Accidental Acrylics: Why You Shouldn't Request A Gel Manicure From A Salon That Misspells 'Nails'

How I got "tipped" against my will, and how I've helped my nails recover.
Publish date:
March 27, 2014
manicures, salons, spas, It Happened To Me, gel manicures, acrylics, horror stories

I am so happy with the DIY skills I have acquired. One thing that should never be done at home, though, is sculpted nails. This opinion forced me to seek the help of professionals when I wanted to try a gel manicure.

I never read extensive reviews before going somewhere, but that changed fast when tiny moths started flying out of my wallet where dollar bills used to be. I live in one of the most overpriced cities in the entire world, and it allows the most skilled, coveted artists to charge a lot for their services--and charge they do. The sad thing is plenty of places are not up to par for what they charge, and thanks to reviews on websites like Yelp, you can usually tell if that is the case beforehand.

That said, one must take what they read with a grain of salt. I say this as a former drink slinger--I've read reviews about myself or my service that were blatantly untrue. For bars and restaurants, Yelp can be a cesspool of misinformation and privilege, and even vitriolic owners/managers; but for beauty services, you can really get a sense of what you are stepping into.

Oh, how I wish I had Yelp'd Hey Hey Nail Salon (name changed because I am not that mean) one fateful day approximately three years ago. With a whopping 1.5 stars and pages of reviews like "The final look was thick, lumpy, sloppy, and uneven" and "Oh hell no!!! Never again! Not even if I'm desperate!" and go back for years, all I can say is FML.

I saw a sign for $30 pedicure + UV top coat mani with 30-minute massage. SAY WHAAAT?! Too good to be true. (And it was.) I should have known from the general dusty, dirty appearance of the place, or the lack of a soap dispenser by the sink--and I did know. But my empty wallet was talking to me, whispering sweetly about a massage for my beat-up waitress feet, and a shiny topcoat to keep my shredded nails looking classy.

The pedicure technician sprayed his hands with alcohol and then stuck them in a tub of vaseline to prep for the massage, and I thought, Seems legit. I must have been brunch-drunk to have then agreed to have my nails done simultaneously while getting this ridiculously long foot massage.

While I zoned out during this friggin' amazing foot massage, what I thought would be happening on my nails while I napped was certainly not taking place. The nail technician had applied tips and acrylic powder to my left hand! How did I not notice this?!?!?!

I immediately panicked, and rightfully so. Demanding to know why I was getting tips and acrylic polymer applied to my nails when I had asked for UV gel, all the woman could say was that it was "crystal gel." OY VEY.

I was devastated. As a former acrylics addict in my teens, I couldn't believe I had a set of way-too-long claws on my hand again. I could have cried, I was so pissed. I agreed to let her finish, since I couldn't bear the thought of putting my nails through an acetone soak and major file job after all of that.

I left with a heavy heart and garishly long fakies, and I let myself revert back to my old friend, acrylics, forgetting about all of the pain and sadness they had caused me in the past. A year flew by, and I kept getting a fill-in instead of just ripping off the band-aid. My eczema had decided to come back, and the dermatologist took one look at my nails and said they were to blame for my flare-up.

I still wouldn't let them go. And what was worse, I was so ashamed of my habit that I would go to some other really cruddy salons for a cheap fix. I knew the other salons would try to talk me into switching to gel. It was pricey for me at the time to even get my nails done, and despite my nails looking gorgeous at work, I was getting itchiness and sensitivity.

The final straw was when I got a double-gross whammy: a bacterial infection in my nail and a fungal infection on my toenail.

I left for a vacation, and the nails popped off from all the time I spent in the water and playing beach soccer. I took it as a sign. Upon returning, I desperately searched for cures, and thus my favorite hobby was born: researching natural remedies beauty alternatives.

After the acrylics came off, I again had to deal with the effects of having worn sculpted nails long-term. Two of my nails had peeled away from the nail bed halfway down, and they looked jacked up to boot. I am still re-growing portions on the side of each nail where they were over-filed during acrylics maintenance. Now, if I don't obsessively use Solar oil, I would have some serious hangnail problems.

I hate to admit this, but I also have to groom my cuticles weekly for this reason as well. It seems like the cycle will never end, but I have tried only moisturizing, and due to all of the dremel tools and acrylic polymers, my fingers grow into hooves around my nails without weekly maintenance.

I also moisturize nightly with a heavier cream, like Burt's Bees Almond Milk Beeswax Hand Cream. (It smells like the original Jergen's lotion that my grandma wore after washing dishes.)

If you want to avoid having to start from scratch after removing sculpted nails, obviously, you want to avoid going to a crappy nail salon. Use your discretion, read reviews, call for pricing to compare, and talk to your friends and neighbors. You don't always have to go to a top-of-the-line place, but you can find something clean, affordable and honest if you look thoroughly.