Hold Up, Are Gel Manicures Going To Give Me Skin Cancer?!

There may be poison in your polish – but don’t bite your nails in despair just yet

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Manicures and melanoma: The problem with polish

Alas, it is my duty to report that manicures may be promoting premature skin ageing and even cancer (cue the sound of sad trombones).

This might seem like baloney at first blush – most indoor salons are sheltered from the sun, after all – but think of all that time thrusting your fingers under the unforgiving flare of a UV lamp when setting your gel nails … doesn’t sound so good now, does it?

Most damning is this particular doozy of a rhetorical question posed by a fellow beauty journo: "We receive so many warnings about the dangers of sunbeds, but they're no different than the UV lighting we use to set our gel manicures." ‘Nuff said, really.


Think LED lamps are safer? Think again

In any case, Sherlock Holmes (AKA yours truly) has mosied about town and can confirm that most Singaporean salons have replaced obsolete UV lamps with LED ones – a “re-branding” exercise that should, on the surface of things, assuage our anxieties about contracting cancer, right?

Not so. Take it from New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Dana Stern, who says that LED lamps may actually be even more horrifically harmful to your hands. “When the public hears ‘LED’, they assume it's like the LED lights we use in our homes,” explains Dr Dana. “Many people mistakenly believe these lamps do not use UVA to cure, when in fact they use higher intensities of UVA wavelengths in order to achieve the shorter curing times.” Translation: It’s quicker, but also deadlier. Gulp.


How to protect your paws

Of course, this needn’t be the final nail in the coffin for your weekly mani and pedi. Presenting some “handy” tips for salon safety – last pun, I swear.

1. Always, always apply sunscreen on your hands
If you know you’ll be rocking gel extensions, always prep by slathering on a high SPF body cream – and this is best practice for everyone, nail art addict or otherwise.

2. Hands off every three months
I like scheduling makeup-free days every week or so, and this seems to be a good idea for gel and acrylic manicures as well. Taking off the acrylic veneer will allow the nail bed to rest and rejuvenate. Can’t bear going bare? Just use good ol' DIY polish during the lull period.

3. Be anal and ask for the bottles
There’s no shame in being safe, so always scrutinise the stuff your technicians are potentially tainting you with. Even better, do your own shopping and tote along bottles from tried-and-tested brands that bill themselves as being free of beauty baddies like toluene and formaldehyde.

Bottomline? In the immortal words of that ‘90s smash hit: “If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it”.

In other words: Slather on a generous glob of sunscreen and read the labels whenever you’re at the salon, but go ahead and live a little. Do all that and you’ll be in safe hands, so to speak – with a killer set of talons to boot!

For more on beauty, head here. Or check out 5 Top Coats To Make Your Manicure Last Longer or Quartz Nails Are The Biggest New Manicure Trend.

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