Are UV Lights at Nail Salons a Cause of Cancer?

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JLP Staff

Beauty /

Every few weeks, you might head to the local nail salon to try a new color on  your fingers and toes. It's often easier than constantly painting your nails yourself, and the result is usually more polished than what you could achieve at home. It's worth it, right? Unfortunately, there is some concern that the UV lights at nail salons could be a contributing factor to cancer. Is it time to take your beauty routine away from the nail salon?

All Nail Drying Lamps Emit UV Rays

UV rays, similar to the ones emitted by the sun and by tanning beds, are used in most nail drying lamps and have many people thinking twice before they go to get their nails done. UV rays are harmful because they cause the skin to age prematurely. They can also break DNA strands, which can lead to cancer.

There are a two common  types of drying lamps that nail professionals may use: UV lamps and LED lamps. Both types of lamps are a source of UV radiation, so don't let the moniker of the LED lamp fool you.

The Risk Is Moderate

Is there real cause for alarm? According to the Skin Cancer Foundation Vice President Elizabeth K. Hale, "Even the most intense of these devices presents only a moderate UV risk — a far lower risk than that presented by UV tanning devices."

Different studies have been conducted to measure how much nail lamp exposure it would take to truly increase one's chances of getting skin cancer. As reported by Fox News, one set of researchers found that it would take roughly 11 UV lamp uses to cause significant damage to your skin. However, a different study revealed that it would take between 8 and 208 minutes of exposure — depending on the machine — to pose a real risk.

Watch Out For Warning Signs

If you're in the habit of heading to the nail salon once every couple of weeks, be sure to keep a close eye on your hands for signs of cancer. However, everyone — whether or not they are manicure addicts — should be diligent about performing self-examinations.

Melanoma is one of the most common types of skin cancer. If you notice an unusual mole that is asymmetrical and discolored with smooth edges, it could be cancerous. Play it safe and have your doctor take a look. If you do find a suspicious mole, keep in mind that it probably isn't because of your manicure habit. Other sources of UV radiation, including the sun, are much more likely culprits.

Protect Yourself at the Nail Parlor

Even though the chances of getting cancer because of nail drying lamps at a salon are minimal, you may still want to take some precautionary steps to protect your beautiful hands. Resist the urge to get your nails done more than once a month. Even better, only go when you have a special occasion coming up. The more you can reduce the frequency of your exposure to the UV radiation, the better.

If you are getting a normal manicure, opt out of the drying lamp. Air dry your nails instead. Yes, this will take longer than getting your nails dried via the lamp, and your manicurist may not be happy with your choice, but your skin will thank you for your patience.

With other types of manicures — gel manicures in particular — the UV light is necessary in order to set the polish. If gel polish is your go-to, protect yourself by applying sunscreen to your hands (or feet, as the case may be) about 20 minutes before you expect to be exposed to the UV lamp. This will protect the skin around your nails. Even if you aren't worried about cancer, the sunscreen will at the very least protect your hands from premature aging.

Alternatively, you can ask about a polish that has a glossy gel look but doesn't require the use of the drying lamp. There are even some long-lasting gel-like polishes you can buy for use at home. They may not have the same life span as a gel manicure, but they will put up with more abuse than regular polish, and they look fantastic.

While the lamps at nail salons do pose a cancer risk, the risk is more nominal than anything else. As long as you are reasonable about how often you get manicures and pedicures, and you take steps to protect yourself from the UV radiation, you won’t have a reason to worry.

Categories: Beauty
About The Author
Screen shot 2016 08 11 at 1.30.46 pm

Joan Lunden’s in-house research and writing team works with Joan to create content that complements her focuses and the interests of her fans. The team is dedicated to creating a thriving community through content and conversations, and hopes their work, like Joan’s, can make a difference in the lives of her readers everywhere.

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