Are Gel Manicures Safe?

Preventive Service, Skin Steward Health Care

Gel manicures have grown in popularity over the last decade. Long-lasting nail color that offers no chipping and a shiny finish has made these manicures a hit with teens to adults. But can having a gel manicure increase someone’s risk for skin cancer?

Over the years, questions have arisen about the safety of the UV and LED light boxes used to cure the nail polish during a gel manicure. These light boxes emit ultraviolet (UVA) radiation, which is associated with a higher risk of skin cancer. Additionally, long-term exposure to UV light lamps may have the potential to increase UV-induced skin aging on someone’s hands.

According to a 2014 study in JAMA Dermatology, it was discovered that the level of UVA exposure associated with a gel manicure every two weeks probably isn’t high enough to increase the risk of skin cancer significantly.

Because the level of risk depends on the frequency someone has gel manicures, it’s best not to have them more than twice a month, and the most effective step to lessen the exposure of UVA radiation is to have regular manicures.

But if it’s too hard to break up with your love of gel manicures, there are additional steps you can take to protect the skin on the hands, including:

  • Applying a waterproof broad-spectrum sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher, on your hands before your manicure.
  • Cover your hands during a gel manicure by wearing gloves that have a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating. Cut the tips off, and you’re good to go.
  • Not having a gel manicure if you are taking certain medications that may increase your sensitivity to UV light. These include some types of antibiotics, such as doxycycline.

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*Source: Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, www.health.harvard.edu