Are UV Nail Lamps Safe? Ultraviolet Light and Cancer

Ultraviolet light from the sun can cause skin cancer. Ultraviolet light from sun lamps or tanning beds can also cause skin cancer. Ultraviolet light is also used to harden a gel manicure – so can nail lights cause cancer?

are uv nail lamps safe

While the risk of skin cancer from nail lamps is low, it's best to limit all ultraviolet light exposure.

© igor_kell | Getty Images

According to the American Cancer Society, radiation energy from the sun is called ultraviolet (UV) light. There are three types. UVA is the weakest type, but it can cause DNA damage in your skin leading to skin aging and wrinkles. UVA also causes squamous and basal cell skin cancer, the most common types of skin cancer. UVB has more energy and can cause sunburn along with skin aging and skin cancer. UVC is the strongest, but it gets filtered out in the ozone layer, so very little reaches the ground.

UVA in Nail Lights

According to a 2020 review published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, UVA is used in close to 90 percent of nail salons for gel manicures. After the nail polish is put on, you need to hold your hands under a UVA nail lamp to harden the polish. How long you need to expose your hands to UVA radiation depends on the strength of the light. Being under the light for 10 minutes is about the same amount of radiation recommended as the limit for a full day of sunlight.

Gel manicures are popular because they increase the hardness, luster, and shine of nail polish. Using UVA light to cure nail polish is not new, it has been used for around 30 years. Over that time, there have been a few reported cases of squamous cell skin cancer on the back (dorsum) of the hands of women who frequently had gel manicures. These women were over age 40.

The study in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, looked at reported cases of skin cancers on the dorsum of the hands or nail beds that occurred in people who reported getting a nail gel manicure regularly. The review included women age 40 or younger. There were no cases found between 2007 and 2016. They concluded that there is little or no risk of skin cancer from gel manicures in people age 40 or younger.

A 2018 review in Dermatology Online says that UVA exposure during a gel manicure has the potential to increase the risk of skin cancer, and also increases the risk of skin aging because UVA exposure damages the DNA in the skin on the dorsum of the hands. Other studies have found that less than 3 percent of UVA radiation penetrates the fingernails.

Are UV Nail Lamps Safe?

Even though the risk is very low, any exposure to ultraviolet light is best avoided. Neither study concludes that UVA from nail lights is completely without risk, and even though the risk is low for cancer, there is still the risk of skin aging. The researchers in both studies offer these tips:

  • Ask your nail salon if they have LED-based nail lights. These lights emit less radiation.
  • 20 minutes before you get your manicure, cover your hands with a broad-spectrum sun-blocking lotion.
  • For maximum safety, use a pair of nitrile disposable gloves with the ends cut off for your fingertips.

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Chris Iliades, MD

Dr. Chris Iliades is board-certified in Ear, Nose and Throat and Head and Neck Surgery from the American Board of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. He holds a medical … Read More

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