Can Ultraviolet Nail Salon Lamps Give You Skin Cancer?

Frequent manicures, high-watt bulbs increase potential

manicure drying under lamp

We all know the dangers of tanning beds, and how they can increase your risk for skin cancer. That might have you wondering if it’s equally ill-advised to park your perfectly polished fingertips under the ultraviolet lamp at the nail salon.

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At the nail salon, these special lamps help to set gel manicures and dry polish. They emit ultraviolet rays, which can cause skin cancer and age skin prematurely.

Ultraviolet rays penetrate the skin deeply. They damage collagen, the basic building block of our skin, and elastin, which helps to keep us looking younger. 

But there’s good news for salon-goers: A new study finds the health risk of nail salon lamps is very small.

Bulb strength varies

Researchers at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, GA tested 17 light units from 16 salons.

The salons use a wide range of bulbs that emit vastly different amounts of ultraviolet light. The bulbs had a number of different wattage outputs and emitted varying amounts of radiation.

Results showed that higher-wattage ultra-violet lamps emitted more ultraviolet radiation.

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Brief exposure

But customers typically have only brief exposure to the lamps, enough only to dry wet nail polish. To incur skin damage would require numerous visits, the study says. So the risk for developing skin cancer from manicures is small, the researchers concluded. 

It’s a matter of frequency, says dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD.

“If you’re someone who goes to get their nails done once a week and put your hands under those lamps for 10 minutes, you might want to be worried,” says. Dr. Piliang, who did not take part in the study. Dr. Piliang sees patients at Cleveland Clinic.

“If you’re someone who goes a couple of times a year, you’re probably fine,” Dr. Piliang says. “It’s a very, very small risk.”

If you get a gel or shellac manicure more than once a week, use sunscreen under the UV lamps to protect your skin.

Take precautions

The researchers recommend that nail salon customers apply sunscreen or wear protective gloves to decrease the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

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A good time to apply the sunscreen might be right before the manicurist puts on the polish, Dr. Piliang says. 

“If you put sunscreen on when you are on your way into the salon, it’s all going to come off when they do the manicure and wash your hands,” Dr. Piliang says. “But take some with you and ask your manicurist to put the sunscreen on for you at the end of the manicure. Then you would be protected under the light.”

The complete findings of the study appear in the journal “JAMA Dermatology.”

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