Gel Manicures and the Health Risks of Using UV Dryers

Let’s be honest. Women take their nail game seriously. We search for inspo for hours, then head to our favorite nail artist or nail salon to have it recreated to perfection. For many Black and Brown women, beautifully painted nails are an extension of who they are. Over time, it’s become more than just a thing we do for beauty and aesthetics; it’s now also a platform for self-expression, creativity and defying traditional beauty standards and norms.

Like most trends of today, Black and Brown women took something and leveled it up into an undeniable art form. But, what are we exposing ourselves to when undergoing the process of getting a gel manicure?

Ultraviolet (UV) nail dryers are utilized for “curing” gel nails. Typically, after each coat of paint is applied, the nail beds are exposed to UV light, which causes them to polymerize (harden) and dry almost immediately.

While the use of UV dryers is wide-spread in the industry, the dryers also carry the potential for skin damage and cancer. Researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) indicate that UV light systems may cause cancer of the hand and, like tanning beds, may increase the risk of early-onset skin cancer. While many scientists acknowledge the need for more research to determine a causal link between the dryers and cancer, they also caution against the frequent use of these devices as part of the nail polish drying process.

To avoid prolonged exposure, doctors recommend putting at least an SPF 30 sunscreen on no less than 20 minutes before placing your nails in a UV dryer. Since some nail technicians ask clients to wash their hands at various points during the process, it may be better to consider using UV gloves as an alternative.

And though many of us will still likely go to the salon for our regular gel manis, we should always be aware of the harmful aspects of the process while also taking the necessary precautions. Using sunscreen or wearing UV gloves can go a long way when it comes to reducing exposure. And remember, no amount of self-expression is worth the risk to your health, so please take the proper precautions.