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Gel Manicures Durable, But Can Cause Lasting Problems

Dermatologist says use this nail treatment in moderation and learn about associated risks

FRIDAY, March 1 (HealthDay News) -- Many women like gel manicures because they are durable and long-lasting, but frequent use can cause nail thinning, brittleness, peeling and cracking, and also hide nail disease, an expert warns.

"In general, any manicure left in place for an extended period of time is not a good idea because you are not seeing what is going on underneath the nail polish," Dr. Chris Adigun, an assistant professor of dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City, said in an American Academy of Dermatology news release.

"As is the case with most things, moderation is the key when it comes to gel manicures," she said. "If you get them regularly, you need to be aware of the possible consequences and see a board-certified dermatologist if a persistent nail problem develops."

It's unclear whether nail brittleness associated with gel manicures is caused by chemicals in the gel nail polish or by the acetone soaks needed to remove the polish. Acetone dries nails and irritates the skin around the nail, Adigun said.

She said women who get frequent gel manicures need to know that the UV light used to cure the gel is a risk factor for skin cancer. Also, photo damage from the UV light can cause cosmetic changes in the skin surrounding nails.

Another potential problem is that nails continually covered in polish hide any problems occurring under the nail, such as an infection or tumor. This could delay diagnosis and treatment, she said.

Adigun offered the following tips for getting gel manicures:

  • Pay attention to your nails and allow them to regrow and repair. Consider getting gel manicures only occasionally to decrease the risk of problems.
  • When getting gel manicures, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen on your hands to minimize damage caused by exposure to UV light during the curing process.
  • Tell the manicurist not to push or manipulate the cuticle because that will increase the risk of inflammation and infection and also dry out the nail.
  • Use traditional nail polish instead of gel nail polish if you have recurring nail problems, or if you have an allergy to acetone, which is used to remove gel manicures.
  • Rehydrate your nails several times a day with a moisturizing product, such as petroleum jelly, to combat brittleness, thinning and chipping.
  • When removing gel nail polish, do not chip it with other nails or tools.
  • Soak only the nails, not the whole hand or fingers, in acetone while nail polish is being removed. This will help prevent skin irritation. If you get gel manicures frequently, consider buying finger wraps that expose only the nails and protect surrounding skin.
  • If you notice any unusual changes to the nails, see a dermatologist.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about nail-care products.


SOURCE: American Academy of Dermatology, news release, March 1, 2013

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