There has been a great deal of talk in recent months about whether or not gel manicures are safe. Safe? Unsafe?
I took a look at this issue last year and I wanted to take another look. I was researching this issue a couple months back and looked at more studies, so we'll talk about that. Plus, I had the chance to learn more about gel nail polish from someone who works with this medium five days a week.
First, the research.
According to a December 2012 study by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the risk of harm is VERY minimal. The research showed that it would take over 13,000 sessions with a UV lamp and more than 40,000 sessions with an LED lamp to equal the UV dosage received during a single treatment of phototherapy, which is when doctors use UV rays in a medical setting to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis.
Dr. Jessica Wu, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at University of Southern California says that one that one phototherapy session has "a very low risk of skin cancer." Again, you would need more than forty THOUSAND sessions under your nail tech's LED lamp to cure your gels to equal that one session of phototherapy. The risk here is SO minimal. You know I am very conservative about beauty products and treatments that may be harmful. I have practically shouted from the roof tops about wearing sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. I have spoken on the dangers of UV rays from tanning beds.
I spoke to licensed Nail Technician Elizabeth West of the Michael Spitale Salon in Rochester, New York to give us the lowdown on gel manicures with her expert point of view. She tells me that "if done carefully and properly, gel polish is not all that different than classic polish. True, it isn't '5 free' like many polishes are going now, but, when applied and removed correctly and with care, gel polish won't damage your natural nails."
Why are gels so popular?
I love anything and everything nail-related just as much as I adore a good mascara.
I love having my nails done. One could say I am a bit nail obsessed. Do you know what I did before I went to the hospital to deliver my boys? My nails. Even though I couldn't see over my belly, I wanted a nice pedicure.
I have so many bottles of 3-free and 5-free healthier nail polishes. I have oodles of Jamberry Nails nail wraps, glitter polishes, lacquer, and even a home gel kit that the lovely folks at Gelish sent for me to try. I had my first gel manicure in December of 2012. I don't get them done frequently, but they are amazing for special occasions!
I have had two different brands of soak off gel polish used on me -- Gelish and Artistic Colour (which is what Michelle Obama has had on her nails). The main appeal is that they are rock hard, shiny, and long wearing. The durability is a huge draw. In fact, they are very chip resistant! You can walk right out of the salon with completely dry nails. We have cold winter in New York and I have put my gloves right on after my gel manicures.
I have gotten full 3 weeks out of my gels. The shortest time of wear was one week, but I think that I may have been rougher on them that normal. I go every 2 weeks these days. My nails were starting to get weak and break again after taking a gel-cation, so I started getting gels again and I wear them with my Jamberry wraps.
The Soak Off Process
This is where I see horror stories about gels. Some people have reported sitting with their hands in bowls of acetone to remove their nails and then have someone filing down the nails and scraping the remaining color off. Please know that this is NOT the norm and this is not how the process is supposed to be! In fact, West tells us that "there is NO REASON WHATSOEVER that an electric file should EVER touch your natural nail."
Please be careful if this is the removal process for your gels, as it is not the norm.
Each individual nail is covered and wrapped in foil so your skin doesn't get dried out or soaked in acetone. It is a careful process to ensure that your skin is protected. After the 15 minutes, there is no harsh scraping with sharp tools or electric files. It shouldn't be like that. There are usually a couple little polish flecks left that Elizabeth gently removes and she VERY GENTLY uses a buffing block (like most of us have at home) to buff my nails ever so carefully before doing a new color.
I continue to look over my nails carefully and there has been absolutely no damage and my nails actually are in BETTER condition with gel polish.
It is crucial that you find a reputable salon that truly cares about the health and safety of their customers and a highly trained nail tech who doesn't take shortcuts to get you in and out faster.
Curing Comments: UV or LED and what it all means
When you get gel polish, they need to cure.
To cure your gel polish, LED light is used. Or some salons still use UV.
I know Dr. Oz mentioned recently that he was concerned about UV lights for the curing of gels, but most reputable salons now uses LED lights instead and my nail polish is cured in just 30 seconds. That is all it takes to completely dry the nail color! Placing the nails under the LED lights is super quick, painless, and easy. If the salon happens to still use UV lights, West says that "any good salon still using UV lamps will also provide special gloves that protect all but your nail plates from the UV light."
In fact, friends, you do get what you pay for. If you are going to a strip mall nail salon and paying $15 for your gel manicure, chances are you are not going to get the safest or most hygienic treatment. You should absolutely be given gloves like Elizabeth mentioned and you also need to be proactive and know that you should apply a broad spectrum sunscreen in addition to wearing those UV gloves if you are going to a place that still uses UV light.
The Nitty Gritty
I cannot tell you this is the safest option for nails. The safest option would be never to put any color on your nails.
There is NO SUCH THING as a completely safe nail polish or nail wrap or nail polish remover. That is just a fact. Even the most "natural" nail polishes STILL have chemicals. And the nail wraps I love so much that I sell them still are not all-natural, as they use an adhesive that is not 100% natural. We all have choices to make--and getting highlights in my hair and my nails done I suppose are things I am willing to do because of how I feel about having those things done.
We make trade offs sometimes. I don't wear heels because they aggravate my old break. I can't stand sore feet. Or blisters. Plus, I am clumsy and have been known to get my heel caught in the sidewalk cracks. That's why I only wear them about 5 times a year. On the other hand, it is a trade off many women are willing to make.
While I cannot say, "Go get gel nails--they are completely totally safe and green," I can tell you that you will not be breathing in the odor of nail polish or nail polish remover every couple days anymore. We are talking every couple weeks. As an aside, I have never detected an odor when I've gotten gel nails done. Maybe it is just me, but it is worth mentioning.
I can also tell you that both Gelish and Artistic Colour are BOTH 3-free, which means there is no toluene, formaldehyde or DBP (toxic phthalates). Chic & Green is opposed to harmful chemicals and toxins in your skin care. Truth be told, you should be more worried about what's in that body lotion or lipstick than gel polish. Listen up, friends. I sell nail wraps. I could easily say, "Hey, gels are toxic." But I won't, as research indicates otherwise. Those things are being absorbed through your skin--and those pose the more serious risk to your health.
Gels at Home?
While I think that pampering trip to the salon to get a manicure is a nice treat, you can now do gels at home.
Gel manicures are no longer limited to the salon. Gelish now sells do it yourself products at Sally Beauty Supply. I had the chance to try the kit out and was quite impressed. Was it easy right off the bat? No. Is there a learning curve? Yes. I realized that when I get gels, it is for the pampering and sheer feeling of relaxation from sitting in the salon. This is a great option, though, for those who really want to do it themselves.
Buying Guide (Items available at Sally Beauty Supply)