uv gel manicure safety

UV Gel Manicures Are Safe? Data Suggests Fears Are Way Overstated

When a few articles popped up last week examining UV gel manicure risks, those of us who swear by the amazing manicure technology reacted with a mix of dismay and a kind of, “well, at least if something happens to me, my nails will look fly” sort of attitude.

Full disclosure, I happen to love UV gel manicures. I hadn’t ever read or heard about them before I saw the poster at the nail salon, and went into my first UV gel manicure (which was the superior CND Shellac version) not knowing what to expect. Needless to say, my entire view of manicures was transformed. What was once a thing to be reserved for 30 minutes before a wedding or event due to incessant chipping became a two week long perfect nail fest, at a cost far lower than that of the previous best (but very flawed option) of standard acrylic nails- to wit: all of the longevity, none of the unwieldy acrylic overlay.

Since that day in late 2010, I’ve been getting UV gel manicures when I can- and it seems that each time the curing lamps come out, some other patron clucks at me that she’s heard that UV gel manicures cause cancer. (May I note at this point the pallid hands in the pic above are mine, and the woman doing the tsking is usually a rich shade of orange?) I’ve always been skeptical that my beloved UV gel nails were capable of packing a cancer-causing punch similar to that of actual sun or tanning bed exposure, but in our earlier piece there were official sounding studies cited.

However, the safety of UV gel manicures does seem to be a topic of some debate, and compelling evidence suggests that two of the biggest panics about the service don’t really wash when held up to basic scientific scrutiny. Much of the panic seems to stem from a case of nerve damage in a woman who may have gotten a UV gel manicure a few years back- Neurologist Orly Avitzur is a medical advisor for Consumer Reports, and the woman presented in Avitzur’s clinic.

After rattling off a laundry list of possible ways UV gel manicures may or may not cause harm, Avitzur admits the woman did not even likely have a gel manicure- but somehow because this woman had both a manicure of some description and nerve damage, UV gel manicures are not safe, in her opinion:

“This patient probably didn’t have a true gel manicure… but I plan on avoiding them myself and would not recommend them to others at this point.”

Of course, the issue of adulteration can be avoided by simply sticking to a well-known brand- the two I’ve experienced, CND Shellac and OPI’s Gelish, come out of nearly impossible to tamper with bottles and have a specific formulation you’d recognize once you’ve experienced a UV gel manicure. Duplicating it with cheaper ingredients is likely to not only be noticeable, but far more work for a cut-rate salon to do than just using genuine products.

The second issue is, of course, UV exposure in curing dryers. As what may be the true opposite of a sun worshipper myself, I am personally terrified of exposure to damaging UV rays. That said, I drive my car. I occasionally step away from the computer to get the mail. And even though I avoid UV exposure, studies examining the effects measured the maximum exposure with steady two-week intervals of a UV gel manicure to be 20 minutes a month.

So not only are the lamps weaker than tanning beds- which are often used several times a week by those who tan- but it’s ten minutes of exposure every week. When looked at from that angle, it stretches the bounds of credulity that much if any concern stems from UV exposure during a gel manicure.

As always and with any salon service, due diligence is important. As a client, always take note of sanitation practices- chances are if your esthetician is double dipping in the wax, corners are cut more drastically where you can’t see it. (Yes, I recall being asked to flip sheets rather than wash them between clients, and sneaking clean ones anyway.) A clean salon and a trusted technician are likely to provide the safest experience across the board in a spa, and even here in New York, UV gel manicures range from $20 at the cheapest nail salons to $25 at their pricier counterparts, which is eminently reasonable.

Have you been concerned about UV gel manicure safety?