A water bowl of botanical oils and rose petals is used to soften hands before a manicure at Waterstone Salon in Ashland. 8/19/13 Denise Baratta

Tips to Protect Your Tips

The pleasant pampering and seemingly limitless range of styles and colors make manicures fun and fashionable. However, there are choices consumers can make to decrease the health risks of this beauty treatment.

LED vs. ultraviolet

Gel nails are very popular for their durability. The application process involves four coats (a base coat, two coats of color and a top coat) of a polymer polish that can last up to two weeks before starting to show wear. A regular nail polish manicure often starts to chip within two days.

However, the gel polish has to be cured under ultraviolet or LED lights after each coat. Several dermatologists have come out against the use of ultraviolet lights as a skin cancer risk, though there is still much debate. Consumers should look for salons that use LED lights, which work much quicker, limiting exposure. As examples, both The Blue Giraffe and the Waterstone Spa in Ashland use LED lights and offer sunscreen to any client who would like the additional protection. JoAnne DeRoo, the operational manager at The Blue Giraffe, says it requires four exposures for 30 seconds each to the LED light to set each coat.


Unlike regular nail polish, experts recommend a secondary appointment to have gel polish removed because it is not easy to do on your own and could damage nails and skin if done improperly. "Picking at a chip or trying to peel the polish off is the worst thing you can do," says Ernestine Bruce, a manicurist at Waterstone Salon. "If you don't remove it properly, it can take a layer of the nail off with it."

The necessary acetone bath for the removal of gel nails is also stirring debate among health care experts. The one recommendation with consensus is to use moderation in the frequency of any applied product to promote healthy nails.

Be "free"

Not all polishes are created equally. Some polishes contain chemicals that can be more harmful than others. From a health perspective, consumers should look for polishes that are at least "3-free," meaning they do not have the ingredients dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde in the formula. Polishes labeled as "5-free" do not contain those three ingredients and are also free of camphor and formaldehyde resin. These ingredients are often allergens for people and some are considered carcinogenic by experts.

Manicurists at The Blue Giraffe use Essie, a 3-free brand of traditional nail polish. Waterstone Salon's brand of choice for traditional manicures is Zoya, a 5-free polish line that is also vegan. The CND Shellac gel polish Waterstone Salon uses is 3-free. "I really like their color selection," Bruce says. "I use them on my own nails."

Go natural

Natural manicures are also popular at both salons for those seeking the pampering without the color or chemicals of polish.

"I have a lot of clients, even a few men, who just want their nails buffed and trimmed," Bruce says. "It is actually a very healthy option and it helps keep their nails strong."

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