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Could Gel Manicures Increase Your Risk for Skin Cancer?

Jun 04, 2015

Gel manicures are increasingly popular because they come in attractive colors, dry fast and last longer than traditional manicures. But some doctors say that type of manicure could pose a danger to your health.

It's not the polish itself that has doctors concerned; it's the method used to dry the gel.

Ultraviolet lights like the ones found in tanning beds are used to harden a gel on top of the nail. Repeated exposure to UV light is a risk factor for skin cancer.

"Whenever UV light is used there is some increased risk for skin cancer," says Erika Summers, MD, a dermatologist at University of Utah Health. UV damage can also cause wrinkles, brown spots and other early signs of aging.

To reduce your risk, Summers recommends going to a salon that uses LED lights instead of ultraviolet. LED lights produce less harmful rays and can cure manicures in under a minute, which leads to less exposure.

Additionally, Summers says, "patients can consider putting sunscreen on their hands prior to the treatment."

Summers is also concerned about the method of removal. "Acetone that is used to soak the nail off can be very drying and irritating to the skin," she says. Be sure to soak only the nails, not your entire hand or fingers, in acetone when getting gel manicures removed.

"I do see many patients who come in and have been peeling the gel off their own nails by picking at it," she says. That can cause onycholysis, or separation of the nail from the skin.