Gel nails are popular these days. Gel manicure gives nails a beautiful and glossy look — plus it’s chip-resistant, so one can enjoy colourful nails for a month. But did you know that this also comes with risks?
Gel nail polish uses ultraviolet light to dry the polished nails, and this raises a concern amongst dermatologists: UV light, the same ray emitted by the sun and tanning beds, can damage the skin and cause skin cancer.
Could this indulgence be putting your health at risk?
Manicures and Skin Cancer: Is There a Link?
Fears that the UV light used to dry the shellac and gel during common manicures could cause cancer have been on the rise since a 2009 study reported that two women developed skin cancer on their hands after undergoing repeated manicures.
According to the report, however, more research is needed to determine a direct link between shellac and gel manicures and skin cancer of the hands and fingers.
One thing has been determined: UV light does increase one’s risk of developing skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. In a press release in 2016, board-certified dermatologist Chris G. Adigun, MD, FAAD, explained that the curing lamps used to dry shellac and gel during standard manicures does expose patients to these same types of UV rays. “The UV dose that you receive during a gel manicure is brief, but it’s intense,” she says.
Research indicates that the UV rays emitted by those lamps are four times stronger than the sun’s UV rays.
Still, the risk is minimal during a manicure, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School who published a 2014 study in JAMA Dermatology. They found that the level of UVA exposure associated with a gel manicure every two weeks to be low enough to not show a significant increase in skin cancer risk.
The Skin Cancer Foundation agreed in its 2015 report, stating that while “UVA rays, which have been linked to both premature skin aging and skin cancer, even the most intense of these devices presents only a moderate UV risk — a far lower risk than that presented by UV tanning devices.”
Manicures and Skin Cancer: Protection Is Always Best
While the risk of using shellac on your nails is relatively low, the Skin Cancer Foundation does recommend protecting your hands from dangerous UV rays when possible.
You can do this by applying a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen to your hands 20 minutes prior to UV light exposure. You can also use fingertip gloves to help reduce UV exposure risk. Alternatively you could look into other types of manicures like SNS that skips UV exposure
Nail Melanoma Is Not Common
There are different types of melanoma skin cancer that develop on the hands and nails. Some are seen on the top of the fingernail, while others (like subungual melanoma) develop underneath the nail.
Despite a surge in publicity regarding these types of cancer, they remain low. According to the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, only 1.4% of all diagnosed melanomas occur on the finger or toe nails. Still, that does not mean that you shouldn’t watch out for danger signs.
Nail Melanoma: Warning Signs to Watch For
While relatively rare, cancer of the nails does happen, making it important to watch for signs of trouble. Below are some of the red flags of nail cancer:
- A dark brown or black streak across the nail
- Nail separating (lifting from the nail bed)
- Cracked split or brittle nails
- The darkening of the skin surrounding the nail
- Bleeding or signs of infection on or around the nail
- Nodules underneath the nail
- Bruises on the nail that won’t heal
- Nail sensitivity
Early Detection Essential to Avoid Melanoma
As is the case with any form of skin cancer, early detection is the key to avoiding the devastating impact of melanoma. Watching for signs of trouble are important, but detecting skin cancer before it is even noticeable by the naked eye offers the most success in treating it.
That’s why more Australians are turning to MoleMap to help them detect trouble spots on the skin early..
Get peace of mind knowing your skin has been checked by an experienced team of melanoma detection experts. Find a MoleMap clinic near you and book your appointment today.