One of the biggest concerns regarding gel nail treatments involves the UV-A lamps used to set or cure the gel polish. The fear here is that exposure to even small amounts of UV light on a regular basis may cause skin cancer. UV-A light penetrates deep into the skin. UV nail lights and tanning beds actually use the same technology. Proponents argue that the nail curing process requires relatively little time under UV light as opposed to, say, getting a whole body tan for your next vacation. It takes about five minutes of UV light exposure to cure a gel nail manicure. That's still enough time to cause some regular UV gel nail customers to develop age spots on their hands, a preliminary sign of UV skin damage.
In 2009, a report in the Archives of Dermatology voiced concerns that increased UV-A exposure caused by nail curing lights may contribute to photoaging and an increased skin cancer risk. Research into how much of a risk these lights actually pose is ongoing.
That's not the only potential problem with gel nails, either. The methyl acrylate used in many gel preparations can cause allergic reactions like contact dermatitis in some people, and gel formulas often use butylated hydroxyanisol (BHA), an ingredient that has been linked to cancer in its own right.
Don't panic yet, though. You know there's some potential danger in sun exposure, but that doesn't keep you from going outdoors during the day. If you think having a long lasting manicure is worth a little discomfort and possibly some risk, give gel nails a try -- but take precautions. Apply a sunscreen product to your hands that has an SPF 30 rating or better before having (or giving yourself) a gel nail manicure. If you treat yourself to manicures often, you might also want to wear cotton gloves (with the tips cut off to expose your nails) as an added precaution.