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Why You Should Wear SPF During Your Gel Manicure, According to a Dermatologist

Those UV lamps that cure your gel polish actually put your hands at risk.
February 06, 2023

If you’ve got a gel manicure at least once in your life, you’re no stranger to the UV lamp that cures your gel polish, allowing you to leave the salon with a shiny new smudge-free manicure. Because of this, gel manicures are a super popular choice when it comes to nail services, both  at the salon and at home. But as great as that nail lamp is for curing your polish (making dry time a thing of the past), the UV exposure isn’t so great for the skin on your hands.

If you see where we’re going with this then you know that recent social media posts about skin cancer and UV lamps have caused some to swear off gel manicures for good. And while that may be a somewhat extreme reaction, it begs the super important question — should I wear SPF on my hands when I get a gel manicure? Instead of playing the guessing game, we turned to an expert. Ahead, board-certified dermatologist and L’Oréal Paris consultant, Michelle Henry MD, FAAD, explains the lasting effects that UV nail lamps can have on your hands and why wearing SPF is so important when you get a gel manicure.

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Why Do I Need to Wear SPF On My Hands When I Get a Gel Manicure?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the UV lights commonly used at the nail salon predominantly produce UVA rays, which can lead to premature skin aging and skin cancer. Because of this, Henry recommends that everyone should be wearing SPF on their hands when they get a gel manicure. This extends to any type of nail service that utilizes a UV nail lamp, including gel extensions, acrylic nails with gel overlay and BIAB nails (builder in a bottle). 

Some salons use UV nail lamps, some salons use LED nail lamps and it’s not uncommon for those terms to be used interchangeably because both options work to cure gel nail polish. However, there is a difference in the kind of UV rays they transmit. 

“I prefer LED nail lamps because they don’t transmit UV rays in the same way [as UV nail lamps],” says Dr. Henry. “If you're getting the UV lamp, know [that] you're getting your daily exposure of UV rays in that one treatment, so that's gonna put you at a higher risk for having skin cancer.” 

She also recommends dip nails as an alternative to gel nail polish because they provide a similar, long-lasting finish but don’t require a UV nail lamp to cure the polish.

How Do I Protect My Hands During a Gel Manicure?

Dr. Henry highly recommends applying an SPF 30 or SPF 50 on your hands (fingers included) before your gel manicure — the SPF that you use for your face will suffice. We love the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Invisible UV Fluid because it has UVA and UVB filters to protect against the sun rays that cause aging and burning, and it has a lightweight consistency that doesn’t feel sticky or greasy. 

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), protecting your hands and fingers during a gel manicure is paramount but you don’t need to worry about applying SPF on your nails and thankfully so because that would ruin your manicure. Fingerless gloves are another means of protection that some choose for gel manicures and Dr. Henry also gives those her seal of approval. But, it’s important to keep in mind that while using SPF and gloves can help to minimize the risk, you still need to keep an eye on your hands if you’re getting routine gel manicures. “Stay diligent with your annual skin checks, if you start to see sunspots on the hands, then you're starting to see those signs that you're getting damaged.” 

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Should I Limit My Gel Manicures Because of UV Exposure?

Limiting your gel manicures isn’t a terrible idea, but it’s not for the sake of less UV exposure. “I [recommend] taking a break when [gel manicures] can be destructive to the nail and the nail bed,” says Henry. “Any harsh treatments that adhere to the bed of the nail and require mechanical trauma to remove them are going to affect the nail plate.”

If your nails are healthy and strong, you’re applying SPF to your hands and fingers before your nail appointments and you’ve switched to an LED nail lamp, then you shouldn’t have to limit your gel manicures, based on Dr. Henry’s guidance. However, you should take a break from gel manicures if they’re affecting the integrity of your nails. Start with a month and make sure the integrity of your nails has improved before you head back to your routine appointments.

Next: 5 Tips to Make Your Press-On Nails Last for Weeks

Photo Credit: iStock

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