Can You Cut or File Your Nails When You Have Gel Polish On?

Why cutting and filing gel nails will ruin your mani.

close-up of a women's hands with sparkly green gel nails on a orange purse
Photo: Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

Anyone who's ever made the switch from traditional polish to a gel manicure knows that gel is pretty damn magical. The polish stays shiny for weeks and you rarely get chips no matter how many dishes you hand wash or how hard you type on your keyboard.

Even though gel manicures seem like they're indestructible, it's not entirely the case. I had a recent gel manicure that still looked great a week after getting it done, but my nails were starting to feel too long. I reached for a pair of clippers and a nail file and went to town, only for my gel polish to start peeling afterward. My initial reaction was to blame the polish my salon used, but my ruined manicure was entirely my fault.

It turns out that cutting your nails is the worst thing you could possibly do when you have a gel manicure — whether it's to fix a hangnail or your nails are just starting to feel too long as your manicure grows out. "Trimming your nails will break the seal at the tip of your nail [created by the gel polish and UV light], making it more vulnerable to chipping, peeling, and snagging," says Amy Ling Lin, founder of sundays studio in New York City.

Instead, Ling Lin recommends redoing any nails that need trimming or starting over with an entirely fresh manicure if your nails are just too long to handle. "The best option would be a fresh manicure or just a redo of that particular nail," she says. "A fresh manicure nourishes the cuticle and moisturizes the nails, and creates a fresh protective coat on top."

However, if it's just a small break on the corner of a nail, it is possible to quickly fix it without getting another manicure. Ling Lin suggests buffing a layer of the gel off of that nail and reapplying a fresh layer, plus a top coat. "It's always better to take off the gel to see your nails' health and see if we need any further treatment, such as a silk wrap," she says.

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So, what about filing your nails? You should avoid doing that too, if possible. "Gel manicures are sealed around the edges to keep it all intact and long-lasting, so filing your nails would most likely break this seal and make the manicure more susceptible to wear and tear," explains Ling Lin. "Understandably, if you have a jagged nail you will need to buff the nail gently to smooth it down, so it's important to take great care when doing this so you cause as little damage as possible."

There you have it: The next time you have a gel manicure and find yourself with a pair of clippers or nail file in hand, ask yourself if using them is worth it.

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