As a woman who loves to have her nails looking so fresh and so clean throughout the week, I often reach deep into my pockets and shell out the extra cash for a gel manicure. What appeals to me the most is that I can't mess up a gel manicure for a good two weeks. Normal polish chips, cracks, and peels within the first few hours that I leave the salon, unless I try really hard not to use my hands until the polish is fully dry.
But over the past few years of opting in for a gel mani so that I didn't have to run back to the salon for a polish change or a fresh manicure once a week, I've heard comments from friends and read articles about how gel is bad for your nails and your skin. Finally, deciding to dig into the research, I chatted with a handful of beauty and skincare experts to find out what really happens to your hands and nails when you decide to get gel at the salon.
While I initially thought the only good thing about getting a gel mani was that it was long-lasting, there could be another reason to consider that type of polish over the standard kind: it can actually give your nails a health boost.
Dasha Minina, CEO and founder of Maxus Nail, says that the gel coating on top of the nail provides a benefit that people might not know about. "The gel coating on top of the nail serves as a barrier from excess water absorption," says Minina. "Nails are extremely porous by nature and absorb water like a sponge. The more water, the softer the nail, and the more likely it is to peel and break."
Now, for the bad news.
What kind of damage, if any, are you doing to your nails, your hands, and even your body by getting a gel manicure? After talking to a handful of dermatologists and beauty experts, here are three side effects you should keep in mind.
The Chemicals in Gel Affect Our Whole Body
What is in gel polish? Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, a Miami-based acupuncturist and nutritionist, suggests that gel manicures are dangerous for many reasons. "They contain formaldehyde, xylene toluene, and other toxic chemicals that go through our liver," says Dr. Trattner. "These chemicals enter our system via breathing them and our skin. These chemicals are bioaccumulative, which means they stay in our system."
They Weaken Your Nails
Long-lasting nail polish is great, right? But the flip side to that is that a type of nail polish that sticks to your nails for a long period of time might, in turn, be damaging your nails while it's resting on them. Dr. Shilpi Agarwal, a board-certified family physician, suggests avoiding gel manicures for this reason. "For those getting them regularly, as in every two weeks, it can weaken the nail because of the abrasive bonding agent and the way the manicurist needs to sand down/file down the nail so the polish sticks," says Dr. Agarwal.
The UV Lamps Can Be Damaging
At the very end of the gel manicure process, you will find yourself entering the drying process, where some salons will ask you to stick your fingers underneath a UV lamp to help seal and dry the polish. Dr. Agarwal suggests that this can be one of the worst parts of the gel manicure process: "Not all salons have switched to LED lights, and UV lamps are still being used to help seal and dry the polish. This can lead to UV exposure and sunburns [or even] skin cancer if repeatedly exposed." Sydney Ziverts, a health and nutrition investigator for ConsumerSafety.org, says that even though some dermatologists say that the risk of developing malignant cancer due to UV exposure from a curing lamp is low, it's best to take precautions. "The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing fingerless gloves or applying sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher at least 15 minutes before your gel manicure," says Ziverts.
Alexis Irene, founder of Static Nails, says that regardless of what manicure you choose (gel or acrylic), your routine trip to the nail salon weakens your nail plates through dehydration, making them frail and thin. "Your hand as a whole also becomes drier, damaged, and affected by things like UV lights," says Irene.
If you find yourself getting a gel manicure twice a month, perhaps alternate between gel and regular to let your nails heal and grow. If you really want to improve your hand health, go natural for a week or two, so that your nails can fully breathe.