From ombré shades to bedazzled tips, gel manicures have become all the rage for their long-lasting, shiny looks. But to achieve this, gel polish needs ultraviolet (UV) light to harden, exposing the hands, cuticles, and nails to powerful UV rays. So while they may be pretty to look at, many are now wondering: Can UV lights gel manicure cause cancer?
Recently, 2023 research has found that UV nail polish dryers can cause DNA damage and mutations in human cells (a precursor to skin cancer). In the study, both human and animal subjects were used, exposing them to UV light in 20-minute increments. During the first round, researchers discovered that anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of cells died. After three 20-minute sessions, about 65 to 70 percent died.
So can UV lights gel manicure cause skin cancer?
Are UV lights for nails safe? Fortunately, you may not have to ditch your nail tech just yet, but it is important to understand the risks and take necessary precautions. Here’s what you need to know.
What are UV lamps and how do they work?
Like we said, UV lights are the final step in curing gel-based manicures. During this time, the hands are exposed to UV radiation from lamps for several minutes. It’s pretty much impossible to avoid, and experts say that there are no “safe” UV lamps, no matter what salons might tell you. UV nail lamps are comparable to mini tanning beds, which are proven to increase the risk of skin cancer — specifically melanoma, the deadliest types of skin cancer.
However, it’s worth noting that the wavelengths do vary between nail salon devices and tanning beds, meaning their risks aren’t totally on the same level. Moreover, this 2023 study is the first one that really examines the possible harmful effects of UV nail lamps.
What does this mean for your gel manicures?
Ultimately, the skin cancer risk depends on frequency. So if you’re the type to only have the occasional gel mani, you’re probably in the clear. Your hands aren’t exposed to the UV lamps for a long enough period of time to wreak real havoc. In fact, you absorb much more UV radiation just by walking around your neighborhood without SPF on your hands.
Tips to prevent UV damage from gel manicures
Limit your gel manicures
The skin cancer risk adds up the more you get gel manicures, so try to limit how many you get in a year — if possible, not more than once a month. You could also ask your nail tech to shorten the curing time for your gel manicure to reduce the UV radiation.
Explore other kinds of manicures
We love a shiny French tip as much as you, but regular manicures are cool too, especially if you like to switch up your look often! Alternatively, you could choose LED lamps to cure your manicures. LED lights emit less UV radiation than traditional UV lamps.
Wear fingerless gloves
Putting on gloves as you get your gel mani can also help protect your skin from UV radiation, and some kinds are specifically designed to block UV rays.
Apply SPF ahead of your gel manicures
Not to forget the most important tip to prevent skin cancer: wear sunscreen! Remember, a minimum of SPF 30 is ideal, and choose one that provides broad spectrum protection to lock out both UVA and UVB radiation. We recommend our own Oh My Bod!, which is a great SPF50 sunscreen lotion that hydrates and protects your skin in one go. Goodbye dry, damaged hands!
Shop your SPF essentials now on Everyday Humans.