How Your Manicure Might Give You Skin Cancer – And how to reduce your risk

uva nail lamp skin cancer fingerless manicure glovesThere might be an obvious link between manicures and skin cancer, but research suggests that getting your nails done regularly could increase your risk of melanoma. What’s behind this link? Are there ways to keep your risk low? Read on to find out.

Manicures and Skin Cancer

A standard manicure uses regular nail polish which takes around an hour to dry. Gel manicures are different, though, with some nail salons using dryers that blow air and emit ultraviolet A (UVA) light to expedite drying.

Gel manicures are increasingly popular because the gel is more durable, doesn’t chip as easily, and usually lasts twice as long as a regular manicure. However, the increasing use of UVA lamps to dry gel manicures may be behind an uptick in skin cancer cases.

Putting your hands under a nail lamp might not seem dangerous, but UVA lamps emit the same type of light as tanning beds. UVA light increases the risk of skin cancer and ageing of the skin, making dark spots more likely, decreasing elasticity and firmness of the skin, and leading to at least two documented cases of skin cancer in healthy middle-aged women who liked their manicures.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the authors note that UVA exposure varies quite considerably between different models of lamp. They also found that exposure varies depending on the position of the hand under the lamp. Using higher-wattage lamps just 8 times is enough to cause skin damage. If you have a weekly manicure for many years, this significantly increases your risk, even if each dose of UVA radiation is relatively low.

Manicures and Skin Cancer – Reducing your risk

Fortunately, there are things that can be done to avoid these risks. One obvious option is to stop getting manicures and instead spend your money on antioxidant-rich foods and good sunscreen. If you still want a gel manicure, though, apply sunscreen to the back of the hand before your appointment. Or, wear fingerless UVA protective gloves
or UVA protective gloves with the fingertips cut off.

You can also opt for a regular polish, and spend that hour in the nail salon reading with a good cup of coffee (which lowers skin cancer risk!). Or, book a circulation-stimulating foot massage or spend your drying time meditating (lowering stress can also cut your cancer risk!).


Curtis J, Tanner P, Judd C, Childs B, Hull C, Leachman S. Acrylic nail curing UV lamps: high-intensity exposure warrants further research of skin cancer risk. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2013 Dec;69(6):1069-70.

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