The grim side of glam gel manicures - Hindustan Times

The grim side of glam gel manicures

Jun 19, 2023 06:27 PM IST

As gel nails gain popularity for their instant drying and long-lasting properties, concerns about their potential harm are coming to light

Lasting, chip-resistant, customisable and pretty to look at — the allure of a glossy gel manicure is hard to resist. For these reasons and more, the trend has been finding an increasing number of takers lately. But, how safe are gel nails?

Taking regular breaks between gel manicure sessions is recommended to maintain nail health (Photo: Shutterstock)
Taking regular breaks between gel manicure sessions is recommended to maintain nail health (Photo: Shutterstock)

Earlier this year, the British Association of Dermatologists issued a warning regarding allergic reactions linked to artificial nails following reports of a steep rise in cases of allergic skin reactions linked to (meth)acrylate chemicals in these products. Some instances included of people’s nails falling off, skin rashes, and even, in rarer cases, breathing difficulties.

Earlier, a January 2023 study, published in Nature Communications, had indicated that the ultraviolet (UV) lamps used to cure gel manicures emit radiation that can pose risks with prolonged exposure.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association also highlights that such exposure can result in nail brittleness, premature aging of the skin, DNA damage, cell mutations, and in extreme cases, even cancer.

Additionally, a November 2020 research conducted by the Wroclaw Medical University in Poland reveals that gel manicures can cause discomfort during application, including itchiness, swelling, and burning. During the removal process, users may experience nail damage such as splitting, white spots, grooves, and changes to the nail plate.


Cosmetologist Dr Suchi Garg, of Radiance Skin Clinic, explains that the gel preparation contains chemicals like methacrylate and benzoyl peroxide, which can trigger skin allergies, sensitivity, and irritation upon application. Furthermore, “exposure to UV or LED lights can lead to sunburn, tanning, premature skin aging, and, in rare instances, skin cancer”.

To minimise risks, Dr Garg suggests that those prone to allergies should perform a patch test before applying gel polish on the entire nail as this precautionary measure can help identify any potential adverse reactions beforehand.

“UV nail polish dryers can cause dermatitis, irritation, and redness of the exposed skin. It can also lead to brittleness and discolouration of the nail plate and cause damage to the nail bed. While I personally haven’t come across any patient with skin cancer caused by UV dryers, studies do suggest that white skin is more prone to skin cancer and melanoma and frequent usage of UV lamps can surely be damaging,” says Dr Daljeet Kaur, consultant, dermatology, Fortis Hospital, Mohali.

Dermatologist Dr Rishi Dhawan says, “Frequent gel nail treatments pose a greater threat. This is because if you get your nails done regularly, chances are that you rarely get to see your real nail bed. And that can lead to non-detection or delayed detection of any abnormalities or growth on it. So, it is crucial to take breaks between your gel manicures.”


Since gel polishes are available not only at professional nail salons but also for home use, the latter poses a significantly higher health risk. This is largely because home kits are largely unregulated, and users often lack proper training, increasing the chances of adverse effects. Common side effects associated with home kits include nail dystrophy, itchy eczema dermatitis, detached nails, and lesions beneath the nail plate.


Reena Batra, founder, Claw Nails, Greater Kailash, Delhi, says, “Yes, there are some risks involved. So, it is important to follow certain precautions while using gel paint. One would be to get the gel manicure at a reputable salon. Then, applying a high SPF sunscreen is crucial if you’re concerned about UV exposure.”

“Some clients also prefer wearing fingerless gloves or UV-blocking gloves during gel paint application to minimise direct UV exposure to the skin. Choosing branded gel paint products that comply with safety regulations is another must,” Reena adds.

“We have done our bit of research and from that, I can tell that the risk of cancer due to UV lamp exposure is extremely low. So there’s no need for panic. However, being cautious doesn’t harm anyone, so we do suggest our customers to wear gloves and apply sunscreen during the procedure for minimal radiation exposure,” says Vrinda Seth, of The Nail Bar, Chandigarh.


By following these tips, you can enhance the safety, longevity, and overall health of your nails:

Take the initiative to ask about sterilisation of tools and observe whether they are being properly cleaned and disinfected after each client.

Avoid letting the manicurist to push or cut your cuticles as this can lead to inflammation and potential infection.

If you frequently encounter nail problems or have an allergy to acetone, opt for traditional nail polish instead of gel polish.

Protect your hands from UV radiations used in gel manicures by applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher beforehand. This helps protect against skin cancer and premature aging.

Resist the temptation to pick at chipping gel nail polish. Instead, schedule an appointment with your manicurist to have the polish professionally removed. Picking at it can damage your nails and surrounding skin.

During polish removal, only soak your fingertips in acetone. A focused approach protects the surrounding skin from unnecessary exposure.

As the popularity of gel nails continues to rise, it is crucial for people to be aware of the potential health hazards associated with these trendy manicures. Experts suggest that by exercising caution and staying informed, people can make well-informed choices to protect their well-being while still getting to enjoy the beauty of gel nails.

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