We love gel mani-pedis because they last long and don’t chip easily. But the process of getting one involves using UV lamps to seal the gel polish on your nail, and these lamps emit high levels of UVA radiation which can age your skin quickly.

It could even put you at a higher risk of developing cancer. This potential for damage is taken seriously in medical circles, and the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that we apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to our hands before getting a gel treatment.

Dr YZ Tan, founder and medical director of Mizu Aesthetic Clinic, says that damage from UV radiation is usually minimal from such lamps if the exposure is little. Therefore, if you’re only getting the occasional manicure, it’s fine.

“However, prolonged exposure under such lamps can still cause damage the way UVA rays from the sun damage the cells within your skin. The degree of this would depend on the intensity of the UV lamp and how long or often it’s being used.”

Dr Kenneth Thean, founder and medical director of Ensoul Medical Clinic, says that while these lamps are generally considered safe for most individuals, it’s necessary to understand the potential impact of the UV radiation emitted by these devices.

“Some nail lamps are called ‘UV’ lamps and others are called LED lamps,” he elaborates. “However, it is important to note that both emit UV radiation. Both these types of lamps predominantly produce UVA rays which have been linked to premature skin aging as well as skin cancer. The good news is that even the most intense of these devices poses only a moderate UV risk which is a far lower risk than that presented by UV tanning devices or tanning beds.”

“In my opinion, the risk of significant harm from occasional exposure is relatively low. However, it is important to be mindful of the potential long-term consequences and take appropriate precautions to protect the skin from unnecessary exposure.”

Dr Thean adds that the use of SPF creams before getting a gel manicure “can be beneficial” as they are designed to protect the skin from UV radiation by creating a barrier between your skin and the UV rays, thus reducing their ability to damage the cells. He notes that the Skin Cancer Foundation in the United States recommends applying a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen on the hands and fingers 20 minutes before exposing them to UV light.

However, this precaution does not protect against subungual (under the nail) squamous cell carcinoma, a rare but potentially aggressive form of cancer. If you’re regularly getting manicures, the safest bet is to allow the nails to air-dry naturally or use a fan and avoid the drying lamps altogether.

Dr Thean, Ensoul Medical Clinic

Mizu Aesthetic Clinic’s Dr Tan recommends using any sunscreen that has worked so far for your skin and body. However, he suggests using a water-resistant sunscreen if your manicure involves contact with water.

According to Dr Thean, it’s important to choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30.

“Look out for sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide; these are mineral-based ingredients that physically block UV rays from penetrating the skin,” he says.

“These ingredients are also considered safe and effective, suitable for individuals with sensitive skin and can provide immediate protection upon application. They are less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions compared to chemical sunscreen.”

He also advises avoiding sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, octinoxate or other chemical filters, especially if you have sensitive skin or are prone to allergies. These chemical ingredients absorb the UV rays and convert them into heat, which can potentially cause skin irritation or trigger allergic reactions in some individuals.

“Certain sunscreens may contain heavy oils which can create a barrier on the skin’s surface, trapping sweat and bacteria which leads to pore blockage and potential acne flare-ups. Instead, opt for lightweight, oil-free formulas that provide effective sun protection without feeling heavy, which might be more comfortable even for daily use,” he says.

5 sunscreen products to try

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Body SPF40, $68

This body sunscreen is weightless, scentless, and formulated with ingredients that nourish and retain moisture on the skin. These include olive and fruit extracts, which soothe and reinforce the skin’s natural barrier, and a plant-derived emollient, which moisturises without the greasy after-feel. It’s suitable for all skin types and comes in an easy-to-apply gel formula.

Biore UV Aqua Rich Aqua Protect Mist SPF50 PA++++, $22.10

Thanks to its Aqua Protect Mist Technology, this sunscreen dispenses as a water-like mist, forming a thin and even UV protection layer on your skin. It spreads more easily and evenly compared to the typical aerosol spray, resulting in better coverage. The non-sticky formula feels like a second skin, which allows one to apply the sunscreen on the entire body in Singapore’s humid weather.

Fenty Hydra Vizor Mineral SPF 15 Hand Cream, $34

Enjoy the benefits of hydration and UV protection at the same time. Ingredients include zinc oxide, which protects against UVA damage, and vitamin E, which reduces the signs of ageing. Your hands will also feel soft and smooth with this cream, which doesn’t feel greasy.

Drunk Elephant Umbra SheerTM Physical Daily Defense SPF 30, $52

This daily sunscreen is filled with potent antioxidants that will give you more youthful-looking skin. It also helps prevent free radical and oxidative damage, while delivering essential moisture to your skin. The fragrance and silicone-free sunscreen contains zinc oxide, which helps to prevent skin irritation.

Derma Lab Vitamin E Serum Sunscreen SPF50 PA+++, $39.90

Highly-moisturising serum actives like vitamin E and aloe vera extract keep skin feeling soothed and hydrated. The serum feels light, absorbs quickly and is non-greasy, making it ideal for daily use. It provides long-lasting UVA and UVB protection and is also water resistant.

Text: Balvinder Sandhu/HerWorld