Avoid tanning beds to protect your health
Is your manicure safe?
Gel and shellac manicures and pedicures are popular, but are the UV lights used to dry the polish putting you at risk for melanoma or other types of skin cancer?
Last updated Jan. 27, 2023
Gel and shellac manicures and pedicures are all the rage these days. Manicure fans say the nail polish lasts longer without chipping. But will it increase your cancer risk?
These manicures and pedicures require salon-goers to dry their nails under an ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet (UV) light is the harmful ray emitted by the sun and tanning beds that can damage skin and lead to skin cancer. There are two types of UV light: UV-A and UV-B.
The lamps used in these manicure and pedicures release UV-A. But the UV exposure from an occaisional manicaure seems relatively low, says Saira George, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at MD Anderson in Sugar Land.
“But it's still a risk we should be aware of and try to reduce," she says.
George says if you’re going to get a gel manicure, put on sunscreen or wear fingerless gloves to protect your hands from the UV light.
Researching the link between manicures and skin cancer
George says the link between UV light and skin cancers is well established. More studies aimed at looking into how much certain exposures, like UV-A nail lamps, increase skin cancer risk would be helpful.
A 2009 research study reported that two healthy women developed skin cancer on their hands. These women had no personal or family history of skin cancer. Both had used UV nail lamps regularly, but it was hard to determine if that’s what caused their cancers.
In another, more recent study , researchers tested the amount of UV-A emitted by 17 nail drying lamps in 16 salons. They found that the amount of UV-A exposure varies widely from lamp to lamp. But even with the highest-wattage lamps, the amount of UV radiation produced at a single visit to a nail salon did not appear to be a serious concern. The researchers concluded that it would take multiple visits to get enough exposure to cause DNA damage in skin cells. And even after many visits, the risk of cancer was likely low.
The lamps emit much lower levels of UVA radiation than tanning beds which are known to cause skin cancer. One recent study showed tanning bed use is to blame for more than 419,254 cases of skin cancer in the United States each year. That’s more than the number of lung cancer cases attributed to smoking each year.
“Based on the information we have now, the risk of skin cancer from nail dryers appears to be low,” says George. “But because your UV exposures add up over a lifetime, if you’re a salon regular or at high risk for skin cancer, it’s safest to do what you can to lower your exposure.”
“Next time you’re headed to the salon, bring your favorite sunscreen and ask your manicurist if it can be applied as part of the lotion-and-massage part of your manicure or consider a service that doesn’t require use of the UV lamps,” she says.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.