Gel manicures, which take less time to dry and more time to chip than traditional manicures, are increasing in popularity—but are they safe? In order to dry the polish, gel manicure clients put their hands under ultraviolet lamps for as long as 10 minutes—about twice as long as traditional manicure clients do. Two women with repeated exposure to UV nail lamps, both of whom ended up developing skin cancer on the backs of their hands, were studied in a 2009 medical journal article that concluded that the lamps are “a risk factor.” A dermatologist tells the Washington Post that “artificial UV light does elevate your risk for developing skin cancer,” adding that nail salon clients could use sunscreen to cut down on their risk.
The FDA regulates UV nail lamps in the same way it regulates microwaves and X-ray machines, but has made no statement on the subject. It does, however, warn about the risks of tanning via UV lights. The founder of a popular gel polish company says nail lamps are nothing like tanning beds, considering the differences in exposure time and bulb strength, but the 2009 article did find the two “approximately comparable” since there is also a big difference in how much of the body is exposed. However, as the scientific adviser for the polish brand points out, hands don’t become tanned while sitting under a nail lamp; his calculations indicate the drying time is the same as spending one to two minutes in the sun per day between manicures. “No one should run screaming from the salon thinking they’re going to get skin cancer,” he says.