Gel polish and skin cancer: can a UV lamp be harmful?

The editor of the beauty department of the media publication Refinery29, Danela Morosini, received exactly the same question from a reader.

“I love getting a gel polish manicure every few weeks (shellac is life), but I heard someone say that lamps can be dangerous for the skin. I guess that makes sense, because if tanning beds increase the risk of skin cancer, then UV lamps can do it too? 

Daniela answers:

It’s good to know I’m not the only one thinking about these things. You’re right, tanning beds are very bad for your skin, both in terms of an exponential increase in skin cancer risk, and on an aesthetic level (a tan may be visible now, but UV light is destroying your sweet youth by burning collagen and elastin faster than you can. say “golden brown”).

For those unfamiliar with gel manicures who air dry their nails: gel polishes are cured under UV light, which causes them to dry almost instantly and stay on nails for up to two weeks.

The final answer to the question is beyond my level of expertise, so I called Justine Kluk, a consultant dermatologist, to ask her for advice.

“While there is no doubt that tanning beds increase the risk of skin cancer, current evidence on the carcinogenic risk of ultraviolet rays is variable and controversial,” she said.

There are several studies around this topic. One I’ve read suggests that a two-week gel manicure is the equivalent of an extra 17 seconds of sun exposure, but quite often the studies are paid for by people with connections to nail care products, which obviously puts a question mark against their neutrality. .

“Some studies show that the risk is clinically significant and there have been a small number of case reports associated with the use of ultraviolet lamps and the development of skin cancer on the hands, while other studies have concluded that risk of exposure is very lowand that one in a thousand people who regularly use one of these lamps could develop squamous cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer) on the back of their hand,” agrees Dr. Kluk.

There are about 579 studies on the topic of tanning in the database of the US National Library, but on the topic of gel manicures, you can find at best 24. Finding an exact answer to the question “Can ultraviolet lamps for gel nails cause skin cancer” is very difficult.

“Another problem is that there are many different brands using different types of lamps,” adds Dr. Kluk.

We are not yet at the stage where we can give a definitive answer. However, I believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and I think that when UV damage hits you, that pound can become a ton.

“The bottom line is that we don’t yet know for sure whether exposure to using these lamps, for example, for less than five minutes twice a month, can actually increase the risk of developing skin cancer. And until then precautions should be advised, says the doctor. “There is no such guideline in the UK yet, but the US Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend that clients apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen before applying gel polish.” 

How to play it safe?

1. Choose salons that are equipped with LED lamps (LED lamp). They pose less of a threat because they take a significantly shorter time to dry than UV lamps.

2. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to your hands 20 minutes before drying gel polish. It is best to use waterproof. You can apply it immediately before the manicure.

3. If you are still worried about the skin of your hands, it makes sense to use special manicure gloves that open only the nail itself and a small area around it. 

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