Few of us – particularly the male contingent, can honestly say that they have failed to notice the near epidemic of women – and girls, supporting perfectly manicured and attractive nails with infinite colours and designs. Vivenne Rudd, Head of Beauty and Personal Care Insight at Mintel, recently reported that the percentage of women in the UK using nail varnish rose from 52% in 2007 to 61% in 2011.
Sales of nail make-up, consequently rose from £179m in 2010 to £221million in 2011 and now hold 15% of the retail cosmetic market.
If the universal emergence of beautiful female fingers has eluded your social observations, it must be difficult to deny, on a walk through your town centre, that you hadn’t seen the rise in the numbers of shop units (nail bars) offering nail manicure services. One of the largest and most successful nail bar chains – Nails Inc, now has 59 salons across the UK. The company, launched and managed by Thea Green MBE, now boasts a turnover of £22million (2012), some £10million up on the previous year. Company current Book Value (net asset value) has risen from £1.67million in 2010 to £5.21million in 2012 and cash in bank has jumped from £0.28million to £1.95million over the same period.
But what has been regarded as an innocent and highly pleasing member of the cosmetics portfolio is now increasingly under fire from a number of health professional sources. A number of issues stemming directly from nail cosmetics have been previously reported, including irritant contact dermatitis; allergic contact dermatitis; acute infection of the cuticles and detachment of the nails from the nail bed.
However, the emerging and now prime focus of health professionals’ attention is the Gel manicure process which is increasingly being favoured and adopted by users because nails exhibit a higher gloss, yet natural appearance, they are considerably more durable (reduced ‘chipping’) and the overall procedure is quick and convenient. Following the application of a gel acrylic, the nails are subjected to ultra violet (UV) light in a process known as ‘curing’. The UV light effectively cross-links the polymer in the gel, providing the robust hardness eagerly sought by the wearer. The process is repeated on average another twice and each time UV light is applied for approximately 3 minutes. There are alternatives to the use of UV, including the use of visible light or a chemical catalyst.
Last year, Dr Andrea Chen and her colleagues from the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida, USA, reported the results of a small study which showed nail weakness, brittleness, and thinning of the nail plate in five subjects after the application of the gel manicure process.
However, a more worrying set of results were previously reported in 2009 by Doctors Macfarlane and Alonso from the University of Texas, USA. Their publication was entitled:
The article detailed the case of two women who had no previous personal or family history of skin cancer, but did have gel manicure treatment using UV light and subsequently developed a skin cancer. One patient had gel manicures using UV light approximately every 2 weeks over a 15 year period. The other patient had a lower frequency with approximately one treatment every 6 weeks over a period of several years.
The report concluded:
It appears that exposure to UV nail lights is a risk factor for the development of skin cancer; however, this observation warrants further investigation. In addition, awareness of this possible association may help physicians identify more skin cancers and better educate their patients.
The publication further reviewed the use of UV nail lamps and pointed out that the UV emitted from the nail lights is predominantly UV-A, similar to tanning beds. Comparing the UV output levels of both devices, it was identified that on an equivalent body surface area, the nail lamps delivered a similar level of UV radiation.
The authors do point out that their observations were drawn from a very small sample and further studies are warranted. However, the American Academy of Dermatology, recently (March 2013) decided to issue a press release focussed on the potential risks.
In the piece, Dr Chris Adigun, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at The Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at New York University School of Medicine, was keen to raise awareness among both public and medical professionals. She considered that having an occasional gel manicure did not pose a serious threat to nail health. However, for those that wish to frequently use the gel process, Dr Adigun provided a number of suggestions, including:
Additional references and reading:
The American Academy of Dermatology (Academy), founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 17,000 physicians worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, visit www.aad.org or follow the Academy on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology) or Twitter (@AADskin).