The one question everyone's asking about gel manicures…

As Mamamia’s resident Style and Beauty Editor, I often act as an agony aunt to the team.

On a daily basis I’ll get asked anything from ‘How do I get nail polish off my leather bag?’ to ‘Nic, do I need these ridiculous but fabulous shoes?’ (To which the answer is nearly always yes.)

But I was disturbed this week when two of the team separately asked me if getting a gel manicure was meant to “fry” their nails, and since it was “like a tanning bed for my nails”, should they apply sunscreen first or is it pointless since you rinse your hands during a manicure anyway.

As it’s been a while since the research came out, I figured it was worth a revisit as some of you might have the same questions.

First, in case you’ve had a similar experience, no – a frying or burning sensation on the nail bed is not supposed to happen. And yes, dermatologists recommend you apply a (water-resistant) sunscreen 20 minutes prior to getting a gel manicure.

Up until last year, the link between skin cancer and UV-cured gel manicures was inconclusive, but since then it has been found that there is low yet “not insignificant” risk of skin cancer.

This is why dermatologists recommend you apply a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that protects against both UV-A and UV-B rays, since nail drying lights emit UV-A rays and not all sunscreens protect against those.

While some say that you’d have to have 13,000 to 40,000 nail-drying sessions, or 250 years worth of weekly manicures to increase your chance of getting skin cancer, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

If I’ve scared you off gel manicures for life, there is another way – you can look for a salon that uses LED lights over UV lamps. The advantage of LED, besides having no skin cancer risk, is that it will cure nails quicker, in 30 seconds compared to about one minute for each coat. Sally Hansen, Kit Cosmetics and Sensational are all do at-home starter kits with LED lamps.

Also worth noting is that some gel polishes may contain cancer-causing chemicals. The ingredient to watch out for is butylated hydroxyanisol (BHA), it’s a known cancer-causing agent. (BHA butylated hydroxyanisol should not to be confused with Beta Hydroxy Acid that’s found in skincare.) It’s also worth staying away from the three nasties: dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde.

Takeout point: Until the nail industry fazes out UV lamps, wear sunscreen, choose an LED manicure or just stick to regular manicures.

So, regular polish over gel? Or gel all the way?

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