How Nail Salons Are Reacting to the New UV Gel Manicure Skin Cancer Warning

Earlier this week the Skin Cancer Foundation issued a statement about the safety of UV gel manicures. Essentially they said the procedure--which involves sticking your hands under a UV light to set the polish--has a low, yet "not insignificant" risk for skin cancer, and recommended applying sunscreen before you get one of these manis. Up until this point, there had been inconclusive safety evidence for the procedure, but now that an official medical organization has weighed in, how (if at all) is the nail industry going to change its practices?
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Earlier this week the Skin Cancer Foundation issued a statement about the safety of UV gel manicures. Essentially they said the procedure--which involves sticking your hands under a UV light to set the polish--has a low, yet "not insignificant" risk for skin cancer, and recommended applying sunscreen before you get one of these manis. Up until this point, there had been inconclusive safety evidence for the procedure, but now that an official medical organization has weighed in, how (if at all) is the nail industry going to change its practices?
Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

Earlier this week the Skin Cancer Foundation issued a statement about the safety of UV gel manicures. Essentially they said the procedure--which involves sticking your hands under a UV light to set the polish--has a low, yet "not insignificant" risk for skin cancer, and recommended applying sunscreen before you get one of these manis. Up until this point, there had been inconclusive safety evidence for the procedure, but now that an official medical organization has weighed in, how (if at all) is the nail industry going to change its practices?

"Personally, I don’t think we’ll see an increase [in the number of] women applying sunscreen on their hands before putting them in the UV lights. Smart salons will likely offer sunscreen to clients who are concerned, but we don’t feel like it’s a necessity," Hannah Lee, the associate publisher and editor of Nails Magazine, an industry publication, told us. "From what I’ve seen on social media and what I’ve heard from talking to industry sources, salon owners and nail technicians are upset that the mainstream media keeps picking up this negative story that is aimed at scaring salon clients away from gel services without presenting all the facts."

To be fair, the chance of getting skin cancer from a UV gel polish is really low compared to say, tanning beds. A scientific medical study presented in December 2012 confirmed this. But since there is still a small risk, the Skin Cancer Foundation undoubtedly felt that they should make a statement about it.

Last weekend I walked into my local nail salon for a regular mani and asked the manager if she had heard about the new recommendation and if they were going to start offering sunscreen to clients. The question was met with a blank stare--the information obviously hasn't reached the local salons yet. Paul Frisco, a manager at Avanda Aveda Spa in NYC (where they offer CND Shellac manicures), told me that he hadn't heard about the recommendations from the Skin Cancer Foundation either, and that no client had brought it up so far. But he said they would definitely discuss the issue with staff. Runway nail maven and salon owner Jin Soon Choi is being more proactive, though. “I think it is a fantastic idea for salons to use sunscreen before treatments," she told us. "As a matter of fact, I've just started using it in my salons, since we provide Shellac manicures."

To clarify, not all gel manicures fall under the warning umbrella. CND Shellac and OPI's Axxium gel polish are first-generation gel polishes and will only "cure" under UV light. Newer brands like Gelish and OPI's GelColor use LED lamps rather than the UV lamps that older gel polishes require. The advantage of LED--as several salon owners told us--besides having no skin cancer risk, is that it will cure nails in 30 seconds compared to two minutes for UV formulas.

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But CND's Shellac is in a ton of salons, and salon owners have obviously invested a lot in the UV equipment. When asked if it would change its policies or recommendations at all in light of the Skin Cancer Foundation's recommendation, a CND rep sent us the following statement:

Just as one should regularly apply sunscreen to the face, CND recommends doing the same on hands every day. CND's commitment to the consumer is to provide the best products for healthy, beautiful nails. All CND products, including CND Shellac, have been thoroughly researched and tested for safety through proper application and removal. We will continue to work internally and with third parties to ensure that correct and accurate information is available to media and consumers.

Many nail salons, like the cult-favorite Valley Nails (a salon recognized as a pioneer in gel nail design) and higher-end Lali Lali in NYC, are using only LED formulas now. And all the new at-home gel nail systems--like Sally Hansen and Red Carpet Manicure--use LED lights. If the warnings about skin cancer risk continue to gain traction, the industry may start fazing out UV lamps altogether, since an arguably better--and safer--option already exists.

So basically, don't panic--it doesn't seem like the nail industry is! Wear your sunscreen, choose an LED service, or just stick to plain old manicures.