UV Light for Acrylic Nails Might Cause Skin Cancer


“It’s like a mini tanning bed for your fingers. ”

Artifical nails are a $6.3 billion dollar industry. There are nearly 60,000 nail salons in the US — 5 times as many Starbucks! Many of these nail salons use UV light, which might increase the risk of skin cancer on your fingers.

Researchers from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas noticed that some of their patients with skin cancer on their fingers (an uncommon place to get skin cancer) reported having had UV light for artificial nails. Such¬†UV light has been shown to damage cells’ DNA (the genetic code in all cells) and to cause mutations that lead to skin cancer.

There are several types of nails. The most popular is acrylic, a two part process where a liquid monomer is combined with a powder polymer. It hardens in seconds, but takes an hour for the final hardness to set. Ultraviolet light is used to speed up the hardening.

A second type of artificial nail is the UV-gel. These are more flexible and have a high-gloss finish than acrylics. As their name suggests, ultraviolet light is used to harden the nails.

UV light is also used for a topcoat sealant. Because artificial nails yellow from UV light (especially tanning booths), a top coat can be used to protect the nail. This topcoat is cured (or set) using UV light.

The amount of radiation that your fingers get from the nail treatment is comparable to what you would get in a tanning booth. Because nails are done every 2-4 weeks (one would hope), that can add up to a significant amount of UV exposure over years.

No large scale studies have been done to examine the danger of using UV light for nails, but these patients suggest that there is likely a risk, especially if you have fair skin or have a history of skin cancer.

Photo: Monibela (flickr)