Oh Crap, Those Fancy Gel Manicures Might Be Bad for You

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You know those Shellac and GelColor manicures that everyone is getting? The ones that don't chip for weeks and look all shiny? Yeah, well, they might give you cancer. Of course, the air you're breathing is probably also giving you cancer. So should you freak out about this or continue your gel manicure habit? Depends.


Oddly, it's not the chemicals involved that are the problem (though they'll probably discover that they make your hands shrivel up and fall off in ten years); it's the exposure to UV radiation while the gel is drying. UV has been used for drying in salons for a while, but these manicures requires 10 minutes of exposure, which is longer than standard manicures. So what's the problem? Well, a 2009 medical journal article by some dermatologists featured two cases of women who got skin cancer believed to be caused by exposure to UV nail lamps (but not for Shellac manicures). That is obviously a limited sample, but they concluded that the UV exposure from manicures was similar to what you'd get in a tanning bed, which we know are dangerous over the long term.

Not surprisingly, salon owners (who make beaucoup bucks off the more expensive gel manicures) and the company that makes Shellac think all this cancer talk is nonsense. The chief scientific advisor to the Shellac brand, Doug Schoon says the article's linking of nail lights to tanning beds is flawed. He's calculated that the UV rays from nail lamps are about the same as one or two minutes in the sun each day between manicures. Hmm. He says, "No one should run screaming from the salon thinking they're going to get skin cancer. Getting a Shellac manicure is a very, very low-risk behavior." Well, that's a relief. Plus, running screaming from a salon probably increases your chances of being hit by a car, but on the bright side that would in turn lower your risk of getting skin cancer because you're already dead.

Whatever you decide, don't bite your nails and chew the Shellac right off your hands while you're thinking about it. And if you're really paranoid, you can always apply some UVB-blocking sunscreen to your hands before they go under the dryer. Everyone in the nail salon will probably look at you like you're a freak, but you can just say loudly, "I'm doing this so I don't get cancer" over and over again until you feel self-righteous enough that you don't care what anyone there thinks of you—or until you get escorted out of the salon for scaring the other customers, whichever comes first.

Gel manicures raise questions about safety of the UV lamps used to dry the polish [Washington Post]

Image via dean bertoncelj/Shutterstock.



does the shellac not work for anyone else?

I am a very physical person, I dig in the dirt and do physical labor- rough on nails. I also have very oily skin including oily nails.

I'll goof around and do my own nails for fun, fully expecting them to chip away.

I get a pamper mani-pedi once in a blue moon for kicks (and when I have money for pampering. on my rice and beans budget, no salons for me!).

Well, I have a friend who loves her shellac manicures, and I thought I'd give it a try as I was going to be doing hair braids and what-not before a fancy event, sure to chip a regular polish. And it was a gift for helping out a friend. They looked nice, they did not chip for a day and a half. at the end of the second day the edges had all flipped up, and they were peeling up on their own; i was able to remove them the last few millimeters with no apparent harm to my nails. Other folks got their nails shellaced at the same place, same person, same time, and theirs are going strong, and will last three weeks easily. I just have super oily nails, I guess!