Is There a Link Between Manicures & Skin Cancer?

Sofía Stiletano

Manicures are a simple yet interesting way of letting your personality show. From at-home designs to professional artists, the possibilities to embellish your nails appear to be endless.  However, this beauty-must is also drawing attention to itself with some public cases of women claiming that they were diagnosed with skin cancer after getting gel manicures for an extended period of time. 

Semi-permanent manicure treatments and most nail art artists utilize gel nail polishes. The reason behind this is that gel nail polish is less likely to smudge than classic nail polish, it will last longer and supposedly get chipped less frequently. Also, manicurists recommend it to help your nails grow, if they tend to break.

The downside is that in order to dry gel nail polish beauty salons utilise ultraviolet (‘UV’) light machines. Why is this a disadvantage?

Let’s get technical! Ultraviolet light is a type of electromagnetic radiation that can be classified between visible light and X-rays. The sun is a natural source of the entire spectrum of ultraviolet radiation: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C; whether UV light machines are an artificial source of UV radiation. It is commonly known that UV-A ray exposure increases skin cancer risk, and the UV light machines you put your hand into at your local nail salon to dry the gel nail polish most probably emit some value of UV-A radiation.

Moreover, after several investigations, scientific researchers concluded that there is a small risk of developing carcinogenesis associated with the frequent use of lamps that emit ultraviolet radiation to dry gel nail polish.

For instance, after testing different UV-A light sources a study, carried on by JAMA Dermatology, found that the longer skin is exposed to this kind of light there is an increased potential of dermal damage. The study also notes that not only do UV light booths emit ultraviolet radiation but LED lights used to dry polishes also do. This kind of UV radiation, with differences in the irradiance values, is similar to the one tanning beds and the sun emits.

So should you worry or not? First, it’s important to establish that a wide variety of lamp models are in use around the world and that they work with different technology. Therefore, in order to be certain of the amount of radiation your hands receive when you go to your nail salon it would be necessary to examine each machine separately. Secondly, every salon may have its own guidelines therefore the exposure and radiation values will vary between nail salons.

In this regard, more scientific research is still needed before generalised conclusive results can be established worldwide. A consensus has not been reached regarding the recommended amount of exposure to these kinds of machines. Some specialists say that even with numerous exposures, the risk for carcinogenesis on the back of the hands and nails remains small for adults under 40, while others suggest that if you get your nails done once a week you should worry.

All in all, most experts agree on the positive preventive results of broad-spectrum (UV-A/UV-B) physical blocking sunscreens SPF-30 or higher, or UV-A protective gloves when you get a manicure treatment since, over time, the intense radiation exposure may lead to skin damage including premature aging.

Another way of preventing unwanted secondary results is to consider using traditional nail polish instead of gel polish for your manicure which doesn’t need to dry under UV light booths. It won’t last as long, but if you focus on the bright side that means you can try more colours and designs!

Also, bear in mind that this article is informative and that if you have any medical questions regarding UV light’s impact on skin or else you should definitely direct them to a medical professional.

Remember to always pack your sunscreen and enjoy your manicure!

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Sofía Stiletano

"The beauty of writing is that it can silently create a ripple effect. This is why I choose this medium to contribute to defend individual rights; by raising my voice to create awareness about the importance of representation and being kind and considered towards others and oneself. So that all of us can rise cooperatively and find a space in society that makes us happy, especially in this times of dehumanization and disconnection from the organic world."
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