Do Gel Manicures Cause Cancer?


The potentially damaging effect of UV rays on our skin is a well-known fact. It’s the reason we lather up with sunscreen, wear hats and never bake in tanning beds. But did you know that some of those ill effects might be found in what you see as just a regular part of your beauty routine?

More and more evidence suggests that the gel manicures you get every month could be harmful to your skin, with the lamps used to cure the gel containing high levels of UV radiation. Recent studies indicate that regular use of these lamps can cause DNA damage to the skin that is just as bad as going out into the sun unprotected.

While gel manicures are convenient in that they last anywhere from two to four weeks and don’t chip like regular polish, many doctors are now cautioning patients against them, and suggest using precautionary measures if you get these kind of manicures regularly.

So, should you forego having amazing nails that require minimal upkeep? Just how dangerous are gel manicures?

What We Know

UV rays are what cure gel manicures, making them last much longer than traditional manicures. Those same rays are the cause of photoaging in skin, such as sun spots and wrinkles, and those same rays are the ones emitted by tanning beds.

Even one session in a tanning bed can exponentially increase your risk of skin cancer. So it makes sense to be concerned about allowing your hands, already prone to sensitivity and aging, to be exposed to UV rays. And while some of the gel lamps used are referred to as LED lamps rather than UV lamps, both emit UV radiation.

What We Don’t Know

Unfortunately, research on gel manicures and the UV rays emitted from the machines has only just begun. The manicures became popular very quickly when they first came out on the market, and research has lagged behind in regards to what kind of damage, if any, can be caused by them.

The few studies that have been done show wildly different ranges of UV radiation emitted from various gel lamps, making it even more of a challenge in determining how damaging the lamps might be. It’s also difficult to measure possible damage as it can depend on how often women get manicures, how long their hands are under the lamps and how many UV rays those specific lamps emit. 

Fingerless gloves for UV protection

What You Can Do

Luckily, none of this necessarily means you have to give up your gel manicures. There are now disposable fingerless gloves on the market that can be worn during a manicure and will help prevent skin damage. These gloves contain materials such as titanium dioxide, which blocks harmful UV rays.

Regular sunblock applied to the back of the hands prior to a manicure can also help protect the skin. Be sure to avoid any gel polishes that contain the chemical BHA, as it is purported to contain cancer-causing agents.

Also, it’s a good idea to refrain from getting gel manicures more often than absolutely necessary. While a study done in 2014 indicated that the lamps probably do not emit enough radiation to cause significant damage, the fact that UV rays can vary greatly between lamps is enough of a concern to have doctors recommend protecting the hands and taking a break from manicures if you start noticing skin damage or excessive dryness.