Are Gel Manicures Safe for Skin? A Derm Weighs in

March 16, 2022
Margaret Fisher
By: Margaret Fisher | by L'Oréal
Are Gel Manicures Safe for Skin? A Derm Weighs in

Can you remember the days before gel manicures, when you’d drop a pretty penny to get your nails done, only to experience your polish chipping so soon afterwards? When first introduced, gel manicures changed the manicure game, and was able to keep polish from chipping for up to two weeks. Their popularity has lasted over the years, and it’s safe to say fans of gel manicures wouldn’t want to part with them. Benefits aside, many people wonder: is curing your hands under UV light during a gel manicure safe?

Considering how UV damage from tanning beds can be quite serious, it raises the question of whether or not UV lamps used to cure gel polish are safe. We spoke with board-certified dermatologist, and consultant, Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali to find out if UV lamps used to cure gel polish at nail salons can cause skin damage on your hands.

Can UV Lamps Damage Your Skin?

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According to Dr. Bhanusali, there may be some risk of damaging the skin on your hands if you get weekly or monthly gel manicures that necessitate the use of UV light curing. He says there’s always a risk when exposed to UVA, however, “it’s likely very small.” Among the potential risks of continued unprotected exposure to UVA are cancer and increased photoaging, which can result in premature wrinkles and sun spots. The American Academy of Dermatology says that the amount of UV damage caused by UV lamps may be of greater concern to those who are highly sensitive to UV light. Additionally, Dr. Bhanusali shares that studies have shown the intensity of light to vary from lamp to lamp, meaning the significance of the damage could be salon-dependent.

However, due to the small surface area which will be exposed to the UV light, Dr. Bhanusali says that the damage that may occur is likely to be much less than what one might receive from using a tanning bed or experiencing direct sun exposure.

How Can You Make Gel Manicures More Safe?

are gel manicures safe, uv nail lamps safety

Good news, you don’t necessarily have to give up gel manicures. According to the AAD, when gel manicures are performed with proper UV protection, you can enjoy their benefits. Follow these tips to help protect your skin during your next gel manicure:

1. Don’t unnecessarily expose your hands to the UV light. It’s easy to assume that curing your polish for longer than directed will result in a longer-lasting manicure but this is not the case.   The AAD suggests only using the curing lamp for the correct (i.e. recommended) amount of time, which may vary depending on the polish you use.

2. Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen beforehand. Just as you would apply broad-spectrum sunscreen before heading outside, Dr. Bhanusali encourages his patients to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to the skin on the back of their hands prior to getting a gel manicure. The AAD specifies that you should apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF factor of 30 or higher at least 15 minutes before the gel manicure. However, you don’t need to apply the broad-spectrum sunscreen directly to your nails, just the skin surrounding them. According to the AAD, the sunscreen may interfere with gel polish application.  

3. Wear protective gloves. If you’ve ever been handed a pair of fingerless gloves by your manicurist, it isn’t a fashion statement—it’s a safety measure. Salons will sometimes have protective gloves that you can wear when using the UV lamps to help protect your skin from exposure to UVA. Since not every salon has fingerless gloves on hand, the AAD shares that you can purchase your own gloves with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor of 50 or cut the fingertips off of a pair of dark gloves. 

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