Are Gel Manicures Putting Your Health At Risk?

The Truth About Gel Manicures

Sure, we love celebrities' manicures (who doesn't love some good Mani Cam action?) and fancying up our own phalanges, but it made us think about the gel nail polishes we use when we get our nails done. What are we actually putting on our nails and what are the risks of getting a manicure every few weeks? Here's what we've learned.

1. Drying Your Nails Under UV Light Might Raise Cancer Risk

uv lights

Some evidence suggests that the UV lights used to dry regular or gel polish can increase your chances of getting skin cancer on your hands. However, there is also research saying the exact opposite: that UV light exposure during manicures won't cause cancer, and that you'd need to have 250 years worth of weekly manicures to have an increased risk, Cosmopolitan points out.

Solution: If you're concerned about the UV exposure, make sure to apply sunscreen to your hands 15 minutes before heading to the nail salon. Also, try to find a salon that uses LED lights, which carry less of a risk then UV lights because you don't have to put your hands under them for as long.

2. Some Nail Polishes May Contain Cancer-Causing Chemicals

nail polish

This time, the culprit is butylated hydroxyanisol (BHA), a known cancer-causing agent. The National Toxicology Program lists it as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." Other chemicals to watch out for include the so-called "Toxic Trio": dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde.

It's found in only some gel nail polishes, so just be on the lookout. If you see BHA on the label, proceed to the next polish.

3. You Could Face Health Risks If You Have An Unskilled Technician


ABC News reported on the case of a woman who may have developed nerve damage due to a botched gel manicure. Gel manicures involve filing down the nail, but when this woman had her nails filed down, the file slipped and damaged her skin instead. When her fingers were subsequently dipped into the gel manicure powder chemicals, the chemicals likely went into the damaged part of the skin, leading to the nerve damage, according to ABC News.

Solution: Go to a trusted nail technician with a lot of experience, and you should be able to avoid unskilled workers who might not be doing your manicure by the book.

4. It's Easy To Get An Infection

nail file

After all, think about how easy it is to get nicked in a nail salon, considering all the cutting, scrubbing and buffing of nails that goes on there. And of course, many health experts warn against having your cuticles cut in a nail salon because it raises the risk of infection.

Solution: Resist shaving your legs right before your appointment, and bring your own nail file and buffing tools (though of course this requires you making sure your own supplies are clean in the first place). Also, make sure your salon cleans its equipment after every use.

5. Don't Peel Your Nail Polish Off

peeling nail polish

For those too lazy to get to a salon to take their gel nail polish off (who isn't guilty of this?) it's easy to just peel your nail polish off in the shower. Not only is this harmful to your nail plate, but so is taking it off the gel polish using acetone. In a Huffington Post blog, Dr. Susan Taylor wrote that using acetone "will cause your nail to become brittle and peel."

Solution: Chipping or peeling your gel nail polish weakens nails, possibly leaving it susceptible to infection. Renowned nail artist and go-to manicurist for celebs, Jin Soon Choi, says "using acetone should be used as a last resort," as it is a "harsh chemical." If your salon uses the chemical, Soon also advises customers to "wash your hands after handling acetone and moisturize your hands and nails."

cool nails

Other helpful tips? Make sure to allow enough time for your nails to breath between manicures, and make sure to keep your cuticles and hands moisturized. Did we leave anything out? Let us know in the comments below!

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