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Using UV Lights to Dry Nails May Increase Risk of Skin Cancer

By HERWriter
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Many women get their nails done a couple of times a month at a local salon. They daydream as they sit with their nails under those small UV lights to hasten the drying of their nail polish or acrylics and think nothing of this common ritual. Apparently, we should be thinking about how much UV exposure our hands receive as two cases have been found where the UV lights possibly caused skin cancer of the hand.

Doctors at the Anderson Cancer Center at University of Texas reported they had two middle-aged women patients who did not have a personal or family history of skin cancer but both developed non-melanoma (the less serious form of skin cancer) squamous cell lesions on their hands. The doctors questioned whether their use of nail UV lights had contributed.

The first woman had a single squamous cell cancer lesion removed from her index finger and the other woman needed to have four separate surgeries over several years to remove squamous cell cancers in various areas on the backs of her hands. The first woman had had her nails exposed to UV light twice a month for 15 years. The other had multiple exposures in one year, approximately eight years before her first skin cancer.

With only two cases, it would be hard to draw solid conclusions that nail UV lights cause skin cancer, but nail UV lights do operate like miniature tanning beds. Tanning beds predominately emit UVA light, the same as nail lights do so with frequent use, one’s hands are getting a fair amount of UV exposure. The risk of getting skin cancer is higher from cumulative exposure to UV light, which is why it is so important to have children start wearing sunscreen at an early age.

UV nail lamps have become more popular to cure UV gel nails or dry acrylic nails but they can also be used to dry nail polish during pedicures or manicures. Nail UV lights are also used to cure the top coat sealer used to protect artificial nails from yellowing. Acrylic nails require a two-part process, which partially dries in seconds but UV light is used to speed up the final hardening. UV gel nails are popular due to their high gloss finish and flexibility but require UV light to harden.


There probably is no way to truly know if preventive practices will reduce the incidence of hand cancer since it can take years before the results of excess UV rays may develop into cancer. At the same time, it requires little effort to provide a little protection.

Wear sunscreen on your hands or feet before going to the salon or if they will be doing a hand/foot massage, put on sunscreen 20 minutes before gels, acrylics or polishes are applied. If just having polish done, let nails air dry and avoid the UV light altogether.



Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles

Add a Comment6 Comments


Thanks for your well thought out comments. Sounds like using sunscreen on one's hands would not be so helpful for reasons you explained, but I the point you made that putting on the UV light on made you feel like you wanted to leave the room is interesting. Perhaps that is our body's subtle way of saying that being near these lights is not such a great idea. Light does not just shine on what it is pointed at so those who spend their days working around them may also be exposing themselves to extra UV light.

October 17, 2010 - 2:28pm
EmpowHER Guest

Further to my post, above, I just wanted to add that I can't see how applying sunblock an hour before an appointment would be adequate protection? As the manicurist will, normally, have to soak-off the old gel nails and then handle the client's hands fairly extensively during the process of filing the nails and applying the new gels, so I would imagine that most of the sunblock would be removed, or largely rubbed off, by all of that?

As I say, I think it would make more sense to apply it after the new nail gels were applied, but before they were put under the lamp, but the problem would then be that; a) sufficient time would not have elapsed for the sunblock to work properly and b) that it would be virtually impossible to apply it right up to the nail edge (or even close), without compromising the integrity of the gel in some way.

So, without some sort of dramatic new development in sunblocks, or UV lights, or the gel nail process itself, I can't really see a logical way around the problem, to be honest?

BTW, I meant to write extensions, not 'extentions' in my previous comment, obviously - sorry about that! :)

October 17, 2010 - 7:11am
EmpowHER Guest

Very interesting post - thank you.

A few years ago, I enrolled on a professional home training course in gel nail extentions. At the time, I was vaguely considering a career in it; but, really, as a very curious person and a perfectionist, I was mainly interested in learning how exactly it was done and quite fancied the idea of being able to do my own nails and perhaps, also, those of my friends.

When it all arrived, I began the course, but never bothered sending in my results (which were perfectly adequate, BTW!) to be assessed, due to my worries about the UV lamp.

Even when using it on the dummy hand (I never used it on myself, thank God!), the light was so bright that I had an instinctive desire to leave the room, until the process was completed.

Not only did I lose interest in learning how to do gel nails myself, I have also never had them applied by anyone else (despite wanting to!), due to the glaring UV light, which I just felt could not be good.

