Why Gel Manicures are NOT a Cancer Risk

Why Gel Manicures are NOT a Cancer Risk


In light of recent news reports, you may have been approached by clients wary of a potential cancer risk associated with gel manicures. In response to a new study, many are pointing a finger at UV nail lamps as a cancer-causing device. With over 30 years of safe, popular and common use in salon environments; we're taking the time to bust this myth immediately.

Gel manicures do NOT cause cancer. In fact, evidence shows it would take over 25 minutes of DAILY nail lamp use to cause significant cancer risk! The Skin Cancer Foundation's official position on UV nail lamps declares that they do not present nearly the same risk as commercial tanning beds.

Recent reports claim that the UV light used to cure gel and shellac manicures emits enough concentrated light to cause serious skin damage. Comparing the lamps to tanning beds, multiple headlines have advised salon-goers to wear sunscreen during their nail services. This is quite simply not true and not necessary. We invite you to read through the science of UV lamps, to empower your clients to trust fact over fiction.


A study from the University Hospital Galaway in Ireland  has been making headlines, claiming that the low level UV in nail lamps can heavy deadly consequences.

The study in question, published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology, focuses on the fact that nail lamps share a similarity with tanning beds; they both channel streams of UVA light. While it's true that high dose exposure to these waves will increase your cancer risk, the dosage is crucial. In the discussion, this study acknowledges one of the reasons the public perception of nail lamps is blurry to say the least.

There has not been a significant body of research collected for random sampling on nail lamps in commercial salons. As such, there are nobaselines in place to determine what qualifies as the "standard" level of UVA light emitted by nail lamps. This study also does not account for prior sun-exposure of participants. To dispel this theoretical evidence, let's break down the technology itself. 


Let's start with the science of UV nail lamps. There are two styles on the market: traditional and LED. Traditional lamps use "fluorescent tubes," while newer LED style UV nail lamps use "Light Emitting Diodes." LED lights are a more recent technology and emit a more concentrated stream of light to target only the nail surface. However, both varieties harness the same ultra-violet technology to cure gel and shellac polish. The UV light used to cure polish contains only a dismal fraction of the wavelengths found in natural sunlight. Ultra-violet light can be divided into three categories: UVA, UVB and UVC. Manicure lamps are specifically formulated to emit UVA light, little to no UVB light and absolutely zero UVC rays. Gel polish is also designed to polymerize using only a small fraction of UVA light. This means that curing does not require a large quantity of full-spectrum UV. The UV light used to cure polish contains only a dismal fraction of the wavelengths found in natural sunlight.

Brief, infrequent and low-level exposure to calculated UVA light (as used in nail services) is safe. In 2014 a study published in JAMA Dermatology argued that the level of UVA exposure associated with bi-weekly manicures isn't likely to cause any significant increase in your risk of skin cancer. The technology used to polymerize gel polish uses only a small fraction of UVA light. This means that curing does not require a large quantity of full-spectrum UV. Now that you know the science behind modern nail lamps, let's take a look at the most common questions you might be getting. Communicating clear facts to your clients is the best way to assure they don't fear their favourite manicure!


Q: Are nail lamps safe? Isn't it the same UV light as a tanning bed?

A: Commercial sunbeds are dangerous. They have been proven to emit a harmful level of UV light and should be completely avoided. Many countries around the world, including Australia, have completely banned commercial tanning beds. The Skin Cancer Foundation formally acknowledges that tanning beds offer significantly higher risk than UV nail lamps. The research behind tanning bed UV light is well documented and consistent. UV nail lamps on the other hand have not been studied in the same controlled, long-term sampling form. Many of the claims against nail lamps are based on anecdotal evidence. The quantity of UVA waves emitted by a nail lamp are nowhere near what is required to tan the skin. The exposure to your nails is low-dose and low risk.

Q: What about the new studies and statements from doctors about nail lamps?

Reading beyond the headlines is essential in stories such as this. Many of the recent news reports are lacking hard facts or qualitative science to back up their concern. The stories in question are focused around public perception and the general lack of sunscreen use under nail lamps. These news articles fail to give specifics about the brand, exposure level or study size. It is therefore hard to consider these stories as credible or factual.

Q: How much exposure to nail lamps would it take to be harmful?

According to a comprehensive 2013 study, it would take over 25 minutes of daily nail lamp exposure to exceed safe levels of UVA exposure. As most clients are going to the salon bi-weekly at most, exceeding this range would be extremely unlikely. The study tested six major brands of nail lamps and found that all brands emitted below what should be considered hazardous UVA amounts. The study determined that the risk factor for developing melanoma from nail lamps is 11-46 times less than naturally occurring afternoon sun exposure.

Q: Do I need to wear sunscreen before a gel or shellac manicure?

This decision is ultimately at the discretion of your client. Sunscreen is not harmful to the skin and if your client feels more comfortable wearing it before their service, they should! Wearing sunscreen on any exposed skin is never a bad idea, especially in Australia! However, as explained earlier, the short exposure time and calculated UVA dosage does not make this a requirement for safety. Also make sure to request that your client washes their hands before the service begins so that the nail stays dehydrated and no grease or oil remains on the hands.

Q: Should I switch to dipping system manicures? Are they safer?

Similar to the question above, whatever makes your client most comfortable is the choice they should make. Not only are dipping systems free of UV light, they create a strong nail enhancement and offer a slew of benefits. If, despite understanding the safety of gel manicures, the concept of UV light still makes your client uncomfortable, dip might be their perfect alternative! 

All facts about the science of UV nail lamps have been sourced from the Professional Beauty Association. 


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23550905 https://www.skincancer.org/media-and-press/press-release-2013/nail-lamps https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajd.12806 http://www.schoonscientific.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Understanding-UV-Nail-Lamps-1.pdf