Popular gel manicures linked to risk of premature aging and skin cancer

A woman getting a manicure.
A woman getting a manicure. Photo credit: Reuters/Alexandre Meneghini

Gel manicures have surged in popularity due to their instant dryness, durability and resilience compared to acrylics or regular nail polish. However, there's always too much of a good thing.

Dermatologists have identified a number of potential risks associated with the manicure, stemming from the use of UV lamps to set the gel. As the lamps emit ultraviolet rays, customers are exposed to UVA radiation. 

Unlike UVB, which gives you sunburn, UVA radiation damages the skin's DNA and increases the risk of premature aging and skin cancer.

Although studies on gel manicures are scarce, dermatologists recommend gel devotees educate themselves on the potential risks of cumulative damage.

"There's enough [evidence] for us to recommend to patients to protect their skin," US dermatologist Dr Chris Adigun told the Daily Mail.

Gel treatments are not a standardised procedure across salons, making the real-life risk factor hard to determine.

Adigun believes gel fans could be exposed to higher doses of UVA than expected, as there is no regulation on how long the client is exposed to the lamp.

For all the gel fanatics out there, there is a silver lining - getting skin cancer from gel manicures alone is very unlikely. Dermatologists agree that going out in the sun without any protection and tanning bed usage are far more risky.

Moreover, studies on skin cancer are based on sun exposure - not UV lamps over the hands.

Genetics, pigmentation and family cancer history could all play a part in determing at-risk individuals, according to the Daily Mail.

Adigun recommends that those in the manicure market take note of their medication. A few types of antibiotics or chemotherapy can make individuals more susceptible to UVA rays.

Some ways to minimise UVA exposure include making the most of gel's durability. Gel nails are designed to last for several weeks, so there is no reason to indulge more than once a month.

Some experts recommend taking a manicure detox at least every two months, allowing the natural nails to breathe and giving the hands a break.

Other dermatologists recommend rubbing your hands with a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB, SPF 30+ sunscreen prior to the setting process.

Basically, if you're following the advice of experts and using sunblock everyday - you've got no reason to worry.