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Tips for a Safe Gel Manicure

How to Protect Your Hands & Avoid Weak, Damaged Nails

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Tips for a Safe Gel Manicure

Using a UV light for gel nails.

Photo: Jaunty Junto/Photodisc (Getty Images)

Gel nails (basically long-wearing nail polish) resist chipping and last longer than regular manicures, sometimes lasting up to three weeks depending on the manicure, maintenance and growth of the nails. And under a UV or LED light, the polish dries quickly to a shiny, professional-looking and durable finish.

A manicurist applies 3 - 4 coats of a special gel polish on nails that are then cured under the UV/LED light and when the manicure is done you have nail color that has dried in an instant. No more smudges. No more shaking and waving hands to boost air drying. No more flip flops in the dead of winter! No wonder they're such a hit!

All About Gel Nails

But gel manicures at salons can be expensive. In the beginning of the trend, customers had to return for maintenance and to have the gel polish removed.

Then there were the concerns for safety.

In 2009 there was a lot of media focus on the dangers of UV nail lamps used in salons, such as premature skin aging and the risk for developing melanoma and other skin cancers. UV lamps were being compared to the UV lights in tanning beds, however later, experts in the nail care industry assured salon personnel and their clients that UV nail lamps were relatively safe. UV nail lamps in salons use two to four nine-watt bulbs and tanning salon UV lights use 100-watt bulbs. In addition to the UV light being emitted in a tanning being far stronger, the amount of time spent in a tanning bed was much longer. The combined amount of time that a customer's hands are under the UV light is about five minutes. Still, health professionals believed there could be a cumulative effect, but there was also the argument that one could get more UV exposure walking outside to the car on a daily basis.

UV Lamps Vs LED

UV light cures all gels; in fact certain gels need UV light to cure. LED lights work only with gel polish formulated for LED use. LED lights are believed to be safer for the skin than UV nail lamps (though some do have UV bulbs) because they cure the polish much faster--meaning less time under the light. In some of the devices, like the Red Carpet Pro Light, the entire hand is not placed completely inside.

UV Nail Lamp Facts

Many companies now sell UV and LED lights for home use. Red Carpet Manicure recommends these precautions when using its device:

  • Unplug when not in use.
  • Do not use in or around water.
  • Do not look directly into the LED light.
  • Note that certain cosmetics and prescription lotions can cause sensitivity to LED light. If this occurs, discontinue use immediately.
  • Don’t overexpose the nails and skin to LED light.
  • Don’t use gels that are not formulated to cure in LED light.

Obviously more studies need to be done. But if you are concerned about UV exposure, wear broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen on the hands or use anti-UV gloves that are now on the market, which have holes for the nails and cover the rest of the hands.

Pros & Cons

Some gel nail technicians and clients believe that the protective, hard coating of gel polish actually helps nails grow, if done correctly and well maintained. Since the nails have to be buffed and filed beforehand to make them rough and to take away the shine prior to applying the gel polish, care has to be taken.

Proper Gel Polish Removal

A number of customers have complained about the harshness of the removal of gel nails. The nails are soaked in remover for 10 or more minutes, then are once again buffed and filed which could take off layers of the nails, making them brittle. This could also weaken the nail bed and thereby increase the risk of fungal and bacterial infection. Make sure that you (or your manicurist) are not too aggressive when removing the gel polish and filing the nails.

You can do gel polish removal at home with at-home kits or by soaking cotton pads in an acetone remover, placing them on the nails and then wrapping them in foil for 20 minutes.

The Science of Gels

If you do notice that gel manicures are making your nails feel dry and rough, or you find that your nails are becoming weak and unhealthy, don't get gel nails on a regular basis. Limit them to special occasions or trips and vacations, when you don’t have time for regular manicures or need manicures that are done quickly and will last for a longer length of time.

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