UV Nail Lamps - Are they dangerous for your skin?

UV Nail Lamps – Are they dangerous for your skin?

A manicure, whether it’s at the salon or at home, can complete or elevate your look. Stacked up against a regular manicure, gels last longer, feel stronger and stay shiny but could our gel obsession be damaging our skin? In this month’s journal, we’re looking at UV nail lamps and the effect they can have on our hands and feet.

With celebrities putting as much effort into their nail art as their outfits and sharing their nail selfies (nailfies) for the world to see, it’s no wonder that decorating our nails has never been more popular. And gel nails are the fastest-growing sector of the $14.3+ billion global nail polish market.

A gel manicure can hold up for two to three weeks longer than a traditional manicure. We can choose from any hue and there are always new ideas brewing in the nail art industry, as experts create mini works of art on tiny canvases.

But could our desire for perfect glossy gel nails be damaging our skin – in short, yes.

If you’ve ever had a gel manicure or pedicure you’ll know that after every coat the gel polish is ‘set’ or cured by placing your nails under an LED or UV nail lamp for around two minutes in total. The chemical reaction activated by the light source quickly dries your nails so they don’t chip or smudge immediately after application. This quick-drying feature is one of the major benefits of a gel manicure or pedicure.

Gel nail lamps, in their current form, were introduced in 2012. The medical community has only undertaken limited research into their effect on the skin. Both UV nail lamps and LED lamps used to cure the gel polish emit ultraviolet (UVA) rays, the same type emitted from the sun. Whilst the risk associated with drying lamps is much lower than with tanning beds, UVA rays are associated with skin ageing and cellular damage that can lead to skin cancer. Photoaging associated with UVA rays can include:

  • Wrinkling
  • Pigmentation changes such as age spots, liver spots and freckles
  • Loss of skin tone including decreased elasticity
  • Rough, uneven skin texture
  • Broken capillaries, spider veins
  • Redness and blotchiness
You may also be interested in:  Eight Skin Care Myths

The skin on your hands is also thinner than other parts of your body, which means it’s able to lose elasticity faster and age at a more rapid rate.

You can protect your hands (or feet if you are getting a pedicure) by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen about 20 minutes before your manicure. Look for one that offers broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 30 or higher. The SPF indicates protection against UVB rays only. A broad-spectrum sunscreen means that the sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply around 1 teaspoon of sunscreen to each hand (or foot) and make sure that you apply it to all areas including between the fingers (or toes).

Wearing protective gloves can block out UVA + UVB rays. Manifest fingerless gloves are UPF 50+ rated, meaning they block out over 98% of rays.

Consider switching to a regular manicure and allow nails to air-dry naturally or use an air blower or fan without UV lights. Or just save gel manicures and pedicures for special occasions. 

The key ingredient in gel manicures, acrylic nails and gel polish, methacrylates, can trigger allergic reactions. Even when professionally applied, if the “uncured” chemicals come into contact with the skin they can cause a reaction. Allergic reactions may involve the nails loosening, or a severe red, itchy rash, not just on the fingertips, but potentially anywhere on the body that has come into contact with the nails, including the eyelids, face and neck. Depending on the severity of the reaction an over-the-counter cortisone cream could help or maybe a prescription one if needed, and antihistamines can help if there’s itching.

If all else fails, you could consider keeping your nails polish-free and using a nail and cuticle oil for a little sheen. I love Typology Hand and Nail Serum.