Experts warn of serious health risks associated with shellac, gel manicures

Woman opens safer nail salon in Rochester

ROCHESTER, Mich. – Many people enjoy a good manicure, but one of the popular types comes with potential health risks.

Local 4's Sandra Ali took a closer look at what people should be concerned about and a possible alternative to consider.

For some people, getting their nails done is part of the regular beauty routine. Experts warn there are possible hidden dangers associated with shellac or gel manicures, though.

Shellac manicures are more popular than ever because they last longer than other polishes, dry quickly and don't chip.

But there's a warning that artificial gel nail polishes might be harmful to a person's health.

"There's times out there that (ultraviolet) light from the sun is damaging and accelerates the aging process and known to cause cancer," said Diana Adams, a registered nurse and aesthetic cosmetic injector.

Experts said the polish itself isn't what people should be concerned about. The risks are associated with how the nails are dried.

"In acrylic nails, there's a chemical called MMA, and that is known to cause cancer," Adams said. "If you're getting acrylic nails, you're really exposing yourself to carcinogens."

A gel manicure, also known as acrylic or shellac, uses ultraviolet light to dry and harden the gel polish on top of nails. The machines many salons use have the same bulbs used in tanning beds.

"Well, the No. 1 thing that accelerates aging is sun exposure," Adams said. "So abusive sun exposure, excessive sun exposure are very harmful to our face and our hands."

Some salons are moving toward more organic polishes and using LED lights instead since they produce very little ultraviolet light.

"The LED is much safer for you," said Angie Noble, the owner and general manager of Paint Nail Bar in Rochester. "It doesn't have the UV, UVB rays, so people can rest assured that when you're coming here, you're not going to be exposed to those things that cause, you know, the biproduct premature aging and the possible exposure to cancers."

Noble opened Paint Nail Bar as what she hopes is a healthier alternative to what people might find at traditional nail salons.

"A lot of people are exercising," Noble said. "They're eating healthier. But it wasn't until I really started to notice the damage on my nails that I wanted to do something different, and this is a way for you, this salon, this is the way for you to feel safe, because you know that our products are the least toxic of any of the products in the industry."

Noble said she believes it creates a safer environment for her employees, too.

"Typically, (when) you work at a salon, you're exposed to chemicals and things that can be carcinogens," Nobel said. "But we want to protect our staff and the people that come, so we choose products that are formulated without certain chemicals."

Doctors said the key to being safe is limiting exposure and preventing sun damage in the first place. They said even if you do end up getting a shellac manicure exposed to UV light rays, you can protect your skin beforehand with sunscreen.

About the Authors:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.