Gel manicures are possibly one of the biggest nail trends to hit the beauty world in the last few years and have become the go-to nail manicure for many women. Their popularity is due to the gel’s long-lasting, chip-free finish that can stay on significantly longer than a traditional manicure, which only lasts about a few weeks.

So what can possibly be wrong with a manicure that is guaranteed to last longer and stay shiny? Think back to the trips to the nail salon and the process behind the manicure–especially the nail lamps. Gel manicures last so long because the nails sit under an ultraviolet (UV) light multiple times throughout the course of the manicure that allows the gel to dry quickly. If you’re a fan of gel manicures, just count how many times you’ve exposed your nails to UV radiation. It’s probably a high number, right?

Can Nail Lamps Cause Skin Cancer?

Nail Lamps

Whether or not UVA rays from nail lamps are strong enough to pose a danger of skin cancer has been the subject of research. Some studies have shown that nail lamps are safe for regular use; however, the research results have been questioned since the studies were funded and conducted by the nail cosmetics industry.

The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Senior Vice President Elizabeth K. Hale, MD, released a comment regarding the risks of nail lamps. In the foundation’s official position, Hale mentioned that both UV and LED nail lamps emit UVA rays that have been linked to premature skin aging and skin cancer. “To play it safe with gel manicures, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen to hands 20 minutes prior to UV light exposure,” says Hale. Ultimately, Hale recommends drying your nails naturally after a manicure to avoid the use of lamps altogether.

Although the FDA also released a comment about nail lamp safety, there are no official regulations for cosmetic products, as the administration does not oversee this area. In its report, the FDA mentions a 2013 study that compared a 30-minute exposure to nail lamps with the legal limit for occupational UVA exposure enforced and concluded it did not exceed the levels. Nevertheless, the findings are not to be compared to a long-term study that measures lasting risks from regular exposure to nail lamps over the years.

The FDA has noted the following creates increased sensitivity to UVA rays:

  • Contraceptives
  • Estrogen hormone medication
  • Antibiotics
  • Various lotions, skin products, and fragrances
  • Several supplements, including St. John’s Wort

What Is Melanoma?


According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma, a type of skin cancer, accounts for 1 percent of skin cancers but causes the majority of skin cancer deaths. Rates for melanoma have increased over the last 30 years, and it is estimated that in the U.S., about 91,270 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2018. Melanoma develops when damaged skin cells (melanocytes), caused by ultraviolet radiation or tanning beds, initiate skin cell growth at a rapid rate. Melanocytes contain a pigment called melanin that darkens the skin when exposed to UV radiation.

Symptoms of Melanoma

Symptoms Melanoma

The ABCDE method can help you identify if the characteristics of unusual moles may indicate melanoma.

A is for asymmetry: Moles with an irregular shape, or two very different looking halves.

B is for an irregular border: The mole is irregular, notched, or has scalloped edges.

C is for changes in color: The mole may have several colors or uneven color distribution, resulting in dark spots.

D is for diameter: The spot is larger than the size of a pencil eraser.

E is for evolving: The mole shows signs of growth in size, shape or texture, and shows new symptoms like itchiness or bleeding.

Treatment for melanoma can differ depending on the stage of cancer, but surgery, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy are among some of the most common approaches.

Tips for Safe Manicures

Safe Manicures

While you might think the best decision is to avoid gel manicures altogether and switch to regular nail polish, you might want to think again.

A study testing toxic chemicals in 24 women found that 100 percent of the participants showed signs of triphenyl phosphate 10 hours after applying nail polish. The study is disturbing since triphenyl phosphate is known to disrupt the human endocrine system, which controls hormones, and can also pose serious health risks. Consider using non-toxic nail polish brands like Zoya, Suncoat, and Honeybee Gardens whenever possible. Of course, there is always the option of going polish-free and buffering your nails.

What Now?

Uv Rays

Do UV rays cause cancer? Yes. However, there is still a lot of ground to cover when it comes to testing the safety of nail lamps, as there is no exact data confirming a link to cancer. But as the old saying goes, “too much of anything is bad,” and perhaps taking the occasional break from gel manicures might be good for you in the long run.

Related: 11 Signs of Melanoma Skin Cancer


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