The Truth About Gel Nails: Is the UV Lamp Really Safe?

And is the ring selfie worth it?

Engagement ring selfie

Photo by Sun and Sparrow

It’s hard to imagine life before gel manicures, isn’t it? No drying time, a glossy finish, and two-week staying power is the stuff nail dreams are made of—especially for those about to say "I Do" who want chip-free nails from the rehearsal dinner through their honeymoon. But are they all that safe?

It’s a question that’s been contested and debated almost since the gel manicure has been invented: Should you really be placing your hands under UV lamps in the name of ring selfies? Since there have been hot takes all around, we decided to ask two NYC-based dermatologists for their expert opinions. Here’s what they had to say.

Exposure to UV Light

For most professional gel manicures, the polish needs to be dried and cured under a special ultraviolet lamp. As one might assume, exposure to this type of light is not the healthiest thing in the world. Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City explains, “Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light, even in the form of a nail polish dryer, can increase the risk of the exposed skin to develop skin cancer and premature aging.”

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Joshua Zeichner is the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
  • Dr. Shari Marchbein is the Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at NYU School of Medicine in New York City.

Dr. Shari Marchbein, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine, adds that there have, in fact, been a few reports of skin cancers, primarily basal cell skin cancer, developing on the hands as a result of these manicures. Though, she says, “That being said, it is unknown ultimately what repeated exposure to small amounts of UV light every two weeks [the typical time in between manicures] will do in the long term.”

Other Nail and Skin Damage

Unfortunately, aside from the potential damage to the skin of your hands and around the fingernails and cuticles, Marchbein says that gel manicures can also weaken your nails—similar to artificial and acrylic nail applications. So, she explains, “my preference is to only get gel manicures if there is a special occasion such as traveling for an extended period or a wedding. Then, regular manicures for the rest of the year.”

How To Minimize Risk

Both doctors suggest that sunscreen and fingerless gloves can help to lessen any risk. According to Marchbein, if you must get a gel mani, you can protect yourself by applying, “a broad spectrum SPF 30+ prior to manicures,” and “wearing a UPF [Ultraviolet Protection Factor] glove with the fingertips cut off.”

Gel Manicure Alternatives

If the thought of sitting for a gel manicure still makes you uneasy, Marchbein suggests that you skip the gel and get a regular manicure. She adds that a gel alternative such as Gel Couture by Essie, “definitely lasts longer than a regular manicure and doesn’t require the same upkeep as gels.”

Gel nail polish
Courtesy of Essie

Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish in "Lace Me Up"

SHOP NOW: Target, $11.49

Related Stories