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Do UV lights used in nail salons cause skin cancer?

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In nail salons, lamps that emit ultraviolet light (UV light) are a common way to speed up the drying process for regular manicures and set gel manicures. While they may be effective and convenient, the question is, how safe are they really? 

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer risk in the world, so it's only natural that anything with UV lights are an immediate concern. 

Let's have a look at what the current research says and also the steps you can take to minimise your risk of skin cancer.

Why do salons use UV lamps for gel manicures?

Gel manicures have risen in popularity, because of their chip-resistant, long-lasting quality. For gel manicures, UV light exposure is essential to hardening the nail polish and making it set.

UV lamps are also used on regular manicures to speed up the drying process.

Are UV Lamps and LED lamps different?

Yes, but in nail salons, both are used for the same purposes. Both emit ultraviolet radiation to achieve their purpose.

LED lamps are sometimes marketed as being better for you, but they still use UVA exposure to perform their job. More research needs to be done to determine if LED lamps are much safer than UV lamps.

What are the potential risks of too much UV exposure?

The reason both consumers and those in the skin care field have some reservations about UV lamps is that overexposure to UVA rays has some very serious potential side effects. Over-exposure to UVA rays, whether they're from a natural source like the sun or these artificial means, can have a range of detrimental effects including:

  • Premature ageing of skin
  • Age spots
  • Increase the risk of skin cancer significantly, including melanoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Sunburn
  • Dry skin

Are the UV lamps in the dryers at the nail salon safe to use?

Recent research indicates that UV lamps could increase your chances of skin cancer. However, the evidence isn't conclusive at this stage. Unfortunately, the effects of UV Lamps have received nowhere near the amount of study as other potential cancer risks, such as sun exposure and tanning beds.

A UV lamp doesn't emit the same level of ultraviolet radiation as a tanning bed, yet professionals are still concerned about the possible long-term effects. The current verdict on this procedure is that some caution and restraint should be taken when using a UV lamp to dry gel nails, but more research is needed to determine exactly how dangerous it really is.

In most cases, LED nail lamps, light boxes and UV lamps used to dry nail polishes emit a low level of radiation and your exposure time is quite short. Further research needs to be done to determine what extent this increases your risk of skin cancer.

Brief exposure to UV light is key

When it comes to avoiding any long-term harm from UV exposure, the key is moderation. Limiting your exposure and taking precautions (see below) when visiting the salon, will help make sure your manicure doesn't cause any long-term damage.

A gel manicure every few weeks or months probably won't result in you getting cancer, though it certainly doesn't help your chances. Going all the time may not only increase your risk of developing cancer, but it can also have negative effects on your skin including premature ageing, spots and wrinkles.

Take precautions when using nail lamps

Just as you should always practice sun protection when going outside, you should develop similar habits when using devices like UV lamps.

Prevention is always the best approach and there are some precautions you can take to protect yourself when using UV lamps during your next manicure.

  • Wear sunscreen will provide your skin extra protection. We recommend applying a broad-spectrum SPF30 or higher sunscreen to your skin 20 minutes before it's exposed to UV light.
  • Wear protective gloves that leave only your nails exposed or fingerless gloves. Many salons now offer these, so be sure to inquire when booking your appointment.
  • Never look directly into a UV light device. This will hurt your eyes and could even cause serious damage.
  • Consider saving gel nail polish and manicures for special occasions. Make a gel polish something you'll pull out for weddings, Christmas and major events rather than for the around the office.

If you have any concerns about a mole or your skin in general, a skin check is worth your time. In most cases, a skin check will provide you peace of mind, but it could also save your life.

A skin cancer clinic doctor will be able to check every spot on your body and flag any concerns they have. Remember the earlier you catch something, even cancer, the easier it'll be to treat. If you have a spot you're concerned about or you are due for a check-up, book your next appointment with Sun Doctors today!

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