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Study finds that nail salon UV lamps could increase cancer risk

A new study has found that the long wavelengths of ultraviolet light (UVA) from the UV lamps at nail salons can cause DNA mutations, increasing cancer risk. The lamps, used to cure gel nail polish, are widely used and had long been regarded as "low risk" when used as intended, writes The Washington Post

However, the new study shows that just 20 minutes of exposure could kill 20 to 30 percent of cells when testing human and mouse cells. Ludmil Alexandrov, senior author of the study, told the Post that while this evidence alone isn't enough to conclude that the lamps increase cancer risks, "we very clearly see that it does negatively affect cells, and it damages DNA."

While an individual session may not amount to much skin damage, problems could arise given frequent exposure especially given that another radiation source, tanning beds, has already been proven to increase the risk of skin cancer. "If you sat every day with your hands under one of these machines, that'd be a problem," said Melissa Piliang, dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. 

Also, some people are at a higher risk of UV damage. "If you have Irish descent — red hair, blue eyes — you have a higher inherent risk of developing skin cancers," explains Edward S. Kim, physician-in-chief at City of Hope Orange County. Melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer, can easily be missed around the nailbed until the cancer has advanced. 

The best preventative measure is to limit exposure to UV rays and use sunscreen when exposing yourself. An SPF of 50 or higher should be applied 20 minutes before exposure otherwise, "you may already have your manicure done before the other ingredients would be active," per Shari Lipner, associate professor of clinical dermatology and director of the nail division at Weill Cornell Medicine. 

"I would not discourage [a] person from getting their nails done," said Kim. "They should be practicing good preventative care — no matter if they're in a nail salon or if they're out in the sun."