UV lights used in nail treatments and the possible development of skin cancer on fingers were discussed in a previous DermTV episode. Important new information on the alleged risks of these UV exposures warrants this eye-opening update.
Unprotected exposure to any UV light is bad for your skin. Period.
In the first DermTV episode on UV nail treatments, I quoted a report from a reputable dermatology journal from 2009 in which two women who regularly received UV nail treatments developed squamous cell cancer on their fingers. This raised concern in the dermatologic community as well as for the public about the safety of these treatments and their risk of causing skin cancer.
Spokespersons for the nail industry have been adamant in insisting that there is no danger and they correctly state that two cases of skin cancer in these UV nail dryer users do not prove that UV nail dryers caused their skin cancers.
While the type of UV light emitted by these nail dryers is the same type used in many tanning salons and has the wavelength which is known to cause premature photo-aging of the skin and skin cancer, the issue comes down to dose: Do you really get a strong enough dose during the 5-10 minute treatment to be able to cause - or even just contribute to - skin cancer?
The original report from 2009 implied that you do.
In December 2012, a Letter to the Editor in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, one of the most prestigious research dermatology journals, addressed this issue. The authors did extensive testing with three common UV nail lamp devices in which they were able to determine, with relative confidence, the actual dose of UV light that the fingers are exposed to during these treatments. They then compared that dose to other medical treatments done for Psoriasis which are thought to be safe and use similar UV light.
The authors concluded that the dose of UV light even from regular use of these UV nail lamps is probably not sufficient to cause skin cancer.
This report should be reassuring to most people that UV nail lamps may not represent an imminent threat to causing skin cancer.
However, while the nail industry insists that these treatments are safe, and the information in the letter I just mentioned I believe is accurate and reliable, the instructions with the UV nail lamps explicitly state...
“The UV radiation from sunshine or UV facilities” – meaning this lamp – “may cause injury to skin. Repeated overexposure to UV radiation may cause skin aging and increase the incidence of skin cancer.”
...So, I’m going to again take the position that no unprotected UV skin exposure is harmless and chemfree sunscreen, carefully applied to the skin immediately before putting your hand in the dryer, can protect it from the harmful UV without ruining the manicure or compromising the drying.