A board-certified dermatologist said doctors still don’t know the risks of UV lamps used for gel manicures.
Gel manicures only expose your skin to UV rays for a short time, but frequent exposure can have long-term consequences.
The dermatologist said to wear sunscreen and fingerless gloves to limit exposure to UV rays.
Bring sunscreen to the salon, suggests one of the country’s leading dermatologists.
Dr. Melissa Piliang, a board-certified dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, said the ultraviolet (UV) lamps used to dry gel manicures could pose a small, but existing, threat to skin health.
Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun and devices like tanning beds is known to damage skin cells, which can lead to an increased risk of cancer and premature aging.
Nail technicians use UV light to dry gel manicures, during which a type of acrylic bonds to the nail so the polish stays on longer.
Salon-goers place their hand under a UV lamp for about 10 minutes, causing a chemical reaction that causes the gel polish to harden. Normal manicurists only use cool air from a fan to dry the polish.
Given the rise of this type of manicure over the past two decades, researchers investigated whether exposure to UV rays during a salon visit poses a health risk.
While researchers aren’t yet sure what the risk of gel manicures is for your skin, Piliang said it would be wise be proactive and still take steps to protect yourself. The doctor wears sunscreen and fingerless gloves whenever he goes to the salon for a gel manicure—and he only goes for special occasions—and suggests you do the same.
“The ultraviolet light from those little machines in the beauty salon produce UV light just like the sun and tanning beds, and thus could potentially increase your risk of skin cancer,” Piliang told Insider.
Researchers don’t know how risky UV lamps are
A new study published earlier this month in Nature found that UV lamps used for gel manicures can damage skin cell DNA after 20 minutes of exposure for three consecutive days.
Piliang said she wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings, as any kind of UV exposure is known to damage skin cells. But the study didn’t take into account the various layers of skin that protect the body from UV damage.
Although the study was the first to show that gel manicure lamps can damage skin cells, the researchers told the Washington Post they can’t conclude that UV light from manicures can lead to cancer based on the data. Similarly, an earlier study published in JAMA in 2014 suggested that the carcinogenic risk of UV lamps is too small to stop people from getting their nails done.
But UV exposure from repeated gel manicures can add up. Piliang said the carcinogenic effects of UV exposure are long-term, meaning exposure during gel manicures (and from the sun), even when you’re a teenager, could carry you through to adulthood. .
“I would go as seldom as possible,” Piliang said. “If you want to do it for a special occasion, like a wedding once or twice a year, it’s probably a lot less risky than going every other week.”
Consider bringing fingerless gloves and sunscreen to the nail salon
Applying sunscreen to your fingers and hands can help protect them from UV exposure.
In choosing which sunscreen to apply, Piliang said he was aware of the two types available: one is a chemical barrier that absorbs light from the sun and another, commonly called mineral sunscreen, is a physical barrier. containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which prevents the sun from reaching the skin.
Physical barrier sunscreens take a shorter time to take effect, so they are a better option for this application. Salon-goers can ask the technician to apply lotion before painting their nails, the dermatologist said.
Another option is to wear fingerless gloves with UV protection, which “significantly decrease” the amount of skin exposed to UV light. Amazon sells these gloves for around $30.
The same precautions should be taken by anyone doing a DIY gel manicure. At-home UV lamps are a popular and cheaper option than visiting a salon, but Piliang said she would expect UV light exposure to be similar to that from a salon lamp.
The same goes for manicurists using LED lights, which emit smaller amounts of UV but could still pose a threat.
“For people doing manicures with LED lights, I’d recommend the same precautions: UV gloves and sunscreen,” she said.
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