid-free primers really work with acrylics, so it’s a great feature.

You can use Mia Secret’s primer with acrylic nail overlays.

Mia Secret Professional Natural Nail Prep Dehydrate & Xtra Bond Primer

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Too much primer used

When using primer make sure you apply it very sparingly.

If you add too much primer liquid it can make your base coat and polish slide off towards the surrounding skin. And if you cure the polish like that it will lift.

Too much primer also prevents the base coat and the polish from attaching to your nails.

Apply just a bit of primer, wiping the brush against the primer bottle’s opening to prevent placing excess product on your nails.

No base coat used

A base coat is the key product in any gel manicure.

It helps the color polish to adhere to your natural nail plate and that prevents gel nails from lifting.

Skipping the base coat when you are using a polish that requires a 3-step application process is a big no-no in a gel manicure.

Gel polish lifting is inevitable if you skip it.

Lifting will also happen if you fail to apply the base coat to some spots on your nail but apply the color coat there anyway. In this case, the color coat will come off.

You can skip the base coat only with 2-step and 1-step polishes.

As their manufacturers claim, they have the base coat mixed with the polish together in one bottle.

But if you want your gel manicure to stay better you should use the base coat even with the “no base coat necessary” polishes.

No top coat used

Top coat is the product that protects your gel manicure and makes it look really glossy (or matte).

Skipping the top coat will expose your gel polish layer to external damage so the polish may lift.

Low-quality base coat and top coat

If you see your gel nails lifting then the low quality of the products you use may also be the reason for that.

Any base coat and top coat that you use should always be high-quality products.

They are even more important for the longevity of your gel manicure than the color polish.

For example, Gelish dynamic duo set contains the base coat and the top coat that work pretty well with other brands of gel nail polish too.

Many nail salon professionals love to use this brand of gel nail polishes.

Gelish top coat is a wipe-off one though.

That means you’ll need to wipe off the sticky layer at the end of your manicure.

Gelish Dynamic Duo

Gelish Dynamic Duo Foundation Base & Top It Off...


If you are looking for no wipe and matte top coats then you can buy the Beetles budget-friendly trio set for at-home users.

It contains the base coat and both glossy and matte top coats.

Both Beetles top coats are no-wipe ones. You won’t have to wipe the sticky layer off because these top coats leave no tacky residue.

Beetles Base Coat, No-Wipe Top Coats, Matte Top Coat Set

Beetles Gel Nail Polish Base No Wipe Top Coat -...


Thick layers of product used

If you apply any gel nail polish products, including the base coat, the color polish, and the top coat in a thick coat then it may not get cured thoroughly and will cause lifting.

A thick layer of product may also cause shrinking or make bubbles form under the lamp.

If the product bubbles up then air gets under the polish layer and causes it to unstick from the nail plate.

Shrinking causes the polish coating to separate from the nail too.

To prevent bubbles and shrinking always apply all gel polish products in very thin layers.

And to do this you just need to wipe the excess polish off when you pick it up from the bottle.

Thick polishes can be tricky to apply in a thin coat, especially for beginners

It’s easier to do with thin and runny polishes.

But these polishes have a downside too:

The product has run into the cuticles and hasn’t been removed before curing

Another reason for gel nails lifting is when a runny polish or base coat runs into the cuticles and the surrounding skin and you fail to remove it properly before curing it.

If a base coat is cured like that then all the polish layers will run into that direction sliding over the base coat.

And after the portion of the polish left on your skin hardens it will pull the polish off your nails.

So if you don’t want to spend any time cleaning the polish off after painting each layer then don’t get a runny product.

The ideal polish shouldn’t be too thick or too runny.

The product hasn’t cured properly

Some highly pigmented products may fail to cure properly under the lamp.

This often happens to opaque, deep-colored, dark, or pastel polishes.

To prevent gel nails from lifting you either need to use sheer, light polishes. Or you may want to get a powerful lamp that will be able to cure the pigmented polishes thoroughly.

Any lamp over 48 Watts of power would do. The more the better, of course.

And if you get a burning sensation when using a lamp with a lot of power then get a lamp with an additional low power setting button.

It will cure the products that tend to cause burning with only 24 W and you won’t feel any unpleasant sensations.

SUNUV makes a 48W UV/LED lamp that is powerful enough to cure any pigmented polish properly.

The lamp also has a low power setting that allows you to cure base coats safely.

SUNUV 48W UV LED Nail Lamp

Gel UV Nail Lamp, SUNUV 48W UV LED Nail Dryer...


Gel nails lifting: Physical damage and picking off

Physical damage of the polish layer will most certainly cause lifting and chipping.

Avoid opening ring pulls, picking the end of a scotch tape, or picking your teeth with your nails, etc.

And please never start picking your gel nails off! It’s a really bad habit.

This will cause lifting, of course, and is bad for the nail plate.

Just remove the polish by soaking it off or carefully file it off with a nail drill.

Bonus: to cap the free edge or not to cap?

Many people believe that capping the edge really prevents lifting.

However, many nail techs have stopped capping because the tip of the edge looks too bulky and bumpy that way.

Instead, they even file the end of the free edge a bit to make it perfectly smooth.

Most nail polishes on the market today stay on well even without capping.

So it’s up to you to decide whether you want to cap or not.

But if you decide to cap the free edge do it with every layer you apply, including the base coat, the top coat, and all the layers of the color coat.

So here were all the possible reasons for gel nails lifting and gel polish lifting. I hope this guide answers the question, “Why are my gel nails lifting?”, and helps you wear your nails for 2-3 weeks.

Recommended reading:

Best Professional Gel Nail Polish Brands Used In Salons

Best Gel Base And Top Coat: The Updated List Of The Best Gel Nail Base And Top Coat Sets

Kiara Sky Gel Polish: Full Review And Buying Guide

Best No Wipe Gel Top Coat: An Honest Review Of 12 Best No Wipe Top Coat Gel Brands

Non-Toxic Gel Nail Polish Brands 101: Choose The Safest Gel Nail Polish

Matte Gel Nails Ultimate Guide: Best Matte Gel Top Coat Brands List [Updated] Plus Gorgeous Matte Gel Nail Designs

Most Popular Shellac Colors – The Ultimate List Of 15 Best Shellac Colors For Fantastic Manicures

Best Nail Dehydrator And Primer: The Ultimate Guide

Mermaid Gel Nails 101: Best Mermaid Gel Polish And Mermaid Nail Powder

Best No Light Gel Polish — Gel Nail Polish Without UV Light

Best Small Salon Reception Desk: Make An Amazing First Impression

Best Shellac Colors For French Manicure: The Complete CND Shellac French Manicure Guide. Get The Perfect French Manicure Shellac Nails!

Overlay Nails 101: Acrylic And Gel Nail Overlay On Natural Nails – The Ultimate Guide

10 Best UV and LED Nail Lamp Units For Gorgeous Gel Nails

Nail File Grit Guide And Chart

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