My gel manicure schedule controls my life. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a clean, fresh, chip-free mani (the hand massage doesn’t hurt either). But, when I took a second to think about all the time I spent with my hands under a UV lamp, I started to get concerned for my skin. That being said, I am nowhere near ready to bid adieu to my bi-weekly nail salon experience. So to make sure I take the necessary precautions to protect my skin from the drying lamp’s damaging rays, I turned to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Shari Marchbein from Downtown Dermatology. Ahead, find her tips for keeping your hands and skin protected during a gel manicure.
Can Gel Manicures Actually Be Damaging to Your Skin?
Gel manicures last much longer than a few swipes of OG nail polish. Reason being, gel polish gets hardened and cured by a special type of lamp. “These lamps emit UVA rays, which are the same longer ultraviolet light wavelength that contributes to skin cancers and photoaging, especially sun spots and wrinkles,” says Dr. Marchbein. “So while gel manicures may be OK occasionally, repeated exposure to UVA rays from the drying lamp can cause cumulative damage to the skin over time.”
What’s more, gel manicures can harm your actual nail. “The underlying structures can be damaged and weakened simply by the process of applying the product in the same way that hair extensions can break the underlying real hair,” says Dr. Marchbein. “Nails can become ridged, infected, discolored and even separated from the nail bed as a result of the application and removal of the gels.”
How to Protect Your Hands and Nails During a Gel Manicure
If you don’t plan on swapping out your gel polish for a long-wear regular polish or quick-dry long-lasting options like Essie Expressie, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to protect your nail and hand health.
Tip #1: Slather on Sunscreen
The same way you apply sunscreen before laying out in the sun or as the final step in your skin-care routine, it’s important to spread some SPF on your hands, too. “Even though your hands are only exposed for a few minutes, frequent gel manicures pose a risk to the health of your hands,” explains Dr. Marchbein. She recommends slathering on SPF 50 or above all over your hands (and cuticles!) before heading into the salon.
Tip #2: Wear Protective Clothing
Yes, SPF clothing is a thing. Well, it’s actually called UPF clothing, but it serves the same purpose. “UPF50 clothing is critical for protecting skin from the UV exposure and is one of my favorite tricks for excellent sun protection in general,” says Dr. Marchbein. She suggests looking for fingerless UPF gloves to sport during your mani.
Tip #3: Choose Your Salon Wisely
Regardless of whether you’re getting a gel manicure or a regular manicure, picking a salon with good reviews and sterile instruments is important. Bacteria and contaminated tools can cause skin infections, so it’s best to make sure you are heading to a reputable location.
Tip #4: Make Sure to Soak Off Gels Properly
We seriously cannot say this enough: Don’t peel off your gels! We know it’s tempting, but if your polish starts to lift before you can make it back to the salon, soak off your gels with acetone. Douse a cotton ball in nail polish remover, place it on the nail and wrap your finger in aluminum foil. Let it sit for ten minutes. Once you unwrap the foil, your polish should come right off.