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Gel manicures are wildly popular because they certainly look nice and their longevity is convenient, but the UV lamp used to dry the polish is putting skin cells in danger. A gel manicure lasts longer because of this drying process, which requires the nails be exposed to ultraviolet light for five to ten minutes (the average is eight minutes). Unfortunately, a study by JAMA Dermatology determined that the drying devices carry carcinogenic potential, "within just eight to fourteen visits between 24 to 42 months, the lamps increase the risk of skin cancer."
Though similar studies have been done before, they were flawed. Rather than rely on an estimate of UV lamp rays, JAMA Dermatology tested seventeen different drying devices in sixteen different salons for UV-A radiation exposure. UV-A is a type of UV ray which ages the skin, causing wrinkles and breaking DNA strands within skin cells. (That's the direct link to skin cancer.) Based on the amount of UV-A radiation exposure necessary to damage DNA, the study found it would take an average of 11 uses for the drying device to deliver enough UV-A radiation to cause a cancer risk.
While the lamps do technically pose a similar risk to tanning beds, you would have to get manicures extremely frequently for the effect to be similar. "I wouldn't tell a patient to stop going unless they were going multiple times a month," lead author Dr. Lyndsay Shipp from Georgia Regents University in Augusta told Reuters Health. Since the whole point of gel manicures is that you have to go the salon less often, the danger isn't as great as could be. Shipp also suggests wearing sunscreen while under the lamp. She also said she will continue to get manicures.
Polly Mosendz is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.