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16 November 2022

How safe is your manicure?

Experts are concerned about the risks of nail salons using UV rays.

If you are considering booking an appointment for a set of gel nails (also known as shellac) for the festive season, you might want to think about more than just the colour. Skin cancer experts are concerned consumers don’t know about the potential risk posed by UV lamps used in nail salons.

UV or LED lamps are used in some nail salons to set gel manicures, and sometimes they’re used to speed-dry regular manicures. Both types of lamp emit UV radiation (predominantly UVA rays).

UVA rays penetrate deeply into the skin and cause wrinkles and age spots. UVB rays cause reddening of the skin and are the main cause of sunburn. Both UVA and UVB rays can also cause skin cancer.

The New Zealand Dermatological Society (NZDSI) has concerns about the use of these lamps in nail salons.

Nail salon

Dermatologist Dr Louise Reiche said exposing any part of the body to artificial sources of UV radiation is likely to add to the risk of skin cancer, particularly if that area of skin has already received excessive UV exposure, such as sunburn.

“Although there have been few reports of nail skin cancers to date, use of UV or LED lamps is relatively recent in the nail beauty industry, so it’s premature to conclude the practice is safe,” Dr Reiche told Consumer NZ.

“Whilst opaque nail colours may slow or prevent UV radiation penetrating the nail itself, the surrounding skin and nail folds remain vulnerable to the dangerous UV radiation effects. When skin cancers occur on the hands and feet, they are associated with poor outcomes.”

Dr Reiche said there’s also the cosmetic aspect.

“We know that repeated exposure to UVA accelerates photo-ageing, resulting in wrinkles and age spots.”

The NZDSI and the Cancer Society of New Zealand wants the nail beauty industry to put consumer safety first. It recommends operators provide a consent form for customers outlining the risks of UV radiation lamps, and fingertip-less opaque gloves or broad-spectrum, high-protection sunscreen to protect the surrounding skin. It is also calling on the industry to seek other methods to speed-dry nail polish coatings.

If your nail salon doesn’t provide gloves or sunscreen, take matters into your own hands. Apply broad-spectrum, high-protection sunscreen – the NZDSI recommends SPF50 or higher – 20 minutes before your hands are exposed to UV lamps.

Find out more about the risks of getting your nails done here.

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