Are UV Nail Lamps Safe? What to Know When Getting a Gel Manicure

Updated: Feb. 07, 2023

A new study from the University of San Diego highlights the dangers of the machines' UV rays.

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If you have ever gotten a gel manicure, chances are you have used a nail drying lamp. They are a frequent feature in salons, used to dry specific types of nail polish rapidly before you leave. They do so by emitting ultraviolet (UV) light, much like a tiny tanning bed. However, according to a study from the University of San Diego published on Jan. 17, 2023, you might want to think twice before sticking your hands into the drying lamp at your next manicure.

Are UV Nail Lamps Safe?

Researchers studied whether or not using UV nail lamps increased the risk of developing skin cancer. So, are they safe to use? Let’s dive into the study.

The results of the study do not show direct evidence that nail lamps increase the risk of developing skin cancer. In this study, petri dishes of mouse and human cells were placed under a UV nail dryer for two 20-minute sessions, separated by one hour. Twenty to 30% of the cells died after these two sessions. When scientists exposed the cells to a daily 20-minute exposure for three days in a row, up to 70% of the cells died. The remaining cells showed signs of damaged DNA and mutations linked to skin cancer.

However, the results do demonstrate that a notable risk could be present and scientists do not yet agree on how dangerous UV lamps are. While a handful of studies have been conducted, it’s still not enough to clearly confirm anything. As is often the case, there’s nothing to lose in taking a cautious approach when using a UV nail lamp to dry your gel manicure.

Other Studies on Whether UV Nail Lamps Are Safe

One of the most notable studies on nail drying lamps came in 2013 from scientists Julia Curtis, MD; Paul Tanner, CCA; Cambria Judd, MD; Brandon Childs, BS; Christopher Hull, MD; and Sancy Leachman, MD, PhD. They determined that the UV rays from nail lamps are 4.2 times stronger than those emitted from the sun, and thus warranted further study to determine if they were linked to causing skin cancer.

However, in 2015, scientists John C. Dowdy, PhD and Robert M. Sayre, PhD responded to the study, saying that the “trivial exposure” to UV rays from the nail drying lamps was “not cause for public alarm.” Upon review of the experts’ rebuttal, the 2013 group still “reaffirm[ed] [their] conclusion that this area deserves more research.”

In 2020, scientists Chelsea T. Schwartz, DO; Harib H. Ezaldein, MD; and Marisha Merati, DO also conducted a study on the cancer risks of UV nail drying lamps and concluded that “gel manicures have little to no carcinogenic risk.”

How Do I Protect My Hands from UV Light?

If you want to continue getting gel manicures, there are a few things you can do to protect your hands from UV nail lamps.

Experts at the Cancer Council recommend applying sunscreen to your hands before a manicure or wearing fingerless UPF gloves that just expose the nail.