Beauty comes at a price, and for long-lasting manicures, that may include the threat of skin cancer. One of the more popular services at nail salons today involve “baking the paint into the nail” as some refer to it, under an ultraviolet (UV) lamp. UV lamps have the reputation of emitting the same kind of aging and skin damage light that can cause melanoma and other malignancies. Skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States impacts all of our lives. It is estimated through research completed at Northwester Medicine Dermalogic Cancer Center that at least 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer during a lifetime.
UV lamps currently used on the market range from 9 watts to 45 watts for curing gels and polishes. Watts indicate how much energy is being used per second, not the strength of UV rays that are being dispersed. Many doctors use UV light therapy to kill bacteria on the skin, treating psoriasis and to help the body produce Vitamin D. Those treatments can be from 2 minutes up to 8 minutes in a series of (6) to (8) visits. However, gel polish manicures are 2 minutes in total twice a month which are completely harmless. The claims that UV lamps used in the nail industry cause skin cancer have not been proven to have merit due in part to the over estimation of exposure to client skin being under UV light emitted from UV lamps which improperly characterize the effect of these lamps on the hand.
There was a case study done by Dr. Doug Schoon, Chief Scientific Advisor for Creative Nail Design, Dr. Paul Bryson, Director of R & D for OPI and Dr. Jim McConnell, President of McConnell Labs. The test results were:
In the first test was Lamp A using (4) 9-watt bulbs which was selected because it had the highest measured UV output of any UV nail lamp tested: UVB output for the UV nail lamp was less than what was found in natural sunlight. The bulbs used in UV nail lamps contain special internal filters which remove almost all UV-B, so this result is not surprising. The test results show that the amount of UVB to which client skin is exposed is equal to what they could expect from spending an extra 26 seconds in sunlight each day of the two weeks between nail salon appointments.
In the first test was Lamp A using (4) 9-watt bulbs: UVA exposure is much lower the test results show that UVA exposure for client skin is equivalent to spending an extra 2.7 minutes in sunlight each day between salon visits, depending on the type of UV nail lamp used.
In the second test was Lamp B using (2) 9 watt bulbs which was selected because it is a popular brand and representative of other UV nail lamps within the (2) 9 watt category: UVB output for the UV nail lamp was less than what was found in natural sunlight. The bulbs used in UV nail lamps contain special internal filters which remove almost all UVB, so this result is not surprising. The test results show that the amount of UVB to which client skin is exposed is equal to what they could expect from spending an extra 17 seconds in sunlight each day of the two weeks between nail salon appointments.
In the second test was Lamp A using (2) 9-watt bulbs: UVA exposure is much lower the test results show that UVA exposure for client skin is equivalent to spending an extra 1.5 minutes in sunlight each day between salon visits, depending on the type of UV nail lamp used.
The purpose for testing both lamps was to determine how exposures vary across the range of UV nail lamps with the goal of providing information that would apply to the majority of salons and situations. The UV testing performed by the scientist used proper scientific techniques and equipment to measure both UVA and UVB radiation in terms of milliwatts per centimeter, which is a measure of how much UV light falls upon each and every square centimeter of skin (about 1/8 square inch). It is important to understand that UVB is considered by many to be more potentially damaging to skin than UVA, which is why nail lamps rely on special UV bulbs that contain internal coatings designed to filter out most of the UVB light.
The scientist included in the case study a patient living in Texas, a climate where significant incidental UV exposure from sunlight is inevitable even in the absence of deliberate recreational exposure. The patient had been exposed to a UV nail lamp only eight times during the same year (we assume every two weeks for 4 months). During this same period, the patient would have been exposed to more UVA and UVB simply by spending 10 to 20 minutes eating lunch outdoors in natural sunlight once per week.
UV nail lamps emit relatively low levels of UV light and these exposure levels are considered well within safe levels when they are used to perform UV artificial nail services in nail salons. Client hands are likely to be exposed to more UV light while driving their cars than they will receive from UV gel nail services.