Safety of Gel Manicures

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I have been so swamped with wards (in my 7th straight week right now!) that I haven’t had any time to post! Apologies to my readers and I promise that when I start my dermatology residency in June I should have more time to blog.

Today’s post is one near and dear to my heart because who doesn’t love a good gel mani? It’s a scratch-free manicure with no drying time, and it stays intact for weeks. I think of it as the mani for the busy working gal. But is the UV lamp used to dry and set the gel actually harmful?

The UV light emitted from nail lamps is mainly UV-A, which is the same type emitted from tanning beds (and we all know that tanning beds have been linked to increased DNA damage and propensity to skin cancer). Women started becoming concerned after a case report was published in 2009 documenting the development of skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) on the hands of two women who were not at risk for such diseases. These women had no previous family or personal history of skin cancer, nor did they have excessive sun exposure, but they both had extensive exposure to nail light. One patient had a 15-year history of twice-monthly UV nail light exposure and the other had 8 exposures to UV nail light over the past year. However, these cases were anecdotal in nature, and as any good scientist knows, association does not equal causation.

A quick search into the literature yielded a few published scientific studies looking at whether or not UV lamps for gel manis are actually dangerous to our health. One study compared the amount of UV exposure during a manicure (estimated at 10 minutes per mani) to UV exposure during phototherapy, which is a widely accepted treatment in the dermatologic community for various autoimmune diseases like severe psoriasis or vitiligo. The authors found that you would have to have over 250 years of weekly UV light manicures to get the same dosage that a patient gets at just one phototherapy session, which is low risk to begin with.

Another study calculated how many women would need UV light exposures every 3 weeks to get 1 case of skin cancer. They found that typically, tens to hundreds of thousands of women would need regular UVA nail lamp exposure in order for one person to develop skin cancer on the back of her hand from her manicure. That is … pretty darn impressive.

Lastly, a study published last July looking at various nail salons found that there is a lot of vscocam-photo-1variation in the amount of UV-A emitted by different lamps in each salon. Not surprisingly, the damage is cumulative but the overall risk still remains pretty small. Dr. Lyndsay Shipp, one of the lead authors, was quoted in the NYTimes saying, “I do use them every couple of months…you can get that amount of exposure when driving down the road in your car.”

So, my take home points are that though there is a small risk in the UVA emitted from gel mani lamps, that risk is very small. If you want to be extra careful about preventing sun damage and potential skin cancer risk, I would recommend using sunscreen on your hands pre-treatment or wearing gloves with the fingertips cut off to protect your skin. Or take a break from the salon and do your nails at home, skipping the UV exposure and saving yourself some cash (tutorial on one of my favorite DIY nails here)!

What do you think? Are you a big fan of gel manis and do you think they’re risky? I’d love to hear from you!

3 Comments on Safety of Gel Manicures

    • Joyce
      May 13, 2015 at 11:18 am (2 years ago)

      Teresa, thank you so much for sharing the NYTimes article with me. What a heartbreaking story of the health risks these women go through to make a living. I had no idea that there were “green” nail salons in California that were more safe for the workers (and probably for the customers too; sometimes, the fumes from all the chemicals are overpowering); I’m definitely going to see which ones are “green” in my area and support those.

      Reply
  1. lora
    June 4, 2015 at 1:01 am (2 years ago)

    great tips!

    Reply

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