Mani, Pedi, Melanoma? How UV Lights at Nail Salons May Cause Increased Risk of Skin Cancer

Although a recent study dedicated to investigating recent claims that UV lights used at nail salons to dry nail polishes and gels concluded that one trip to the nail salon for a manicure would not increase a person’s risk of developing skin cancer, increased or continuous use may have that effect. With the recent rise in popularity of gel manicures, which result in shinier, longer-lasting polish on the nails and that also require exposure under UV lights, perhaps this longer exposure reaches the level needed to increase skin cancer risks. Moreover, without any regulation in this field and with varying types of nail drying devices in use, the true effects of the UV rays are largely unknown.

JAMA Research Letter and Differing Reports

Following the acknowledgement of the development of non-melanoma skin cancers on the hands of two women that were exposed to UV nail lights and the need for more research on the issue, the Dermatology Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) issued a research letter than released findings relevant to that issue. As a part of this research, a random sampling of 17 different types of UV lamps found in different salons were tested to determine how much UV light was being emitted from each device when individuals placed their hands in the devices.

The resulting characterizations of that letter in reporting sources varied to some extent. While a CBS News report seemed to acknowledge a dispelling of rumors of higher risks of skin cancer associated with the use of UV lights at nail salons, the New York Times plainly asserted that these devices may indeed cause skin cancer. The discrepancy in reporting the findings of the research letter largely hinge on the number of exposures an individual experiences with regard to the light and over what time frame the exposure occurs. For instance, CBS News reports that “a new study suggests that the average visit to a nail salon carries little carcinogenic potential.” The New York Times piece answers the question that follows from that statement: that is, what if the relevant measurement is not the effect of one, single visit, but many regular visits over months, years, or even a lifetime? “The researchers estimated that for most of the lamps tested, eight to 14 visits over 24 to 42 months would reach the threshold for DNA damage to the skin.” Yet, that prediction was tempered by reported comments of the study’s authors: “even with numerous exposures, the risks for carcinogenesis remains small… there is a theoretical risk, but it’s very low.”

What is perhaps the most interesting finding of the report, which is highlighted in the New York Times piece, is that the consequences of using the UV light nail dryers are highly dependent on how much light is being emitted from the particular type of light in use and the placement of the hand inside the device. Moreover, the study noted that these UV lights, unlike the UV rays emitted in tanning beds, are completely unregulated and varied. In other words, until it is clear which particular brands of light are being used in particular places and the manner in which they are used; the effects of the UV light continue to remain uncertain.


This uncertainty could be quite problematic especially in light of the rising popularity of the “no-chip” manicure, which promises a nail with a long-lasting glossy finish and necessarily involves a rigorous drying process under UV lights. The Chicago Sun Time published an article late last year investigating this salon nail trend and warning of the risk of nail damage for those that receive these manicures, which use gel color rather than regular polish. In light of the JAMA research, however, the dangers of the gel manicures may mean more than just a damaged nail if a customer continuously undergoes the UV light drying process and could result in higher risks for skin cancer cells to develop on exposed hands.