If you are a member of the Chipped Nails Club, of which I am the president, gel nails will change your life. But before you head to the salon, read these top tips from NYC celeb manicurist Miss Pop.

1. Gel manicures differ from acrylic ones. Acrylic nails are made with a powder dipped in solvent. “They’re essentially used to lengthen the nail or provide a stronger top layer over the natural nail,” explains Miss Pop. So basically, Kylie Jenner’s coffin nails.

Sometimes they come in colors, but usually they’re clear or natural-toned. Gels, on the other hand, come in nail polish shades, and are made hard by being cured under a UV or LED lamp.

2. Gels do weaken your nail beds, but it’s mostly because of the removal process.

Many people worry about getting gels because they fear their nails won’t be able to breathe, but nails are actually dead to begin with, so they don’t need to breathe! Your nail beds and cuticles are what’s important — they’re made of living tissue, which is why you need to be careful. It’s safest to get gels removed at a salon, though it usually costs $10-$20.

Make sure the manicurist is removing your gels carefully. “No one should be scraping your nail bed aggressively. The product should just crumble off,” says Miss Pop.

3. You can remove gels at home safely.

If you want to save money and a trip to the salon, you can take the gels off yourself. You just have to be extra careful:

  1. Get a bottle of 100 percent acetone or a gel remover you can pick up at a beauty supply store – it’s less harsh than pure acetone.
  2. Place a cotton ball soaked in the remover on top of your nail.
  3. Wrap each nail in tinfoil.
  4. Wrap your hands in a hand towel — this encourages the removal process.

Depending on your gel, this can take 15 minutes to an hour. When the gel is crumbling or sliding off, gently use a rubber-ended cuticle pusher to clean the gel off of your nail bed (do not file or scrape!).

Make sure to keep your nail beds hydrated. Miss Pop recommends using cuticle oil and moisturizer. “Even if you don’t have a gel mani, those products will help your nails stay healthy and strong, not to mention stave off hangnails,” she says.

4. UV radiation can be dangerous to your health.

“Conventional wisdom says unnecessary exposure to UV rays is bad for you,” says Miss Pop, “but they have been part of salon services forever. Those purple-colored lights that help your nails dry are actually UV lights!”

Luckily, there have been huge improvements in gel technology, and many brands have converted to LED curing, which doesn’t have the scary UV side effects. Companies such as OPI, Essie, and CND use LED lights. Ask your salon for that option. If you love your UV lamp for drying, put on sunscreen before – just in case.

5. At-home gel kits work!

Well, kind of. Brands like Sally Hanson, Ciate, and Kiss make at-home kits now with tiny little LED lamps. Try them out if you want to save money and have control over your own mani.

At-home gel kits last a bit longer than a regular manicure — maybe 10 days — but are definitely not salon quality. You have to follow the instructions to the last detail and have a pretty steady hand to get a perfect gel nail.

6. Gels cost anywhere from $35 to $120.

How much you’re going to pay for a gel mani really depends on where you live, but also what kind of look you want. Basic one-color gel manis start around $35, which is more than a regular mani, but it also lasts twice as long. If you want crazy celeb-level nail art, it could end up costing up to $100 – and that’s not including tip.

7. Gels generally last 2-3 weeks.

The best part about gel manis is how long they last. If you have a bunch of events coming up back to back like prom, internship interviews, and family vacays, gels can be the perfect solution because they last about two full weeks with zero chipping. (Yeah, it’s amazing.) But however long it lasts, you’ll love your nails the entire time.

8. Watch out for “toxic trio” ingredients.

Some polishes include potential cancer-causing chemicals like dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde. Read the ingredients label on the polish’s bottle or on the company’s website to avoid them.

9. Having your cuticles cut can put you at higher risk for infection.

There’s so much cutting and buffing and filing when it comes to a gel mani. Don’t increase your risk of infection by getting your cuticles cut — just ask to have them pushed back.

Written by Elizabeth Denton, seventeen.com