The Controversial Link Between UV Nail Lamps and Skin Cancer

Merely Me Health Guide
  • Most women regard getting a manicure as a time to relax and to get some much needed pampering. What is not on most women’s minds when they visit a salon is that the UV lamps used for drying their nails might be upping their risk for skin cancer. Yet this is exactly what some dermatologists are concerned about. Dr. Deborah MacFarlane, professor of dermatology and director of the Mohs & Dermasurgery Unit at the MD Anderson Cancer Center believes that exposure to UV nail lights is a risk factor for the development of skin cancer.


    What led to Doctor MacFarlane’s theory was an observation she made of two patients with skin cancer on their hands who also frequented nail salons and had exposure to ultraviolet nail lights. These UV nail lamps are often used to cure gel and acrylic nails but they are also used by many salons to speed up the drying process for traditional nail polish.

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    One patient was a 55-year-old woman who developed skin cancers on her right hand. This patient was reportedly in good health, with no family or personal history of skin cancer, had an indoor occupation, and had no evidence of sun damage or skin cancer on her face or the rest of her body. This patient had a “…15-year history of twice-monthly UV nail light exposure to dry her nail polish and set her acrylic nails.”


    A second patient, a healthy 48-year-old woman with no family or personal history of skin cancer, and an indoor occupation, also developed skin cancer on her right hand. This patient had to have repeated surgeries to remove skin cancers on her right hand following previous exposure to UV nail lights (approximately 8 times in one year).


    Both women were diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma which is considered less serious than melanoma skin cancer, but is still potentially deadly if it spreads to vital organs.


    Doctor MacFarlane along with her colleague, Dr. Carol Alonso, also from the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, wrote up her observations in a 2009 article in the Archives of Dermatology.

    Some caution is advised on what one can conclude from this study. Even the study authors agree that this report was simply an observation of only two cases. The conclusion that MacFarlane and some other dermatologists come to is that it may be worthy to investigate the potential health hazards of UV light applications in the beauty industry.


    The nail salon industry refutes MacFarlane’s theory with a study of their own. Doug Schoon, a scientific researcher in the professional nail industry, along with two of his colleagues, present a rebuttal entitled, Three Experts Rebut Claims that UV Nail Lamps are Unsafe for Skin. These scientists claim that MacFarlane and Alonso made several errors in their report including an “improper estimation of UV exposure to the skin by UV nail lamps.” They also wonder if a more probable cause for these women to develop skin cancer was UV radiation from incidental exposure to sunlight as both women live in Texas, a geographic area known for its sunny climate. Schoon and his colleagues make a comparison that for the one patient who used a UV lamp only eight times during the year, she could have been exposed to more ultraviolet light simply by spending 10-20 minutes eating lunch outdoors in natural sunlight once a week.


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    The salon industry scientists maintain that McFarlane’s report is based upon incorrect assumptions and that the exposure one receives to UV nail lamps is well within safe levels.


    So where does this controversy leave consumers?


    Some dermatologists recommend that if you are worried about your exposure to UV nail lamps to either opt not to use them and let your nails air dry or use a protective sunscreen on your hands before getting your nails done. Many doctors are still unconvinced that there is any great risk in using these nail lamps but it might be wise to protect your skin just in case.


    What are your thoughts? Would you think twice about drying your nails under a UV nail lamp after reading about these cases? Or do you think this is much ado about nothing, and the risk is so low as to not be a concern? As always, we would love to hear from you.

Published On: March 21, 2011