A 2009 article in a medical journal looked at two cases of women who reported repeated exposure to UV nail lamps and developed skin cancer on the backs of their hands. (The lamps are also used to set acrylic nails and dry traditional manicures and pedicures, but in about half the time.)
“Artificial UV light does elevate your risk for developing skin cancer” and for premature aging of the skin, says Anna M. Bender, a dermatologist at Johns Hopkins University. “So people could use a sunscreen to try to block the UV from their surrounding skin.”
People should reach for a sunblock that contains zinc or titanium oxide rather than a typical sunscreen. Those ingredients shield the skin from UVA rays (the kind emitted by nail lamps), whereas many sunscreens protect only against UVB light. Even broad-spectrum lotions may not cover the full UVA spectrum, Bender says.
Halting a manicure to slather on sunblock would be highly unusual behavior, according to Lonnie Nguyen, owner of Cleveland Park Day Spa and Toe Tally Nails in the District. Not one of her clients at either business has ever stopped the procedure to apply sunblock for UV protection.
In fact, the only concern her customers have shown about gel manicures is smudging.
“They still ask, ‘Can I touch?’ ” Nguyen says. “The second time, they know” that their nails are completely dry and hard by the end of the manicure, she says. Traditional nail polish can take more than an hour to harden, and anyone who has gotten a manicure or pedicure knows the drawbacks: gingerly reaching for credit cards and walking home in flip-flops, no matter the weather.
Gel manicures have been around for about a decade but took off in popularity only with the 2010 launch of CND’s Shellac brand, according to Nguyen and others. The original gel manicure consisted of a thick overlay that was difficult to remove: Even after soaking the fingertips in acetone, nail technicians would often have to scrape away the gel, potentially damaging the nail. Shellac, on the other hand, is “more like amped-up nail polish,” says company co-founder Jan Arnold. Such products as OPI’s GelColor have followed.
Customers return to the salon for removal once the polish has chipped or the nails grow out too far. They can try to remove them at home using acetone nail polish remover, but doing so will probably require scraping. (Salons usually use acetone-soaked cotton pads inside Band-Aidlike wraps for removal; this technique allows the polish to slide off more easily.)