Gel manicures have become an integral part of many women’s beauty routines; the chip-resistant, shiny finish can elevate your look from scruffy to sophisticated in a matter of minutes and lasts for weeks. However, in the past few years, there has been much discussion over the safety of the lamps used during gel manicures, with some scary anecdotes and plenty of misinformation flying around. In this post, we’re going to set the record straight about LED nail dryers and the risks associated with using them.
What are LED nail dryers?
If you have ever been to a nail salon and chosen a gel manicure, you will have seen an LED (light-emitting diode) or a UV (ultraviolet) nail dryer in action. After having your nails painted, instead of air-drying them, which is time-consuming and risks smudging your fresh polish, you hold your hands under an LED light for around 45 seconds to a minute. The light quickly ‘cures’ or hardens the nail polish, and this is what makes gel manicures so long-lasting and chip-free.
How do LED nail dryers work?
Let’s clear up the difference between UV and LED lamps—LED lamps actually emit more UV than UV lamps (confusing, we know!) Because of this, they work more quickly to cure the nail polish, meaning that your hands are under the lamp for a much shorter time. The LED light works by emitting wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation that hit molecules called photoinitiators in the gel polish. These molecules absorb the light, thus hardening the polish.
Are LED nail dryers safe?
The term ‘UVA’, tends to strike fear into us, and for good reason. We know for a fact that UVA damages our skin–causing premature aging, sun spots, and wrinkles–and that it increases the risk of skin cancer, which is why we are told to pile on factor 50 sunscreen, wear hats, and sit in the shade during the hottest part of the day.
We are also told to avoid tanning booths because of the UV light they use. However, unlike tanning booths, which emit a large amount of UVA over a sizable amount of skin, nail lamps contain only trace amounts of UV light, and the duration and frequency of the light exposure are so brief that it is very unlikely to cause issues.
There has been a lot of fear-mongering, both online and in magazines, about nail dryers leading to skin cancer, which has understandably led some women to stop having gel manicures altogether. However, there is no real evidence to support this, and most experts in the field officially state that LED nail lamps are quite safe. LED nail dryers are even regulated by the FDA who, when studying the lamps, stated that ‘36 minutes of daily exposure…was below the occupational exposure limits for UV radiation’. When you consider that your hands are usually under the dryer for less than a minute, any harm seems even less probable!
One thing to be aware of is that the risk seems to increase depending on how often and over how long a period you get your gel manicures; if you are a gel devotee and go every two weeks for years, there might be an accumulative effect.
Although there is probably nothing to worry about when using LED lamps, the tops of hands are a very sensitive and delicate area, and there are actually ways you can protect yourself during your manicure if you still feel worried about the UV light; prevention is better than cure, after all. You can either apply some broad-spectrum sunscreen on the back of your hands before you step into the salon or wear some fingerless gloves to cover the majority of your hands. You can even find gloves that have titanium dioxide, a component of sunscreen, woven into them!
The bottom line is that you don’t need to skip your gel manicure because you are worried about skin cancer. The UV exposure in LED nail dryers is minuscule and is very unlikely to cause issues. As long as you are educated about the risks and take precautions, you can carry on making your pincers pretty for years to come.