It did occur to me that sunblock could be applied, but imagine trying to apply it sufficiently thoroughly, without disturbing, or contaminating, the freshly applied, still-soft nail gels?

October 17, 2010 - 6:47am
EmpowHER Guest

Recently UV nail lamps have come into question by sensationalized TV programs. While the question is a valid one, the fact remains some of the answers are presented without much research into the facts.

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Nearly everything can be linked to cancer in one way or another.

For example I could say with true authority that vegetables have been linked to cancer. I can pull a poll of cancer victims and ask them if, in the 6 months before they were diagnosed with cancer, had they eaten any vegetables. Nearly universally the answer would be yes. Obviously that would be a coincidence.

Sometimes that is the way media works. They will take some kind of obscure fact, manipulate the data and come up the conclusion they think will cause the most people to tune in.

Most of the questions about UV nail lamps and cancer were brought on by an observation printed by the American Medical Association stating that two people who had skin cancer had also been exposed to a UV nail lamp. There were several inaccuracies in the article that any nail technician would have been able to clear up. The media decided to run with the story without talking to industry experts. Everyone knows that overexposure to the Sun’s UV rays has been linked to skin cancer.

I also believe that everyone knows that a UV lamp generates UV rays. It’s naïve to think that there is no possibility of skin cancer from a UV lamp.

However let’s look at the realities of a UV lamp designed for nails. The output of a UV nail lamp is so small it is nearly comparable to sunlight.

Recently a study was done by an independent laboratory. The study found that using a common nail UV lamp the total exposure of UVA was about equal to 2.7 minutes of sun exposure on your hands per day between 2 week appointments. For UVB it was 27 seconds.

Now let’s compare a UV nail lamp to a tanning bed. The most common UV nail lamps have four 9 watt bulbs for a total energy usage of 36 watts. A conservative commercial tanning bed can have 28 bulbs at 100 watts each or a total of 2800 watts. A tanning bed is many times more intense then the sun, that is why you don’t need to sit in a tanning bed for an hour to get a tan. I have never heard of anyone getting a tan or sunburn from normal UV nail lamp exposure.

So can a UV lamp designed for nails cause skin cancer? Yes it probably can, if you sleep with it every night turned on strapped to your hand. Or walk around all day with it turned on strapped your feet like shoes. But if you did that people would think you were pretty weird.

But the more important question is will it cause skin cancer? Probably not. There is no question that it will add to your total exposure to UV. 2.7 minutes per day to be exact. But if you want to minimize your risk for skin cancer it would be much more important to wear a hat and sunscreen, do not sun bathe, and generally limit your exposure to the sun especially near water, snow or on cloudy days. These tips are infinitely more important than skipping your 10 minutes of exposure in a nail UV lamp every two to four weeks. If you are still concerned, the answer is simple. Just apply a sunblock to your hands containing zinc oxide 1 hour before your nail appointment.
Erick Westcott, CEO Gelousy Gel Nail Systems
(Link removed by EmpowHER Moderator.)

August 20, 2010 - 4:43pm

Thank you for your comment. I have never used nail UV lights or a tanning bed but if you read the information from the article I cited they did this calculation
"Most home tanning beds have 12 to 28 bulbs producing 100 W per bulb, and salon beds have 24 to 60 bulbs producing 100
to 200Wper bulb. Most tanning beds can produce 1200 W of power or more, depending on the model. When correcting
for body surface area (100% body surface area while
using a tanning bed and 2% body surface area with a nail
lamp), the amount of UV radiation per meter squared is
approximately comparable, unless one is using a super tanning
bed with 60 lamps putting out 200 W per bulb."

I think what is important is not that we need to worry UV nail lights cause cancer but that it is an area of UV exposure we typically don't think of.

August 12, 2010 - 10:52am
EmpowHER Guest

One could argue that UV lamps act like mini-tanning beds, but the amount of UV output and the time of exposure during a nail service is much, much lower than a tanning bed. Basically, there is no difference between taking a short walk outside in the sun (without gloves) than using a UV lamp during a nail service. If people are still concerned, they can always slap a little sunscreen on.

Jessie Burkhardt
Director of Marketing & Communications for NSI
(Link removed by EmpowHER Moderator)

August 11, 2010 - 10:59am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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