The truth about nail cycling |

7 mins

The truth about nail cycling

Nail cycling, or gel cycling, is the latest social media trend that advocates taking breaks from regular nail enhancements. Kezia Parkins gets the expert lowdown

If you’ve ever said to a nail tech, “I think I just need to let my nails breathe,” you may have noticed an almost undetectable fierce look flash across their face, or they may have politely pointed out that, with the absence of lungs, nails, of course, do not need to breathe.

While this is absolutely the case, techs are still often up against the argument that nails need a breather or a break from enhancements that could actually be working to protect clients’ nails. The latest iteration of this is a trend called “gel cycling” or “nail cycling”. Like skin cycling, which is the practice of periodically using different active ingredients to avoid reactions and enhance results, nail cycling involves giving nails a chance to “recover” from gels, acrylics or other enhancements while using products that concentrate on improving nail health.

“It’s not just because nails don’t have a set of lungs that most nail techs would say they don’t need to breathe,” says OPI education director Belinda Price. “Some clients start getting enhancements to be a barrier or armour for their nails that would otherwise break and struggle to grow.

“But still, I’ve been doing nails for 30 years, and it is that immortal thing every January – customers come in, they’ve got an hour-and-a-half appointment for a set of acrylics and they say, ‘I’ll just have them off and let my nails breathe’. You see your busy day where you’ve got a decent turnover financially vanish in front of your eyes.”

While not what a nail tech wants to hear, there are occasions when nails could do with a bit of a break from harsher enhancements, but increasingly there are more products to help support this.

On a break

“The only time I would advocate taking a break from gels or enhancements is if there is a nail condition or a contraindication, whether that’s caused by damage, incorrect filing, a tear in the nails, an allergy, or incorrect removal,” continues Price. “Especially if there is a contraindication, we cannot see that client and must refer them to a GP.”

Salon System educator Ruth Atkins agrees, adding, “I only ever recommend taking a break from gel nails if something goes wrong – otherwise I see no benefits from taking a break. As the nail is constantly growing, you are really only working on the new growth area.”

“There is a common misconception that you need to have a break from gel every now and then to let nails ‘breathe’,” chimes in celebrity manicurist Robbie Tomkins. “This isn’t the case because nails are made up of keratin, effectively dead cells pushed out from the cuticle where the nails grow.

“There really isn’t a suggested timeframe to take a break from any gel nail treatments, it’s more about personal preference. If treatments, including polygel, builder gel or any other nail enhancements, are removed correctly by a professional, then damage to the nail bed is minimal, and a ‘break’ isn’t necessary. If, however, a client experiences painful or sensitive nail beds or thin, brittle nails that break easily when having gel removed, perhaps it’s time for a break.”

Speaking from a dermatology perspective, Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, cosmetic doctor and owner of Aesthetic Medicine Award-winning clinic Adonia Medical in London, says, “If you do not react to gel nails, then regular breaks may not be needed, but in general it is always good to give nails a rest on occasion from any treatment or substances on them.”

However, as Price says, on some occasions, if people have got sore nails for any reason, whether it be from over-filing or buffing, as long as damage has not gone through the nail plate, it could actually be better for that client to have product on the nail to stop it being painful. “If it’s safe to do so, even in those circumstances, I would say get a coating on the nails because it protects the nail as it grows out,” she adds.

“If the client’s nails are damaged, as nail techs we have to educate them that what came before perhaps wasn’t safe or sustainable for their nails. Whether that be bad practice from a previous salon or a client improperly removing enhancements themselves.

“If you get them to that place of understanding then you can then work with them to improve the condition of the nails.”

Incorrect product removal can leave nails in need of repair

Give me strength

While nails are essentially dead keratin, as Tomkins explains, they are still porous, meaning nail-strengthening treatments and products such as cuticle oils, moisturisers and serums can penetrate the nails to soften and strengthen, and help avoid splitting and breakages.

Enhancements can protect clients’ nails as they grow out, acting as a barrier

Part of the nail cycling trend has seen the rise of the medical or prescriptive mani, which has seen a spate of new serums and nail treatments to solve various nail ailments and an increased focus on ensuring clients are using products like cuticle oil.

Tomkins loves Protein Formula for Nails. “There are four treatments to choose from and the brand offers a nail diagnostic tool to help find the right one for your nail needs,” he says.

“It’s worth noting that fingernails grow about 1/10 of an inch a month, meaning it can take up to six months for complete regrowth.

In June, OPI released Repair Mode, a keratin treatment designed to provide 99% keratin repair. While most serums and formulas like this are usually marketed to clients directly as home nail care, products like Repair Mode can be built into a treatment protocol to provide extra care to clients with some nail damage or those insisting that they need to take a break, giving the opportunity to continue to provide a service during those times.

Other brands with products to look out for targeted towards nail health include Louella Belle with its IBX Repair product, developed by Famous Names, CND’s Detox Duo to use during breaks or to maintain Shellac/gel polish treatments, Gelish Vitagel soak-off vitamin nail strengthener, and Orly’s selection of nail strengtheners.

“For something like Repair Mode, I would suggest pricing that up to £10 as an add-on treatment, much in the way hairdressers would for an extra hair treatment,” explains Price.

If a client wants a break from all enhancements on their nails – rather than going in with gel or acrylic on top of the treated nail – Price recommends a natural nail manicure with a strengthening product built in. “For these clients, I recommend they book in for a weekly service,” she adds, showing that during these times of gel or acrylic abstinence there can be an opportunity to actually make more revenue by seeing your clients more regularly.

Of course, prevention is better than cure. “To avoid having to detox a client’s nails, try to limit chemical use, so keep things like acetone to a minimum,” says Atkins, who recommends a filing system for removal.

“Full removal is a good time to evaluate the health of the nail. If a detox is recommended, prescribe plenty of oils and serums to use at home, keep the natural nails short. and book them in for a natural nail manicure instead in the meantime.”

As well as a lot of these products being able to be used to enhance and add value to treatments, they can also be retailed to your clients to use on new growth areas while wearing a professional product or while on a detox/break – all meaning that despite a client wanting to take a break from their regular nail service, that doesn’t mean that they necessary want a break from their nail tech and nail care.

The bottom line

It’s easy to become concerned about new trends coming in and changing how clients want to work with techs. Plus, the focus on nail allergies and UV gel lamps has caused a lot of panic to the consumer, which has pushed trends like nail cycling and prescriptive manicures to become more sought after.

A perk of nail cycling is that for clients who are concerned about UV exposure or allergies, this trend limits and reduces exposure to both.

As Price puts it, if you have a client who one day declares they are never having gel polish again but still wants to keep getting their nails done, there is no point trying to convince them of what you know to be true. Offer them another service that will keep them happy and could potentially boost your revenue.

This article appears in July 2023

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July 2023
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