three hands with nice nails hold onto bright yellow suns

To Gel, Or Not To Gel

“You can’t buy happiness but you can get a mani and a pedi and that’s kind of the same thing.”

“Life is too short to have naked nails.”

“When the going gets tough, the tough get a pedicure.”

“Keep calm and have your nails done.”

Do I need a manicure to be happy?

I’m seeing a theme here. Apparently if I don’t have my nails done, I’m not happy, I’m wasting my life, and I’m not calm. Actually I love to get my nails done, but unfortunately, I am super hard on manicures. They don’t last long at all for me (although pedicures seem to last forever!), maybe due to my loving to work in my flowerbeds but my dislike of working in them with gloves on. Or maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a neat freak and am frequently cleaning something at home. Or maybe it’s tapping a keyboard or texting throughout the day. Whatever the reason, manicures don’t have a long life with me.

The magic of a gel manicure

That was, until I got a gel manicure - and what a difference that made! I could actually keep polish on my fingernails for 2-3 weeks at a time. I love gel manicures. So I found it disturbing to come across articles every so often about how gel manicures might be causing skin cancer. What??? I don’t want to hear that. At first, I ignored the articles but decided that wasn’t doing me any good, so I thought I should at least do some research to see if there’s anything behind the theory about gel manicures and skin cancer.

And......there may be. Much like almost any subject you research online, though, there are varying opinions.

The risks

The potential issue with gel nails is the ultraviolet lamp that is used to “set” the nail color. The lamps used emit UVA waves, which penetrate the skin and can possibly cause premature aging and/or skin cancer. (UVA waves are also what tanning beds emit.)

According to Dr. Susan Swetter, professor of dermatology at Stanford University Medical Center, “the amount of limited exposure during a gel manicure is unlikely to increase the risk of skin cancer significantly.”

It adds up

On the other hand (no pun intended), a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that while the UV exposure from the lamps is low, in less than 10 minutes a person’s hands receive an energy dose equivalent to the day-long recommended limit for outdoor workers. The UV dose received during a gel manicure is brief, but intense, which over time can add up and cause skin cancer and/or damage to the skin. Some salons use UV lamps while other salons use LED lamps. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the LED lamps are safer, however. Even though the cure times under an LED lamp are shorter, the UVA rays emitted by an LED lamp are more intense.

Some solutions

If you can’t live without gel nails but want to help prevent skin cancer and premature aging, wearing fingerless gloves with a higher UPF during your manicures is advisable. I found some online at Coolibar that have UPF 50. However, if you have UV sensitivity or are taking medication that makes you more sensitive to UV light, you may want to skip gel nails.

Better to be safe

I didn’t see anything in my research that was a huge red flag and would make me never again want to get gel nails, but I saw enough to make me hesitate from constantly having gel nails. Just to be safe, I think I’ll save getting them for special occasions or for vacations. After all, “Happiness is....getting your nails done.”

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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