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Are your talons tainted? © Showbit

It is my sad duty to report that manicures may be promoting premature skin aging and even cancer.    

This might seem loony at first blush – most indoor salons are sheltered from the sun, for mascara’s sake – but think of the time you spend subjecting fingers to the flare of a UV lamp when setting your gel nails, and you’ll quickly realise how you might develop dessicated Donatella-esque hands.

“Might” being the operative word here. A 2012 study claims that the carcinogenic risks from UV nail lamp exposure are lower than that from full-body tanning beds. (It’s safe to say that most everyone will agree that tanning beds are a Very Bad Idea.)

The researchers even proffered a very pull quote-worthy analogy in their study – you’ll need to undergo 250 years of weekly manicures to “equal the UV dose” of one session of phototherapy. (Phototherapy, or controlled UV exposure, is used to placate psoriasis and other skin inflammations: Something I’m painfully familiar with on a personal basis as an eczema survivor.)

But, and there’s always a but, said study comes with a couple of caveats. “We concur with previous authors in recommending use of physical blocking sunscreens or UVA protective gloves [when using nail lamps] to limit the risk of carcinogenesis and photoaging,” notes Lyndsay Shipp from the Medical College of Georgia, US.

Digging a little deeper, I’ve unearthed a slew of studies refuting the supposed safety of nail lamps, chief of which is one published earlier this year which notes that UV radiation varies wildly among the different commercial lamps in use. Most damning is this particular doozy of a paper titled thusly: “Occurrence of non-melanoma skin cancers on the hands after UV nail light exposure.” ‘Nuff said, really.

Of course, this needn’t be the final nail in the coffin for your weekly mani and pedi. Presenting some “handy” tips for salon safety:

TIP #1. Always, always apply sunscreen on your hands. If you know you’ll be rocking gel extensions, always prep by slathering on a high SPF body cream – and this is best practice for everyone, nail art addict or otherwise.

Product recommendation-wise, my current obsession is Shiseido’s superb Perfect UV Protector (pictured below), a lush lotion with a fine finish that’s also amped up with a very impressive SPF50 PA++++ rating. #BeautyTip: This multi-purpose marvel of a product’s perfect for the face as well; I like dotting and blending it along my cheekbones in lieu of loose powder whenever I’m gunning for a matte-but-not-flat look.

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Sunscreen: Your new essential for salon safety

TIP #2. Opt for salons that use LED lamps or drying fans. In the interest of balanced beauty reporting, I asked nail technician Fan Wenqing of SoQ Nails for a “firsthand” account of this industry fracas (I’m having way too much fun with these puns).  

Her advice? Do your research and call “beforehand” to make sure your manicurists are using innocuous implements, such as good old-fashioned fans or LED lights. Besides, as Wenqing points out, most Singapore salons have replaced “obsolete UV lamps” with LED ones.

Oh, and here’s a gossipy little tidbit. Wenqing, who just happens to be the sister of Fann Woon Fong (yes, that Fann), tells me that her preggers superstar sibling has sworn off all nail art for now: “She plays it very, very safe.” Yet another reason to be inspired by the impossibly perfect Caldecott Hill icon, fellow mothers-to-be!

TIP #3. Hands off every three months. I like scheduling makeup-free days every week or so, and this appears to be a good idea for gel manicures as well. “The ultra-hard acrylic veneers can cut off oxygen supply to your nail bed if you’re wearing them 365 days a year,” notes Gene Ho, managing director of CADO Asia Pacific, a Singapore-based beauty research laboratory. “Laying off the faux fingernails will allow your cuticles to rest and rejuvenate.”

Can’t bear going bare? Use regular over-the-counter bottles of polish during your self-imposed lull period, a combination of which can yield pretty fancy DIY finishes with practice.

TIP #4. Be anal and ask for the bottles. There’s no shame in being safe, so always scrutinise the stuff your technicians are potentially tainting you with. Even better, do your own shopping and tote along bottles from tried-and-tested brands that bill themselves as being free of beauty baddies like toluene and formaldehyde; refresh your memory with my primer on poisons in your polish.

Bottom line? Slather on generous globs of heavy-duty sunscreen on your hands and remember to read the labels whenever you’re at the salon, but go right ahead and live a little. Follow the above rules and you’ll be in safe hands, so to speak – with a killer set of talons to boot!

Shiseido Perfect UV Protector, $59 for 50ml, is available at all Shiseido counters. For more information, visit and  follow the brand on Facebook.

For nail-related enquiries, contact Fan Wenqing via SoQ Nail’s Facebook and Instagram pages.