You are using an older version of Internet Explorer that is not supported on this site. Please upgrade for the best experience.

The Dangers of Gel Manicures

June 13, 2016
Gel manicure

The dangers of skin cancer aren't just from prolonged exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. A new beauty trend may be putting women at an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

Gel manicures are gaining popularity. Many women enjoy its long-lasting effects, but it could pose a danger to your health. However, it’s not the nail polish that has doctors concerned. Ultraviolet lights, like the ones found in tanning beds, are used to harden and set the polish.

"Many people know about the increased risk of skin cancer from lying in a tanning bed. However, it’s not common knowledge that the light that processes a gel manicure is essentially a hand size tanning bed, complete with ultra violet radiation,” said Dr. Wilson Mertens, medical director of cancer services at the Baystate Regional Cancer Program. “There is a definite link between indoor tanning bed use and an increased risk of melanoma from the ultraviolet radiation given, regardless of their size,” said Dr. Mertens.

In fact, in 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a proposed order that would reclassify ultraviolet tanning devices as “moderate risk devices (class II)” requiring warning labels on them, as well as on all promotional materials, alerting young and old alike to the dangers associated with their use.”

While the risk is considered moderate, repeated exposure to UV lights is a risk factor for skin cancer. “Whenever a UV light is used there is some increased risk for skin cancer,” says Dr. Mertens. “UV damage can also cause wrinkles, brown spots and other early signs of aging. Additional concentrated UV light to the thin skin of the back of the hands, which already receive UV light radiation over a lifetime, is very likely to accelerate the development and worsen these changes.”

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer – the most common of all cancers – accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the U.S. More than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed each year. Some 76,600 cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will be diagnosed this year. It accounts for more than 9,000 of the over 12,000 skin cancer deaths each year.

According to the Baystate oncologist, early detection is one of the best ways to cure melanoma. It’s recommended that people should examine their skin from head-to-toe every month and see their physician yearly for a skin exam. Look for changes in moles – those that are larger than normal, variable in color, and have irregular borders – as well as warts and other blemishes on the skin, especially those parts exposed to the sun.

To reduce your risk, Mertens recommends applying a sun screen that’s SPF 30 or higher on your hands before your gel manicure. Patients can also go to a salon that uses LED lights instead of ultraviolet. LED lights produce less harmful rays and can cure manicures in under a minute. Because they work fast, there is less exposure.

Dr. Mertens and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend the following tips to help protect yourself from harmful UV rays, whether it’ during a gel manicure or while enjoying some fun in the sun:

  1. Seek shade: Try to stay out of the direct sunlight, especially between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when UV light is most intense.
  2. Cover up:  Protect yourself from getting a sun burn, be sure to cover exposed skin with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  3. Use sunscreen: Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF of 15 or higher daily. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  4. Apply and reapply:  Apply 1 oz. or 2 tablespoons of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.