But there's concern that the procedure may not always be safe -- either because the technicians don't do them right, or the nail salon is passing off other procedures as gel manicures.
In some cases, the electric file can slip and scuff up your skin, which is then dipped into a pot of powdered chemicals. Especially if the chemicals are not a true gel manicure, they can get into the abrasion and migrate, causing nerve damage.
ABC News offers some tips for spotting a manicure procedure that could harm you:
- Your salon uses bottles in unmarked containers.
- The products smell unusually strong or have a strange odor.
- Your skin is abraded or cut during the procedure.
- The instruments used on you are not sterilized.
- Your skin or nails hurt during or after the nail service.
- You see swelling, redness or other signs of infection.
For the complete list, please see ABC News' article linked below.
I'm willing to bet a lot of my female readers enjoy getting their nails done. Getting a manicure is a good stress reliever too, I'm told, in addition to looking well-groomed and polished.
Occasionally I will get a pedicure as I really enjoy the foot massage and the back massage chairs that most salons use. It has been my experience that many of the nail technicians in the US are from Vietnam and many are very skilled in foot massage.
However, I wanted to bring this potential problem to your attention, so you don't end up with the kind of chronic, debilitating pain suffered by Jane Ubell-Meyer.
ABC News offers a number of tips for identifying a potentially harmful manicure procedure. If you notice any of these during your visit to the manicurist, you may be better off leaving than going through with it.
It's important to realize that chemicals readily absorb through your skin, and in this case, the unknown chemicals used in what appears to have been a fake "gel manicure," may have caused Ubell-Meyer's nerve damage.
ABC News writes:
"Ubell-Meyer said that during her manicure, the electric file slipped and scuffed up her skin. Then the technician dipped her damaged fingers in to a pot of powdered chemicals.
"And that allows the chemicals to actually seep in -- in a way that wouldn't if the skin served as a protective barrier," the doctor noted."
The Health Dangers of Nail Polish
Just like so many other cosmetics, the concoctions used during various manicure procedures, as well as nail polishes, typically contain a number of toxic chemicals.
Ten years ago, I warned about dibutyl phthalates (DBP), a common ingredient in nail polish known to cause lifelong reproductive impairments in male rats. It was based in large part on a CDC study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, in which the researchers discovered worrisome levels of the metabolized compound in women of childbearing age, compared to other age- and gender groups.
The scientists suggested that the higher levels of phthalates in women of reproductive age were due to the use of cosmetics such as perfume, nail polishes and hair sprays, which can easily lead to inhalation and absorption of these dangerous chemicals. In fact, women who use make-up on a daily basis can absorb almost 5 pounds of chemicals into their bodies each year!
Since then, we've amassed far more information about the health dangers of phthalates in particular.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists the known health effects of dibutyl phthalates on animals exposed in utero or shortly after birth. DBP damages the testes, prostate gland, epididymus, penis, and seminal vesicles.
We've also seen a rise in human male reproductive problems that are strikingly similar to the results from animal studies on phthalates.
The EWG states:
"Broad and disturbing trends in male reproductive health include many of the same effects seen in lab animals dosed with phthalates. Although a cause and effect relationship has not been established, the ubiquity of phthalates in the human population creates a strong, biologically plausible presumption that phthalates are contributing to these problems."
The EWG's 2006 Campaign for Safe Cosmetics managed to create some positive change in terms of making safer nail polishes available, with several popular brands vowing to reformulate their products to remove some of the most harmful ingredients, such as DBPs, toluene and formaldehyde.
I highly recommend using the EWG's Skin Deep Database to research any cosmetic or personal care product you're thinking of buying, including nail polish.
Also beware that many nail polish removers score quite high on toxicity, but there are completely non-toxic versions on the market as well.
A Safer, Healthier Alternative
I always do my best to offer you guidance on safer, healthier alternatives, and I'm happy to say that there is another option even when it comes to beautifying your nails, and that is: buffing.
Simple buffing can create a nice, smooth sheen to your nails, without using any nail polish whatsoever. An added boon is that it may actually help your nails grow stronger and longer due to increased circulation, and you won't have to worry about chipped nail polish either.
For instructions on how to buff your nails, see About.com's Beauty column on buffing.
Getting a manicure can be a wonderful way to pamper yourself, and I'm not against the practice at all – just be mindful of how it's done, and the chemicals used in the process.
Having a professional manicurist tend to your hands and nails, finishing off with a high-gloss buff instead of putting on a cocktail of toxic chemicals could give you the pampering you want without any of the health hazards.