Natural Beauty: Are Gel Manicures Safe?

July 14, 2015

Natural Beauty: Are Gel Manicures Safe? | Peaceful Dumpling

Is that pretty, high-shine gel manicure doing more harm than good?

At Peaceful Dumpling, we’ve shared our love for 3-free and 5-free vegan and cruelty-free nail polish bands. But what about gel nail polish?

Are gel manicures safe?

Gel nail polish is a relatively new lacquer formula that typically lasts far longer than your average nail polish (about 2 weeks). It resists fading and chips and stays shiny—even under siege of group texts and dishwashing. Gel polish is applied like traditional polish, but between coats, it must be cured under a UV or LED lamp.

For my wedding, my bridesmaids and I received gel manicures. It was a relief to know that I wouldn’t have to worry about chipping my nails on the day of the wedding or during the honeymoon. I was in awe. Those suckers lasted!

As with all miracle beauty products, however, we have to be cautious and do a little investigation about their safety. The dangers of certain nail polish ingredients, like formaldehyde and toluene have been well documented, and because consumers are increasingly aware of them, we now have access to hundreds of colors that don’t contain possible carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

But gel formulas are a different beast. I did a little poking around and found that the major gel nail polish brands (like Sensationail, Sally Hansen, and Red Carpet Manicure) don’t contain the Big 3 (or 5)—but there’s a slew of other unpronounceables! The thing is, because these polishes are so new, we may not fully understand their potential to harm us in the long run. I hope I don’t sound alarmist (trust me, I love a good gel manicure, obviously!), but it’s something to be aware of.

Of course, to properly remove a gel manicure, you must soak your fingertips in pure acetone—and I don’t mean the purple bottle of generic nail polish remover—we’re talking pure acetone. Aside from drying out your nails, acetone can be absorbed through your skin (duh) and lungs.

What about those lights, though?

Most of the concern surrounding gel manicures involves the use of a UV light to cure the polish. Dermatologist Jessica Wu, MD, explains that the UV exposure from a manicure lamp is incredibly low, however, and shouldn’t be of concern. It’s certainly understandable to feel like a little extra UV exposure should be avoided, though. Fortunately, many salons are now relying on LED lamps, which, oddly enough, have been used to treat signs of sun damage and promote the generation of new collagen. There are even brands that promise gel-like results with no lamp time at all! Even if your salon uses a UV lamp, you can apply sunscreen around your fingertips or use special fingerless gloves.

My poor nail bed!

Yes, the struggle is real. Gels can certainly dry out the nail bed and, if removed improperly, can tear up natural nails, leaving them brittle, flaky, and sad. It’s generally recommended that you take breaks between your gel manicures to give your nails a chance to breathe and grow out. Otherwise, you’ll be left with some pretty vulnerable nails.

While you’re wearing a gel manicure, take care of your nails by moisturizing your cuticles with cuticle oil or a rich lotion every night before bed.

What gel nail polish brands are cruelty-free?

Here’s where things get a little gray (or grayer). If you’ve ever done your own cruelty-free research, you’ve probably come across some contradicting information. Some companies that claim to be cruelty-free may be owned by a not-cruelty-free parent (like OPI). Meanwhile, as companies shift allegiances and change their practices, cruelty-free lists becomes out of date, and the headache ensues.

But here is what I found—As of 2014, Gellish and Kiss are cruelty-free. Both lines offer gorgeous colors, which, in my book, might be just right for a special occasion. There may be other cruelty-free lines of gel polish, but I didn’t have any luck finding any. Please let us know if you have better luck!

What are your thoughts on gel manicures?

Related: Pretty Vegan Nail Polishes for Summer

Going Bare with Healthy, Polish-Free Nails

7 Tips to Make Your Manicure Last Longer

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Photo: Gellish

Peaceful Dumpling Beauty Editor and creator of Bisou du Jour, Mary Hood Luttrell lives with her husband in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mary is a freelance writer and writing and blogging consultant. A lover of whole foods, Mary delights in learning new ways to prepare vegan dishes. Mary also enjoys reading and writing poetry, art journaling, running, and practicing yoga and ballet. Follow Mary on her blog Bisou du Jour, Instagram and Pinterest.


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