Health risks of Shellac nail polish and other gel manicures

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    Shellac nail polish

    Gel manicures and Shellac nail polish are hardened under a UV-A light (Shutterstock photo)

    For many women, having their nails professionally done isn’t just about keeping their hands looking nice. A good number of women take time out of their week to treat themselves to some time away from the stress of family and work. While a visit to the nail parlor may seem like a safe way to unwind, experts caution of the potential dangers associated with Shellac nail polish.

    Promoted as a nail polish which last longer than other polishes and resists chipping, Shellac nail polish was registered by Creative Nail Design. While the polish itself is not the main cause for concern, the method by which the polish is dried could potentially cause skin cancer.

    Skin cancer risk?

    A study previously published in the JAMA Archives of Dermatology, examined the cases of two women who developed skin cancer on the back of their hands after exposure to UV-A nail curing lights. The conclusion of the researchers, Deborah F. MacFarlane, MD, MPH, and Carol A. Alonso, MD, stated, “It appears that exposure to UV nail lights is a risk factor for the development of skin cancer; however, this observation warrants further investigation. In addition, awareness of this possible association may help physicians identify more skin cancers and better educate their patients.”

    “The main concern is that the lights they’re using to cure the nails are UV-A lights,” dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll told CBC’s Marivel Taruc earlier this year. “Exposing yourself to this light we know increases your risk of skin cancer. My concern is that people don’t know the lights are UV-A lights, and over time, these lights could increase your risk of skin cancer.”

    Skin cancer from chronic exposure is not the only concern when it comes to Shellac nail polish, which is considered a hybrid form of a gel manicure. According to a report from, a gel manicure consists of hardening a gel on top of the nail using a UV-A light. The substance is then sculpted and shaved down until a smooth surface is obtained, and then polish is applied. In addition to using potentially harmful UV-A lights, gel manicures require fingers and nails to be soaked in strong acetone to remove the excess gel residue.

    In a Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology report, doctors at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, found “nail weakness, brittleness, and thinning in five subjects after the application of a new manicure system called gel polish and removal with acetone and manual peeling. All subjects complained that the polish was very difficult to remove and that their nails became much thinner after the procedure.”

    The University of Miami experts demonstrated the discovered nail plate thinning through the use of ultrasound.

    “Overall, we hope that this report raises the awareness of potential adverse effects of the gel polish system on nail health,” the research concluded. “A patient presenting for advice about various manicures may be advised that the gel polish may lead to thinner and more brittle nails, especially when the general public may have the misconception that the gel polish system can strengthen nails.”

    If soaking in acetone and exposing skin to UV-A lights were not enough to deter some women from visiting the salon, everyday risks associated with manicures are also possible with Shellac nail polish application or gel manicures.


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