How to Avoid A Gel Allergy + Is HEMA a Bad Ingredient?


I know a lot of you are interested in doing your own nails and trying gel but are worried about developing a gel allergy so this post is going to go over what is a gel allergy, how to avoid a gel allergy, what to do if you think you have a gel allergy, and a quick discussion about HEMA! 

Quick disclaimer, I am a licensed nail tech, but obviously NOT a doctor :) So please be sure to check with your doctor if you have any additional concerns about using gel and especially if you think you have an allergy (more on that later!). 

What Is a Gel Allergy?

They are caused by overexposure to uncured gel on my skin and nails. It can manifest in many ways: itchy or painful feeling, blisters, hives, rashes etc, around your nails/cuticle area when you apply the product (or other parts of your body that you touch after using gel), your nails detaching from your skin or falling off, contact dermatitis with any area that has come in contact with your fingers after using gel, flu-like symptoms, to name a few. 

Why Is a Gel Allergy Bad?

Aside from the symptoms mentioned above, if you develop a gel allergy, you need to avoid the ingredients that you are allergic to altogether (this seems like a no brainer lol). But where it can get tricky is that there are some common acrylate ingredients that are used in other medical procedures and dental procedures (without many alternatives to use instead), beauty products, and more, that you will need to notify your doctors about or avoid for your health and safety for the rest of your life. Some common examples are dental procedures or orthopedic surgeries, contact lenses, other nail products too. 

Also - you won’t be able to use gel polish any more either. 

In my opinion, starting your gel polish journey the right way from the beginning and being safe/educated is 1000000% more important than trying to heal from issues that can arise from using it incorrectly. So let’s touch on this first: 

How to Avoid A Gel Allergy from the START!

First off, gel is not bad for your nails. What is bad is when it’s used incorrectly, applied incorrectly, and/or when you use low quality gel polishes, and/or  use a poor quality lamp, and/or remove it harshly. I.E. User error plays a huge role in giving gel a bad rap. 

Educating yourself on how to properly use gel products + which products are safe to use is where I would suggest starting, even before you purchase anything because it will help you understand how to use them and what you need. 


Read my blog posts on using gel, this is a good place to start:

Gel Manicure Products 101

Ready To Begin DIY NAILS?

Watch my courses:

Basic Gel Manicure Course! This is a real time video demonstration + presentation that shows you and teaches you everything you need to know about safely using gel and executing a safe gel manicure. 

Advanced Gel Manicure Course! This is another real time video demo + presentation all about using builder gel and doing fills which is a more advanced gel manicure technique that’s sweeping the nation right now! It’s the process I always do on my nails every manicure and it’s what I swear by for growing my nails and keeping them strong! 

Or get my Basic & Advanced Gel Manicure Bundle (and save $25!)

Safe Products:

*Another disclaimer :) Using high quality gel & a proper lamp are not enough to prevent a gel allergy. It also must be applied perfectly which is why the application method + the products really need to work together for you to keep yourself and clients safe!

Read my blog post all about why you should NOT ever buy your gel polish from Amazon!

I recommend always buying gel products that are formulated for professionals, not the general public (i.e. amazon), because those products are generally low quality which is not great for a few reasons. First, there’s a possibility that they are formulated with ingredients that will literally not cure/polymerize correctly. So even if you’re applying your gel perfectly and using a proper lamp, there’s still a risk that you can develop a sensitivity or allergy because the gel just is such poor quality that it won’t cure… I talk way more about why I don’t think using gel products from Amazon is a good idea for anyone in this blog post so please be sure to read that too! 

I recommend using gel products that are developed for professionals (even if you aren’t a professional!) because they are likely to be reputable brands who have been tested by professionals for years, they hopefully are using high quality ingredients, with formulas that are developed for your safety, and are generally going to give you a beautiful, long-lasting outcome, which keeps your nails healthier and stronger in turn. 

There are a bunch of brands that sell products to non-professionals without licenses. My favorites (and what I use the most) are premium pure Japanese and Korean gels. There is just nothing like the quality that they offer! I have so many blog posts with recommendations and photos of products I’ve tried and recommend so make sure to check out more of my blog to see those!

More Info On Korean Gels

More Info on Japanese Gels

I also use pretty much all Kokoist products in my courses too, and I love recommending their products to beginners because they are sooo nice to work with and make it even easier for you to enjoy using gel and be SAFE of course :) 

Here are my Kokoist Recommendations for beginners

Here are ALL of my Kokoist Recommendations

Here are ALL of my Sweetie Nail Supply Recommendations


Making sure that you’re using a proper gel lamp should be your #1 TOP PRIORITY when using gel because without a proper lamp, your gel can be left uncured and lift from your nails. Both are things we do not want to happen! 

