Are UV Lamps at Nail Salons Harmful?

Nail polish photographed at Nurture Spa & Salon in Boston.
Nail polish photographed at Nurture Spa & Salon in Boston. –The Boston Globe

Nail dryers at many salons come with an ultraviolet light touted by salons as a surefire way to help the lacquer dry quicker. The UV rays that shine on hands in the dryer emits are equivalent to that of tanning beds and the sun, although not as intense.

But could the UV exposure from the drying lamps pose a cancer risk?

To find out, researchers at Georgia Regents University in Augusta tested 17 nail dryers with light units from 16 salons at different levels of intensity. They predicted that women spend about eight minutes at a time under a nail dryer in a single visit.


The dryers with higher-wattage lights emitted higher levels of UVA than lower-wattage lights the study, released Wednesday in the JAMA Dermatology, found.

“Our data suggest that, even with numerous exposures, the risk for carcinogensis, remains small,’’ the authors wrote.

UVA is the most common type of UV radiation and frequent exposure can lead to skin aging and wrinkling — known as photoaging, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Chronic low-level UVA exposure can cause basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which are the most common forms of skin cancer and occur in people who frequent tanning beds or spend a lot of time outside. If caught early, these forms of skin cancer are treatable.

A 2009 case report published in JAMA Dermatology detailed two women who had developed skin cancer on the back of their fingers after having no family history of the condition. One woman was a 55-year-old with a 15-year history of going to the nail salon twice a month. The other woman, a 48-year-old, said she went eight times in one year several years before her diagnosis. Both women reported having been exposed to UV nail lights, though it’s unclear whether the lights caused the condition

Still, cases like these are extremely rare. It’s unlikely that average women who occasionally visit the nail salon are at significant risk, according to the study.


“Considering the low UV-A energy exposure in an average manicure visit, multiple visits would be required to reach the threshold for potential DNA damage,’’ the authors wrote.

Depending on the intensity of the UV light nail dryer, the researchers found that women would have to use the nail dryer for an average of 11 visits over about 2 years before they reach the threshold of UV exposure for skin damage. The study, however, only looked at a small number of nail dryers and would need to be replicated using a larger sample of dryers to confirm its findings.

To lower the risk of skin aging spots and wrinkles, the researchers suggest using sunscreen before getting a manicure.

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