Last updated March 28, 2018 at 5:12 pm
Your manicures may be increasing your risk of skin cancer, experts suggest using sunscreen before your trip to the salon.
UV lamps are often used in manicures, particularly gel manicures. Sometimes LED lamps are used instead. However, they all emit UV radiation. In particular, they emit UVA rays, which is linked to skin damage, premature skin ageing and skin cancer.
For many, gel polish is irresistible with its high shine and longer-lasting results. But there is controversy around whether there is a real risk from UV lamps which has been debated for many years.
Protect yourself before you treat yourself
In a recent letter to the editor published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology, experts have written about skin cancer risk and the use of UV nail lamps.
Stephanie Bollard, from University Hospital Galway, Ireland, and colleagues conducted an anonymous online survey of 424 individuals. They found that only 9% believed there was a cancer risk from a LED lamp where as 72% believed there was a cancer risk with a UV nail lamp. If there was a known associated risk, 82% said that they would not proceed with a gel manicure.
They also review previous research and write that “the studies support the assumption that the exposure risk is negligible, as even the most avid user would struggle to reach these [extreme] thresholds [needed to cause damage].”
They also highlight other research findings that suggest the risk from UV lamps may be higher. One study calculated that DNA damage could be reached between 8 and 208 visits to a salon.
Whilst the science around it remains controversial and inconclusive, the experts conclude by suggesting that you use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB), high SPF sunscreen before you get your nails done, or the use of fingerless gloves.
UV lamps are required for gel manicures. Regular manicures can air-dry naturally, however the drying process is often sped up with some time under UV lamps. On the other hand, gel manicures require UV light to harden and cure the nail polish (the final stage where your nail polish won’t get chipped or smudged).
Other beauty salon practices like tanning beds with UV lights which are known to present a risk of sun cancer. In Australia, all commercial sunbeds have been banned since 2016.
In an email, Heather Walker, Chair National Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia, told Australia’s Science Channel that:
“Overexposure to any source of UV radiation can damage our skin cells and increase our risk of cancer, either as a result of too much time or strength of the UV level. While we have good evidence of the level of risk from the sun and sources such as solariums, we don’t yet have strong research about the devices used in nail salons.
“Generally, these devices emit low levels of UV radiation and people are exposed for very short periods. However, UV damage adds up over time so protecting your hands is recommended. Many salons now offer fingerless gloves, which are a good way of reducing the risk of UV exposure. The greatest risk of skin cancer is from UV radiation from the sun, so the best way to reduce your risk is to use five forms of sun protection (clothing, sunscreen, hats, shade and sunglasses) whenever the UV is 3 or higher.”
Exposing risks of beauty
There is no regulation around nail polish lamps. Different lamps work with different polish formulas which basically means it varies between the lamp model, and each salon may have their own guidelines. There’s no set rule around how much each lamp exposes. UV light bulbs require changing as they can diminish over time so the exposure levels again may vary.
There is also no hard and fast rule around the duration of the UV light exposure, so this can fluctuate for individuals. There’s also an underrated risk with the recent availability of at-home DIY gel manicure kits that come with their own lamps.
Add this on top of frequent UV exposure from regular manicures over time may increase your risk of skin cancer.
With all this uncertainty, there is no way for a consumer to know which is being used.
In the survey conducted by Stephanie and colleagues they found only 3% of respondents applied sunscreen prior to receiving a manicure. The public remain to be confused and misinformed about how best to protect themselves when having a manicure.
So remember next time before you get to treat yourself with a fresh manicure, slop on some sunscreen and really treat yourself by minimising potential skin damage.
This research was published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology.