Millions of women enjoy a nice manicure and pedicure, as the proliferation of nail salons around the country indicate, but a new study shows that women who get gel manicures could be increasing their risk of skin cancer.
CBS New York reports that gel manicures are popular because the manner in which they are applied prevents nails from chipping. That process incorporates a polymer-containing polish that hardens when exposed to ultraviolet light, CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez said.
But that is the same ultraviolet light which is used in tanning beds and which is thought to cause skin cancer, including melanoma, which can be deadly. And that fact raises the question as to whether the ultraviolet lights used in gel manicures might pose a skin cancer risk as well.
Are longer nails really worth the skin cancer risk?
In addition to the cancer risk, UV light can cause a number of other skin-related problems as well, say health experts. That includes premature wrinkles, as well as dark and light spots, said Dr. Chris Adigun of New York University's Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology, who wrote the report detailing the potential manicure-skin cancer risks.
"You can also develop dry, brittle nails from the gel manicures, especially people that are doing them on a regular basis," he told radio station 1010 WINS.
Adds Adigun, regarding the study: "In a study that was analyzing the strength of these lamps and comparing them with tanning beds, the conclusion was the actual risk of inducing skin cancer by using these lamps is actually quite low. It's not zero, but it's quite low."
Still, there is an additional risk that otherwise would not exist, save for the added UV exposure.
Adigun said that if you still insist on getting a gel manicure, there are some things you can do to minimize the risk and damage.
"Wear sun protective gloves and just snip the fingertips off of the gloves, or use a sun-protective cloth to lay on top of their hands," he suggested. "Or at the very least, apply sunscreen."
"Artificial UV light does elevate your risk for developing skin cancer" and for premature aging of the skin, Anna M. Bender, a dermatologist at Johns Hopkins University, told The Washington Post. "So people could use a sunscreen to try to block the UV from their surrounding skin."
The paper said that during a gel manicure, wearers' hands are exposed to UV light for as long as 10 minutes.
There are other concerns as well. A bigger problem, Adigun said, is the chemicals contained in the polish, as well as what it takes to remove the long-lasting application.
Those chemicals "can induce certain types of contact dermatitis or allergy, allergic contact dermatitis in people, as well as the dryness that can happen from the removal process and exposure to the acetone. That can be very problematic," she said.
Previous study linked skin cancer and UV nail lights
A 2009 study examined two women who developed skin cancer after repeated exposure to UV light during nail treatments.
"Two healthy middle-aged women with no personal or family history of skin cancer developed nonmelanoma skin cancers on the dorsum of their hands. Both women report previous exposure to UV nail lights," said the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA.
One 55-year-old woman had a 15-year history of twice-monthly UV nail light exposure to dry her nail polish and set her acrylic nails, the study said. The second woman, who was 48, was found to have had repeated UV nail light exposure, had developed squamous cell cancers on the dorsum of both hands on at least two occasions.
"It appears that exposure to UV nail lights is a risk factor for the development of skin cancer; however, this observation warrants further investigation," the 2009 study concluded. "In addition, awareness of this possible association may help physicians identify more skin cancers and better educate their patients."