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Gel manicures increase cancer risk, warns doctor

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FILE - Manicured nails are pictured Oct. 20, 2010. (Lelê Breveglieri / CC BY 2.0 via MGN)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - There's a reason why the gel manicure is so popular. It makes nails look shiny and durable. Gel manicures also last longer than standard manicures and dry quickly.

But doctors say the treatment increases the risk of developing melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

Charleston dermatologist Dr. Marguerite Germain says the damage comes from the bulbs -- UVA light -- used to cure the gel polish.

"They're actually stronger than sunlight. They're four times stronger than sunlight," said Germain. "(UVA) is not the burning rays but it's the rays that go deep into your skin. They damage collagen, they damage the DNA and they can cause cancer."

Germain urges people who get regular manicures to pay attention to the signs, which may not be so obvious. She said the UV light also speeds up the aging process.

"What you think is maybe a pimple or a little infection near your nail which is not going away. It could be a streak of brown down your nail where the melanoma is growing from your nail matrix," she said. "Over your lifetime, you accumulate all the damage you've done. Unfortunately, the skin remembers every second your skin has been exposed to the UVA."

While there are a lot of risks to consider, there are also ways to prevent damage. Germain recommends gloves without the finger tips, but understands it's not feasible or practical for everyone.

"You should slap on as much sunscreen as you can to protect your skin, as much of your hand as you can, maybe a towel or something you can at least put over the tops of your hands," Germain said. "Just try to bring gloves with you and if you're getting them regularly, it's a good investment."

A lot of salons are phasing out the use of UV lights for nail treatments; it's somewhat older technology. Many are using LED lights instead.