Can Drying Gel Polish With an LED Light Be Harmful?

LED-curing your gels is a low-risk nail option.

Photo: George Doyle/Valueline/Getty Images

If you're hitting the salon for the latest nail treatment, you'll probably be slipping your digits under a light lamp to cure a set of gels. LED lamps are a specific type of UV lamp designed to cure LED-activated gels in a fraction of the time of traditional lamps. Despite the efficiency, some experts are raising skeptical brows at the safety of LED lamps, so before you hit the lights, do a little safety research

LED Lowdown

When rumors start swirling about the risks associated with curing gel nails, most concerns discuss UV lamps as opposed to LED lamps. Before you seek comfort in the distinction, understand that LED lights are a type of ultraviolet, or UV, light. The term "UV" light simply refers to light waves that occur in the ultraviolet spectrum, wavelengths just barely out of the range of visible light. The difference between LED lamps and UV lamps is in the type of bulb rather than the wavelength: LED lamps use light-emitting diodes and UV lamps use compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs. Both lamps emit light in the UV spectrum, though CFL lamps tend to have a broader wavelength range than LED lamps.

Cancer Claims

Much of the fear surrounding the use of LED lamps for curing gel nails comes from the link between UV exposure and skin cancer. Though hitting an LED dryer isn't the same as lounging at the beach for five hours, some scientists think the link holds water. In 2009, a team of researchers published a report in Archives of Dermatology of two women who developed skin cancer on their hands after undergoing regular trips to the salon for gel nails, including time under a UV lamp. The report is bad news for gel fanatics, but nail techs are skeptical. The report doesn't distinguish between CFL and LED lamps, and even the researchers concluded that more studies need to be conducted before any firm conclusions can be made. A followup report determined that curing time under UV lights is about the same as spending less than three additional minutes outside in the sunlight, hardly enough to draw any significant conclusions.

Peripheral Risks

Though skin cancer seems to be the concern on the forefront of most minds, other less serious concerns are also on the manicure table. One consideration when you're using an LED lamp is the impact on your vision. Under normal circumstances, looking at an LED lamp won't cause any issues, but if for some reason you're gazing at the lights themselves for more than a minute or so, you risk damage to your retina. This is mostly a concern for nail techs who might be looking at the light box if they suspect a problem with a bulb. If you're going to go DIY on repairs for your LED lamp, don't look into the light for more than a minute at a time.

Harm Reduction

Experts suspect the health risk of using LED lamps to cure nails is relatively low, especially if you leave the treatments to the hands of professionals. If you are still worried about what the lamps might mean for your health, keep your trips to the salon to a minimum; extend the life of your gels by treating your nails gently and you won't need to hit the lamp as often. During treatments, cover the tops of your hands with a white cloth to limit the amount of skin exposed to the UV light. You can also wear sunscreen during your visits, but most nail techs will ask you to wash your hands beforehand to make sure they're working with a clean surface.

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