Getting a gel manicure means you’re exposing your nails and hands to ultraviolet (UV) light so the polish can cure, or harden. Although there isn’t much research looking at the impact of this practice on hand-skin health, it’s safe to assume that it can contribute to both premature hand aging and skin cancer, explains Adeline Kikam, DO, a board-certified dermatologist, in a recent Instagram Reel.
“Next time you get your gel mani, don’t forget to bring your sunscreen along,” says Dr. Kikam, who also goes by Brown Skin Derm. “The UV light used to harden the nail polish can potentially increase the risk of skin cancer and cause premature aging. Nail lamps mainly emit UV radiation, it’s one of the most DNA-altering penetrative wavelengths, and the number one culprit in accelerating premature aging and also contributes to skin cancer.”
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Gel nail polish has really only been popular for the past 10 to 15 years. According to Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, it takes much longer than that for skin cancer to develop, so there isn’t any way for researchers to determine if UV exposure from gel manicures can cause skin cancer. A 2020 review of literature related to the incidence of cancer on the hands found that there are little to no inherent carcinogenic risks to gel manicures, but researchers and dermatologists still recommend the application of broad-spectrum sunscreen prior to manicures as a precaution.
“We don’t necessarily have enough epidemiologic data to necessarily say whether or not skin cancer from gel nail application is common or not, but we do know that the science is there in the sense that it certainly can happen,” says Dr. Garshick. “At the same time, the amount of exposure is relatively limited, all things considered. So the question really remains is how much exposure through that UV light you need to actually develop these types of skin cancers over time.”
When using sunscreen during your gel mani appointment, Dr. Kikam says to apply your sunscreen a couple of minutes before the polish is applied so you don’t have to wash it off and it has time to start working. “For this, I typically like to bring serum sunscreens because they dry faster,” says Dr. Kikam. For bonus protection, Dr. Garshick adds that you can also get special fingerless UV-protective gloves to wear during your manicure. Shop three of Dr. Kikam’s favorite sunscreens along with UV protective gloves below.
Made with zinc oxide, this silky mineral sunscreen goes on to your skin and dries down nice and fast.
Designed by tennis star Naomi Osaka, this mineral sunscreen is tinted so it can easily be worn by those with deeper complexions. It’s water-resistant so if your hands do get wet during the process, you should be good to go.