Gel manicures and pedicures are popular largely because they last a lot longer than traditional manicures with acrylic nail polish.
How much longer? Traditional manicures last two to three days tops without chipping (most of the time, your nails chip before you get home from the salon), but gel nail polish can last up to two weeks without a chip or crack.
Yes, that’s a major plus, but experts warn that the risks of gel manicures may outweigh their benefits. Gel manicures may be causing your nails to grow brittle and/or peel and crack, says Chris Adigun, MD, a dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at The Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. Exactly why this occurs is unclear. It could be the gel polish or the fact that nails must be soaked in acetone for at least 10 to 15 minutes to rid the nail of the polish. Acetone is very drying to the nails and irritating to the skin around them.
Gel manicures and pedicures may even mask nail disease (including skin cancers) if they are done too often, says Adigun. Underneath your chip-proof “Big Apple Red” or “Strawberry Margarita” colored nails may be an infection or skin cancer, and the shelf life of these gel manicures could delay diagnosis and treatment. And the final nail in the gel manicure’s coffin? The ultraviolet (UV) lamps used to “cure” or seal the gel polish may up the risk of skin cancer.
Beauty in the Bag talked to some experts on how to enjoy the benefits of gel manicures and pedicures, while minimizing any potential risks.
Here’s what they had to say:
Cover your hands with zinc oxide sunscreen while they dry.
Amy Forman Taub, MD, a Chicagoland dermatologist, admits that your hands aren’t under the UV lamps for too long, but you are better safe than sorry especially if you are at high risk for skin cancer. “Make sure you use zinc oxide or sunscreen on your hands while they are under the UV lamps.” (This exposure also causes premature aging of the skin on your hands, so sunscreen is a win-win.)
Do a nail self exam between treatments.
“Examine your nails after the gel polish comes off and if you notice anything going on, see a dermatologist before you reapply any polish,” Taub says. Same is true of your toenails, adds Krista Archer, DPM. “When you get a pedicure, don’t just read People magazine and text your friends, look at your toes to see if there is anything going on.”
Take a break.
If your nails are thin and starting to crack, you need a break from the gel, Taub says. “Switch off between traditional manicures and buffing and gel manicures.”