I recommend using the lamp that is manufactured by the brand of gel polish that you specialize in (for example, if you specialize in Kokoist products, use one of their lamps), because their products are specifically designed and tested to work together. 

Kokoist Le Blanc Lamp (this is the lamp I use - it’s an investment but it’s THE BEST lamp on the market and it will last for a very long time - especially if you only do your own nails!)

Kokoist Hybrid Infinity Lamp 

Another important thing to look for when choosing a lamp is the nanometer / wavelength info. I went to the Kokoist Educator Summit this year and we had a session all about lamps. They told us that they recommend choosing a lamp by nanometer / wavelength because the wattage/voltage of a lamp is just telling us the power of the lamp and isn’t the best indicator of if your lamp is properly formatted or strong enough to pair with your gel products. 

For example, the wavelength emissions for the Kokoist lamp that I use is 365 - 405 nanometers (or nm), so that tells me that we need a lamp with those nanometers to properly cure Kokoist products. 

This info can be hard to find so if you use a specific brand and you’re not able to find it, I’d recommend reaching out to the brand to figure it out. They should really know this info at this point to keep their customers healthy!

If you’d like a more budget friendly lamp, this lamp from Amazon has similar specifications to the Kokoist lamps and will work with their products! 

Flash curing lamps are never ok to use for a full manicure cure in my opinion, they are made for flash curing your nails before you’re able to do a full cure. Unfortunately these are so popular with DIYers because they are inexpensive and usually new DIYers don’t even know the difference between these and proper lamps. Please make sure you’re investing in your lamp! 

What To Do If You Think You Have A Gel Allergy:

If you think you have a gel allergy and you’re experiencing any of the symptoms from above here’s what I recommend doing:

  • Stop using your gel products immediately and remove them completely from your nails
  • Go to the doctor and request an allergy panel 
  • Determine which ingredients you’re allergic to in the gel
  • There are some brands that leave out specific ingredients so you might be able to try these again as long as you are sure they don’t contain any ingredients you need to avoid! 

A note on HEMA!

HEMA is hydroxyethyl methacrylate and is a very commonly villanized ingredient in gel products. HEMA is a monomer that is used to polymerize the gel (aka cure it!) and it's used to help the gel adhere to your nails.

HEMA is a well known ingredient because it’s used in a bunch of things that you might interact with in daily life, and also dental/medical procedures that I mentioned above, and because of that, it’s the most well known ingredient and talked about more frequently than others

When HEMA is removed, another monomer must be put in its place so that the gel will cure. 

There are two parts to this that I've learned from my research, but I would suggest watching this YouTube video if you're interested in learning even more. 

One - HEMA is a monomer, so it's very small. It's also water soluble and can easily be absorbed into your skin when it's exposed to water and cause sensitivities or allergies. If the gel is left uncured on your nails, this means that every time you wash your hands or shower, it's possible that the uncured HEMA is leeching into your skin. Repeated overexposure can lead to a HEMA allergy. 

This is why I highly suggest investing in a quality lamp to avoid leaving any uncured gel on your nails. This is also why I don't think using low quality amazon gels on top of a higher quality base is such a good idea because it might 1) not cure fully due to the low quality formulation and/or 2) there is still a risk that you can get the prodcut on your skin during application. 

Two - Low quality brands are keeping their costs down generally by using a lot of HEMA in their gels to help it adhere and last longer on your nails. So just because your gels are lasting on your nails, doesn't mean it's a good quality / safe product to use all of the sudden. 

Brands with better quality formulations are either using more stable forms of HEMA, a smaller amount (aka it will be lower down on their ingredient list) or possibly a form of HEMA that's joined with another monomer making it larger and not as easily able to absorb into your skin. 

I’ve seen a lot of people think that using HEMA free gel makes it safer or a more certain way to avoid gel allergies but that’s simply not true at all. I’ve also gotten a bunch of comments from people who think they’ve developed a HEMA allergy from using their gel, but you might actually be allergic to something else in the product that isn’t the HEMA, which is why it’s so important to get an allergy test.

In general, HEMA is not a bad ingredient, it’s just a part of the formula. Of course, if you are allergic to it, you should avoid it. Also it’s important to look at the polish’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS) to make sure the HEMA (and the new monomer if it's not HEMA) levels are 35% or below, which is the threshold for safe use in gel. If you aren’t able to find this info from the brand you are looking at, RUN lol.

But there really is no need to avoid products that contain HEMA when you’re starting with gel if you don’t have a known sensitivity or allergy to it. You can just as easily develop an allergy to a HEMA free product as a product with HEMA if it’s used/applied incorrectly. 

I hope this blog post helped answer some of your questions about gel allergies and how to use gel safely. My top top top tips are always to prioritize education and high quality products for the safest and best looking/longest lasting results. 

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