What are the Dangers of Ultraviolet Light in a Gel Manicure?

The cost of gel manicures may include your health.

Photo: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

You’ve heard about the dangers of ultraviolet lights, so you try to stay out of the sun and have traded fake baking at the tanning salon for a healthy dusting of bronzer. Even if you’re just making a quick trip to the nail salon for your beloved gel manicure, you slather your face in sunscreen and wear your favorite sunnies. Think you’re a dermatologist’s dream? Better think again. Since most gel manicures require a UV light between coats and at the end of the manicure to set the gel, you are essentially placing your hands under a miniature tanning bed. Nail salons may be a 30-minute retreat from the real world – but that’s no excuse to ignore your skin health.

In Pursuit of Everlasting Manicure

Manicures are a fleeting indulgence – you may very well smudge your professional polished nails reaching for your credit card to pay your manicurist or chip your polish driving home from the nail salon. While there is no permanent manicure, your closest bet is a gel manicure that keeps your nails shiny and chip-free for two or more weeks. Busy women who insist on the perfectly polished nails have gravitated to this nail care trend. Nail salons are happy to offer gel manicures as they are more expensive than traditional manicures and must be removed at the nail salon – a service that can involve a extra fee. In 2010, Nails magazine reported in its industry outlook report that about 64 percent of nail salons offered gel manicures.

Nail in Coffin?

A gel manicure might give you enviable nails, but is it worth it? The UV light used during gel manicures to cure the nails emits similar amounts of radiation per square meter as harmful tanning beds. Like tanning beds, the UV lights used to dry gel manicures emit UVA rays, which are especially harmful because they deeply penetrate the skin. In a peer-reviewed medical journal, dermatologists reported that two women with no family history of skin cancer developed skin cancer on their hands most likely due to their exposure to UV lights at the nail salon. Although the dermatologists’ report admits that larger studies are required to make a conclusive link between skin cancer on the hands and exposure to nail salon UV lights, you should not ignore the potential risk. Other dangers of nail salon UV lights include accelerating the photaging process on your hands -- this means wrinkles, age spots and a loss of skin elasticity. With the help of your dermatologist, decide whether gel manicures are worth the risk.

Take Safety into Your Own Hands

The nail salon should be a pampering oasis chock full of girly gossip and trashy tabloids, not a cesspool of fungus and germs. Whether you get a gel manicure or a traditional manicure from your local nail salon, keep your eyes open for safety red flags. Your nail salon should post its license and its individual nail technician’s licenses in plain view. Your manicurist should always be able to explain the products she uses on your nails and such products should not be stored in unmarked bottles. Speak up if anything is painful or seems unusual – you are your own best health advocate. Ensure that shared nail tools are properly sterilized – or better yet, bring your own set of tools to the nail salon.

A Girl Needs Options

If you decide to get a gel manicure, there are ways to minimize your risk. Visit a nail salon that uses LED lamps rather than UV dryers. LED lamps dry fingernails faster than UV dryers – 30 seconds rather than two minutes – so your exposure to harmful rays is reduced. Or, find a salon that uses no-light gels that are cured by placing the nails into water or applying a gel activator onto the nails.

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