Nail Biters: Are Gel Manicures Harmful to Your Health?

Why manicure lamps could be putting you at risk.Why manicure lamps could be putting you at risk.Recently, a few news outlets, including the Today Show and Good Morning America, ran segments that warned of the potential dangers of no-chip or gel manicures. As expected, the beauty industry quickly fired back. I was sent the following statement, intended for sharing on Facebook, blogs, or other social media outlets:

Gels have been used safely for decades. The latest generation of gels is safer and better than ever, however consumers should understand they are different than traditional nail polish. Furthermore, independent studies have shown that UV lamps are safe and the equivalent of only a couple of minutes exposure to sunlight. As always, nail professionals should follow manufacturers' instructions on use. For more information, visit
-- Professional Beauty Association, Nail Manufacturers Council on Safety

If you aren't familiar with gel or no-chip manicures, they are a type of artificial nail. They're nothing new in the beauty world, but they have become much more popular recently due to formula advances. Gel nails are now applied like regular nail polish, and then each coat must sit under a UV light to cure.

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The news outlets have brought two concerns to light. The first is that the UV light may increase your risk of skin cancer. The second pertains to the health of the nail plate.

Though the segments warn consumers of potential dangers of UV light exposure during a gel nail service, they do report that a link to cancer is not clear. In fact, The Journal of Investigative Dermatology conducted a recent study that concluded that the UV lamps used for drying nail polish do "not produce a clinically significant increased risk of developing skin cancer." For perspective, according the press release I received today, tanning beds contain 12 100-watt bulbs, and nail lamps contain as few as 2 to 4 9-watt bulbs.

Furthermore, when comparing the light emitted from a nail-curing device to phototherapy devices used in dermatologists' offices, researchers found "that a salon client would need approximately 250 years of weekly manicures that involve the use of UV nail lights to develop the same risk of exposure as just one round of phototherapy sessions," according to The Professional Beauty Association (PBA). When I asked nail technician Sara Moreno, of Pin Curls Salon in Chicago, she told me that she believes that exposure is far too limited to cause cancer. She administers the UV light for 5 minutes per gel manicure every two weeks using a smaller unit that does not require the entire hand to be exposed.

If you still have reservations, you can take the following precautions:
1.) Wear cotton gloves with the tips of the fingers cut off during the curing process.
2.) Apply sunscreen prior to UV exposure.

The second issue applies to the health of your nails. Gel nails must be removed by soaking the nail in acetone. Acetone is a very drying substance, and the tools used to remove the nail may damage the nail plate. However, the PBA asserts that if the manufacturer's instructions are followed and metal implements are not used to remove the gel, your nails shouldn't suffer. It is advised to remove nails promptly after two weeks.

All artificial nails run the risk of bacterial growth beneath the nail. This is also the case with acrylic nails and no-light gel nails. I would advise all manicure clients to make sure their nail technician is practicing proper sanitation and tool disinfection procedures.

-By Sonya Lee Benham
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