As an orthopaedic surgeon, I was never able to maintain a manicure because it would chip after one day of surgery. I always envied ladies with beautifully manicured nails. There is something so feminine and polished about a woman with beautiful nails. Then I heard about gel manicures that promised a no-chip manicure for up to two weeks! I thought “Finally! I can be a girly-girl too!” My experience with these manicures has been a positive one so far. Then I began to hear horror stories from people I know about botched nail jobs, weakening nails, and even infections. So I decided to do some investigation to determine if these manicures were safe or not.
During the process, the nails are prepared in the same fashion as a regular manicure. Then they are brushed with alcohol and a setting liquid. A base coat is applied followed by two coats of color, and then a top coat. The nails are cured in a UV light lamp between each coat. After the final coat is cured, the nails are wiped with alcohol and the manicure is complete. The advantage to this process is that your nails are already dry at the completion of the manicure and you don’t have to worry about messing them up on the way out of the door.
The removal process consists of soaking the polish off in acetone. Cotton balls soaked in acetone are placed on the nails and the fingers are wrapped in foil, or alternately a finger sponge can be used. Soak times vary depending on the type of gel polish used (OPI, CND, Gelish). After, the nail polish is soft it is removed with either a wooden or metal pusher. The nails are then buffed and filed.
Now. Is this safe? First, the skin cancer risk. Due to the novelty of these manicures, there is not a lot of scientific literature on the risk of skin cancer from these UV lamps. In 2009, the Archives of Dermatology reported two women developed non-melanoma skin cancer on their hands. The one woman had 15 years of UV light exposure and the other women used UV light eight times in one year. The nail industry says that visiting the salon every two weeks exposes you to the equivalent of just two extra minutes in the sun every day, according to a study cited in ABC News. Just to be on the safe side, if you’re going to have the manicures you should protect yourself with sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. The Rodan & Fields Anti-Age Shield is an ideal product for protecting your hands. You can also use fingerless gloves. Also, try to find a nail salon that use LED lights instead. These lights dry faster and use less UV radiation.
The removal process can put nails at risk of weakening and infection. The acetone can weaken the nails up to 50% and the scraping with the metal pushers can lead to breaks in the surrounding skin where a Staph infection could occur.
So with all of this information, am I going to give up my beloved gel manicures? Honestly, probably not. I will, however, protect myself with the hand shield, use the LED lamps, and get them less frequently. I hope this information can help you to be an informed consumer.