You've likely heard about the importance of wearing sunscreen every day and the risk of unprotected sun exposure ad nauseam. As of 2020, 77% of people apply sunscreen to the beach, while only 11% wear sunscreen daily, which dermatologists recommend. Recently, The American Academy of Dermatology stated that people should also be applying SPF before getting a gel manicure. Even though most people aren't using sunblock daily, experts hope they'll wear it before getting their nails done given the potentially harmful side effects.
"If people knew the risks, I think they would start protecting their hands when they get gel manicures," Loren G. Franco, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist at The Dermatology Specialists of Monmouth County, says. Ahead, learn why dermatologists think this new practice issued by the AAD is essential and how to protect your skin during a gel manicure.
Meet the Expert
- Loren G. Franco, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at The Dermatology Specialists of Monmouth County. She is a graduate of the New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Franco specializes in a range of treatments including cosmetic and medical.
- Angie Seelal is a certified registered physician assistant specializing in dermatology with Advanced Dermatology PC.
- Rachel Nazarian, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. She is also an Assistant Clinical Professor at Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Dermatology.
The Risks of Gel Manicures
According to the AAD, gel manicures can be tough on your nails. "Gel manicures can cause nail brittleness, peeling and cracking, and repeated use can increase the risk for skin cancer and premature skin aging on the hands," they explain. "It can also cause nails to weaken and develop fungus or bacteria."
The UV and LED light used to harden gel nail polish are like mini tannings beds for your hands. "Both tanning beds and gel manicures include high levels of UVA radiation, which plays an important role in developing skin cancer. Unlike regular tanning beds, these lamps emit less UVA radiation, so they present a much lower risk of developing skin cancer," Dr. Franco says. Even though the UVA radiation in gel manicures presents a negligible risk, Dr. Franco advises her patients to play it safe and protect their skin. Repeated exposure to these lamps can also age the hands more quickly. "This includes thin skin, wrinkles, and mottled pigmentation," she says. These risks can increase as you continue being exposed to radiation over time.
How to Protect Your Skin From Radiation
One of the AAD's tips for healthy nails is to apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to your hands. "This will help protect your skin from the ultraviolet radiation used to seal gel nail polish to the nail," the AAD website states. "Another option is to put on dark, opaque gloves with the fingertips snipped off before your nail polish is applied."
However, these methods aren't entirely foolproof. "It still doesn't protect against skin cancers from developing under the nail itself," Dr. Franco says. According to Dr. Franco, cancer under the nail is typically caused by injury or trauma to fingers and toes—not the sun.
According to Angie Seelal, PA-C at Advanced Dermatology PC, your manicurist can apply SPF instead of lotion. "This is a great time for people to swap the lotion for sunscreen, especially if they're doing a gel manicure and require exposure to UV light, or even if they're using the UV light to dry," she says. Additionally, she encourages her patients to take oral antioxidants, which offer an additional layer of skin protection. "Heliocare is a safe and easy option and can protect skin from the damaging effects of free radicals, like those produced from visible light and UV lamps in nail salons," Seelal says.
Why You Should Protect Your Nails
In light of an increase in skin cancers and nail damage over the years, the AAD released their healthy nails guide to keep your tips safe. "The use of UV light in nail salons has increased substantially, especially with the advent of gel manicures that require UV light for activation," NYC Board Certified Dermatologist MD Dr. Rachel Nazarian says. "More people are getting gel nails and acrylics done as fun and intricate nail designs are now trending," Seelal adds.
Still, the next time you get a gel manicure, keep in mind that it'll take you seconds to apply SPF to your hands. Above all, while pretty polish is fun, keeping your skin safe no matter if you're on the beach in the blazing sun or in the salon will be worth it in the long run. Ahead, shop our favorite SPF hand cream picks to keep in your purse before your next manicure appointment.