The way gel manicures work is that the color is painted on and then “cured” underneath a UV light. This process is repeated several times per hand–it’s what makes the polish ultimately so hard and long-lasting. So is it bad for your skin to have your hands under a UV light?
Well, maybe. If we know anything from years of experience with commercial tanning beds, it’s that UV light exposure is definitely not good for you. And there’s some direct evidence that the UV light exposure you get from nail procedures is potentially dangerous. Dr. Heidi Waldorf, Director of Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, told us, “There are two reported cases of skin cancers of the hand that were associated with regular UV nail dryer use.” A study commissioned by CND (yes, the nail polish company that makes the gel polish, Shellac) refuted the results of that study, but Dr. Waldorf still recommends taking precautions. “The problem is that UV damage is cumulative. So if you use the UV dryers now and again, it may not add up to much,” she said. “However, if you start with them on a regular basis in your 20′s or 30′s and continue, the risk will be higher.”
To avoid any unnecessary exposure, Dr. Waldorf recommends you apply a water resistant sunscreen before you go for a treatment. “However, remember that it will not be fully effective–part of the gel manicure process is cleaning the nails and therefore the skin around the nails and the fingers with acetone,” she told us. “If they have to remove the prior gel manicure, fingers are soaked in acetone for at least 10 minutes. No sun protective product will last through it.”
Which brings us to our next issue–what your nails look like when the gel polish comes off.