Could Your UV Manicure Increase Your Risk for Skin Cancer?

What you should know about UV manicures and cancer risk.

Gel polishes have become popular options for long-lasting, chip-free manicures and pedicures in recent years.

The strength in gel polish comes from a UV curing process. The polish contains chemicals called photoinitiators, which require UV light to harden. This photoreaction process strengthens and sets the gel and speeds up the nail drying time.

However, this convenience may come at a cost as nail lamps expose the skin to harmful ultraviolet light. So, if you’re getting gel service every couple of weeks, you’re increasing UV exposure and your risk of skin cancer.

What UV Radiation Does to the Skin

There are three types of UV rays; all are damaging to the skin, but only two reach the earth’s surface–UVA and UVB. UV rays come naturally from the sun, providing the production of beneficial vitamin D but also causing sunburns after prolonged exposure.

Artificial sources of UV rays—and radiation—include lamps used extensively in the food industry and medical laboratories for disinfecting surfaces and phototherapy. UV lamps are also used for curing resins and in suntanning beds. 

While UV radiation has benefits (natural vitamin D production), long-term exposure can be harmful and cause signs of premature aging like wrinkles and leathery skin. These rays can deeply penetrate the skin, damaging DNA in the skin cells and weakening the immune system, making it hard for the body to fend off infections and increase skin cancer risk, including melanoma.

How UV Lamps at Nail Salons Affect the Skin

Nail lamps emit varying amounts of UV radiation because they come in different light wavelengths and their intensities depend on the bulb wattage. Therefore, higher-wattage UV lamps emit more radiation. The number of bulbs in the lamp also differs. Another factor that affects the lamp’s ability to cure gel polish is how close the bulbs are to the fingernails. Therefore, for the UV lamp to cure the gel faster, bulbs may be placed close to the nails, increasing UV exposure to the surrounding skin. Some models allow the technician to move the lamp progressively closer during the curing process.

Skin Cancer Can Develop on Hands, Feet and Under Nails

Skin cancer can develop under the nails on both feet and hands, as well as on fingers and toes. Melanoma under the nail can look like a light- to dark-brown colored band on the nail, usually vertical. Any dark band on the nail that slowly expands and covers more of the surface or dark nail pigmentation that expands to the surrounding skin should be examined. Also, see your doctor if you see reddish sores, scaly spots or warts on your hands or feet, particularly if they seem to take a longer than normal time to heal.

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