Women (and some men) are wild about gel manicures.
They regularly shell out an extra $25 for a salon gel mani, compared with a regular manicure. The payoff is shiny, hard-wearing nail color that lasts two weeks and dries in a flash.
Gels, including some DIY versions, helped elevate nail polish to a $1-billion-a-year industry that inspires lucrative celebrity tie-ins with Rihanna, Sofia Vergara, Serena Williams, Katy Perry, Ashley Judd and many, many others.
“Clients really love that you don’t have to spend much time under the dryer, and you don’t have to worry about touching something and messing up your polish,” said Glenda Turner, a nail technician at Aura Salon and Boutique in Durham.
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“It’s what our clients have been asking for.”
But their popularity has spawned fear about whether gel manicures are safe.
Removing gels requires about a 10-minute soak in pungent acetone remover. UV lights, the technology in tanning beds, are used to dry (or “cure,” in industry-speak) gel polish, leading some to worry about skin cancer risk.
There is some concern about UV light exposure, along with reported cases of skin cancers on the hands of regular gel manicure recipients, said Dr. Chris Adigun, a board-certified dermatologist who practices at Aesthetic Solutions in Chapel Hill.
But the risk is minimal, said Adigun, a much-quoted expert who specializes in nail disorders.
In 2013 she analyzed data from a University of Miami study on gel manicure users for the American Academy of Dermatology, the largest annual conference of dermatologists.
“Even if you get a gel manicure every two to three weeks, the risk for the average person is tiny, nearly miniscule,” Adigun said. “Gel manicures really can be great for a lot of people, especially if they have medical nail problems.”
Clients are happy
Turner, the manicurist, does 30-40 manis a week and nearly all her customers prefer gel polish. She keeps sunscreen on hand, but says most think the risk isn’t a major concern. They love the result.
“It’s what the nail techs have been waiting for because on natural nails, gel lasts longer and that makes clients happy,” says Turner, a 30-year veteran of the industry. “It’s a great product.”
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Keep your nails and skin safe
Based on advice from three experts, here are tips to keep your nails and skin healthy.
The dermatologist says . . .
▪ Protect. Wear sunscreen and/or fingerless gloves to shield your hands from UV lamps and minimize premature aging, wrinkling and unusual pigmentation. “Those risks are real,” said Dr. Chris Adigun, a dermatologist in Chapel Hill.
▪ Inspect. Take a look at your nails when the gel polish comes off. Make sure nails are not lifting off the nail beds and look for darkened areas. If you see problems, consult a doctor.
▪ Hydrate. Before and after the acetone bath used to soak off gel polish, “hydrate your nails very vigorously. It will prevent your nails from peeling as easily, breaking as easily and being as brittle.”
▪ Pause. “I recommend that every few months, you go on a gel manicure diet to give your fingernails about two to four weeks to repair and rehydrate.”
The nail technician says . . .
▪ Go with a brand. Glenda Turner, a nail technician in Durham, has had great success with Shellac by CND, which she says has a shorter drying and soaking-off time to minimize potential damage. “You can use a no-name product, but you can’t be sure what you’re getting.” Other major brands include Orly, OPI and Essie.
▪ Follow directions. Each gel product has a unique drying time and soaking-off time. Done correctly, there’s no need to scrape polish off. “I wouldn’t cross-use gels and lamps from different companies.”
▪ Keep it up. Maintenance is key. Gels are meant to be removed about every two weeks, so don’t neglect your nails.
The salon inspection expert says . . .
▪ Look around. If a nail tech’s station is clean and well-organized, that gives you a hint that she follows procedures to prevent contamination that could damage your nails, which are vulnerable to infection, said Lynda Elliott, executive director of the N.C. Board of Cosmetic Art.
▪ Check the license. The state grades thousands of salons, and that gives some assurance the manicurist has proper training. “As the consumer, you’ve got to do your due diligence.”
▪ Dr. Chris Adigun is a board-certified dermatologist who practices at Aesthetic Solutions in Chapel Hill (aesthetic-solutions.com) and specializes in nail disorders.
▪ Glenda Turner is a nail technician and 30-year industry veteran who works at Aura Salon and Boutique in Durham (aurasalonandboutique.com).
▪ Lynda Elliott, the executive director of the N.C. Board of Cosmetic Art (nccosmeticarts.com/board/staff.aspx), is responsible for inspecting and grading thousands of salons statewide.