In the last few years, gel manicures have gained popularity for their durable, chip-resistant finish, but a study published in April by JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association has highlighted the potential health hazards associated with repeated exposure to ultraviolet (UV) lights, which are used to dry the polish.
In the study, doctors from the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University tested the amount of UVA light emitted by lamps in 16 different U.S. salons and concluded that though the lamps had varying levels of intensity, they irrefutably exposed skin to UVA and UVB light, which can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer.
“These devices mainly emit UVA light similar to tanning beds, but at much smaller levels,” explains the study’s lead author, Lyndsay Shipp, MD. “While there is a small risk with each exposure, there will be individuals who put themselves at increased risk by visiting nail salons monthly or even weekly, ultimately reaching the threshold for DNA damage.”
Jenny Kim, MD, a dermatologist from UCLA Medical Center, says she has not noticed any significant jump in the occurrence of skin cancer on hands in the past few years. The widespread use of gel polishes and UV drying lights has been relatively recent, however, and if consumers continue to use gel polishes and UV lights without protection, the prevalence of cancer on the hands could increase. Dr. Kim recommends applying broad-spectrum sunscreen, donning UV-protective gloves prior to UV light exposure, or seeking out alternative drying methods such as LED lights, which emit an even smaller amount of UV radiation. While some nail salons do provide these options, Dr. Kim advises that clients come prepared. “We need to be aware that chronic exposure to UV is proven to be harmful and that if you are going to be [using UV nail lights] regularly, you need to protect yourself.”