The supposedly safer LED lamps for gel manicures are worse than you think for your hands!

Warning: Your professional manicures may be giving you ‘old lady’ fingers, but don’t bite your nails in despair just yet. Be smart and stay safe with these top tips to keep you in good hands

Image illustration: Sharmaine Khor

The problem with gel polish

Apologies in advance if this bungles up the bliss from an afternoon of girl-talk at your go-to salon, but it’s my sad duty to report that manicures may be promoting premature skin aging and even cancer.

This might seem loony at first blush – most indoor salons are sheltered from the sun, after all – but think of the time spent subjecting your fingers to the flare of a UV lamp when setting your gel nails and you’ll quickly realise how you might develop dessicated Donatella-esque hands.

Most damning is this particular doozy of a paper titled thusly: “Occurrence of non-melanoma skin cancers on the hands after UV nail light exposure.” ‘Nuff said, really.

Think LED lamps are safer? Think again

In any case, most Singapore salons have replaced obsolete UV lamps with LED ones – a “rebranding” exercise which should, on the surface of things, assuage our anxieties about contracting cancer, right?

Not so. Take it from New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Dana Stern, who says that LED lamps may actually be horrifically harmful to your hands. “When the public hears ‘LED’, they assume it's like the LED lights we use in our homes,” explains Dr Dana. “Many people mistakenly believe these lamps do not use UVA to cure, when in fact they use higher intensities of UVA wavelengths in order to achieve the shorter curing times.” Translation: It’s quicker, but also deadlier. Gulp.

How to protect your paws

Of course, this needn’t be the final nail in the coffin for your weekly mani and pedi. Presenting some “handy” tips for salon safety:

1. Always, always apply sunscreen on your hands

If you know you’ll be rocking gel extensions, always prep by slathering on a high SPF body cream – and this is best practice for everyone, nail art addict or otherwise.

2. Hands off every three months

I like scheduling makeup-free days every week or so, and this seems to be a good idea for gel and acrylic manicures as well. Taking off the acrylic veneer will allow the nail bed to rest and rejuvenate. Can’t bear going bare? Just use regular DIY polish during the lull period.

3. Be anal and ask for the bottles

There’s no shame in being safe, so always scrutinise the stuff your technicians are potentially tainting you with. Even better, do your own shopping and tote along bottles from tried-and-tested brands that bill themselves as being free of beauty baddies like toluene and formaldehyde; refresh your memory with my primer on poisons in your polish.

Bottom line? In the immortal words of that ‘90s smash hit: “If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it”. Slather on a generous gloop of sunscreen on your hands and read the labels whenever you’re at the salon, but go right ahead and live a little. Do all that and you’ll be in safe hands, so to speak, with a killer set of talons to boot!

Want more? Spritz, slather and scrub yourself to a fabulously fine finish with these beauty tips I bet you haven’t heard of before, and check out these  tried-and-tested “sleeping aids” to fend off fatigue for softer and smoother skin, even if you’re running on empty. Get your daily dose of beauty at

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