By Claudia Lin
It sounds almost too good to be true — a nail polish that has no dry time, no smudging or dents, and stays shiny and chip-resistant for weeks is like the ultimate nail dream. And I personally love it, like millions of women around the world do, comforting myself that I’ll save time and nail damage with less frequent nail painting…Until I spotted this article on the possible alarming side effects of gel manis & pedis, that is.
Dermatologist Dr Richard K. Scher raised his concerns about the potential health hazards of gel polish at the American Academy of Dermatology’s (AAD) Summer Academy Meeting.The risks are mainly related to the way the polish is applied and removed.
“They require regular exposure to ultraviolet light,” explains Dr Scher. “And there have been a couple of articles which suggested that damage of the digits around the nails has occurred.”
This damage may not be only limited to dreadful skin aging, but includes increased risk of squamous cell skin cancer.
A previous case study by University of Texas researchers published in the Archives of Dermatology in April 2009 reported that two women developed non-melanoma skin cancer on the tops of their hands from regular exposure to UV nail lamps. Both women were middle-aged, otherwise healthy, and had no cancer history. Although the numbers in this report are small and insufficient to point fingers conclusively to the nail lamps, but this is a definite possibility since the relationship between cumulative UV damage and skin cancer in other parts of the body has long been well-established.
Along with UV exposure, Dr Scher also points out that acetone can be damaging too. As the thick layers of painted enamel is extremely adherent to the nails, women have to drown their nails (or sometimes entire fingers) into acetone to soak off the gel polish.
Imagine getting a manicure every two to three weeks, the solvent can seriously dry out the nail (sounds familiar?) and even cause irritation and inflammation (irritant dermatitis) in the surrounding skin. That, in turn, often predisposes to infected swollen digits as the skin barrier is broken.
Here are healthy nail care dos & don’ts we should observe while enjoying a prettifying treat at the nail salon (yes…I still absolutely cannot do without it!):
- Check that your nail salon has good hygiene practices. Proper sterilization (and not just a quick rub down…or sometimes not even an alcohol rub!) of nail grooming tools before use in each customer is imperative. Or consider investing in your own clean set of quality tools and bringing it to your salon, and change your nail files regularly. Nail parlours can be hotbeds of infection if they aren’t meticulously clean — fungal nail infections (lifting, thickening and eventual deformity of nails) can commonly spread between customers through contaminated instruments…and if you’re extremely unlucky, even the unthinkable (like hepatitis or HIV) is a possibility of there’s accidental nipping of skin and bleeding.
- Don’t allow your over-zealous manicurist to push the cuticle back too far. Doing so would expose the growth area (nail matrix) to irritants and germs which may lead to infections and nail growth deformities. Trim gently only the part of the cuticle that has started to lift away from the nail.
- Limit your use of UV nail lamps (whether to cure gel nail polish or acrylic nails) as much as possible. A safer option available in certain salons is the LED lights.
- Coat the outside of the nails with polish or ridge fillers, which can help protect the nail and prevent breaking and splitting, at least while the manicure lasts.
- Our nails need to breathe. Leave a few days between applications of nail polish, and try to alternate dark colours with lighter ones to let your talons recover. Brittle, ridged, yellow nails are so not attractive.
- Try to keep nail polish remover to a minimum — try touching up your polish instead. And use an acetone- & toluene-free remover to help prevent dryness.
- Moisturise the cuticle area as you do for your hands to prevent cracking and peeling, which can hurt the nail matrix and affect the health of your nails. My favourite? – Avoplex Cuticle Oil To Go (the handy pocket-sized tube of moisturising goodness comes with an idiot-proof brush tip to pamper my nails anytime anywhere).
- By the way, don’t neglect to keep the underside of your nails clean with gentle soap and water (or a soft nail brush) too. We don’t want germs and dirt down our stomachs all the time, do we?
Healthy shiny nails are the sexiest!