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Gel Nails: Hammering Down the Details

By Anne Marie Tremaine, MD

Gel Nails:  Hammering Down the DetailsIt is no surprise that gel nails have become very popular. They are quick and easy to apply, have amazing durability, and an incredible glossy appearance. As a busy mom and physician, if I am going to take the time do my nails, I need them to be indestructible.

But the question remains, are the gel nails safe? What happens to our skin and nails with repeated, long term application of the gel nail? The truth is that the nail application and removal process can have some negative effects. The first issue is the light that is used to cure the gel nail polish. The lamps and LED lights used to harden the polish emit UVA rays. This wavelength of ultraviolet light penetrates deep into the skin and causes damage to DNA and breakdown of collagen which in turn causes premature skin aging, sun spots, wrinkles, and a slight increased risk of skin cancer of the fingers and hands. The argument that the exposure to the lamps is short is not a sound one.

These lamps emit intense light, and even during a short burst the damage is occurring. Secondly, most women are regularly getting manicures and are exposed to the lights every few weeks.

Another concern is the damage that occurs from removing the nails. Both the 10-15 minute acetone soak and the process of chipping the nail off causes trauma, which can leave the nails discolored or cause them to lift and separate from the nail bed.

So, what is the solution? Consider only doing the gel manicures intermittently, giving your nails time to recuperate in-between. Limit your exposure to the curing lights by either wearing UV protective gloves with the fingers cut out or applying broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+ prior to the light exposure. Hopefully, this compromise will save our nails and keep our surrounding skin luminous and healthy.

Anne Marie Tremaine, MD
Board Certified Dermatologist
Harvard Cosmetic and Laser Medicine Fellowship

Dr. Tremaine is a board-certified dermatologist with fellowship training at Harvard Medical School in laser and cosmetic surgery. She has contributed as a dermatology expert for online and print magazines including Family Fun,,, and In addition, she frequently lectures to professional societies on her diverse research. For more information about skin care visit the Skin Wellness
Physicians website at:

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