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How Dangerous Are the UV Lamps in Nail Salons, Really?

We all want and appreciate nice hands since they are out in the open all day long. A big part of that is having our nails polished. And getting a manicure with friends is an honored tradition many of us enjoy with the women in our life, especially before a big event like a wedding or birthday celebration. Some of us even bring our young daughters along to show them what a little bit of pampering can do for the soul. In fact, I am planning to celebrate my birthday tomorrow at our local nail salon with my 12-year-old daughter.

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Sure we can do our nails at home, but it’s not the same as getting out of the house and being treated like a queen, even if it only lasts a half-hour or so.

The trimming of the cuticles and hand massaging feels healthy and satisfying, but what about after your polish is on and your nail technician leads you over to the UV lamps? Most salons these days have you sitting under these lights when you are done. They help speed the drying process for regular manicures and are necessary for gel manicures to set.

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But the questions many women are asking as they look at their beautiful manicured fingers and nails are: How safe is this? Is it worth the risk? What can I do to make one of my favorite treats safer for me if I am not willing to give it up?

Some upscale salons do offer gloves for protection, but obviously your fingertips are still bare and are absorbing the proclaimed damaging light. Some salons have started to replace their UV lamps with LED lights, but they still emit UV rays.

SheKnows spoke with a few women who get manicures regularly to see what their experience was like sitting under the lights waiting for their nails to dry. And many were nervous about the dangerous side effects such as wrinkling and sunspots and the obvious danger of getting skin cancer.

Bethany C. said she gets manicures and puts her hands under the UV lights regularly. “Regardless of precautions, I always feel my fair-skinned hands roasting when I get gel manicures, and I’ve actually seen freckles crop up in one session. I need to stop!”

Alice L. has the same concerns. “I do use them, but before I go, I put sunscreen on my hands. I know some of it is washed off, but at least there is some. They should be providing protection of some sort,” she says.

Jill C. has had no problem with manicures and says, “I have used them many times and it’s never bothered me. They’re used for such a short time and I only get my nails done every couple months, so it’s really not something that I worry about.”

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Joanna R. has been getting regular manicures for over 20 years and says, “Am I thrilled about it? No. But I’m more concerned with sun exposure on the boat or at the beach. And I [put] 30 SPF on my hands.”

Is it possible that perhaps only those who have fair skin or get manicures on the regular should worry and take extra precautions?

We asked Dr. Robin Evans, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in Stamford, Connecticut and a clinical instructor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine her thoughts on UVA exposure at nail salons, and she told us these lamps emit ultraviolet A radiation, which is linked to skin cancer. So the areas of your body that are exposed over and over are at a greater risk.

She recommends asking to have your toenails and fingernails dried with cool air blowing only and also notes that gel wraps can damage nails anyway and should be avoided.

“The best polishes to use are formaldehyde- and toluene-free — thus avoiding chemicals linked to carcinogenicity,” she says. “My recommendation is to avoid these lamps.”

But we all know not everyone is going to take this advice, as getting gel wraps has been known to last longer than just regular polish.

Dr. John Diaz, a plastic surgeon, offers another point of view.

“The reality is that most people are not spending hours in the nail salon on a daily basis, so the likelihood of UV exposure from nail salon lamps leading to skin cancer is low,” he explains. Diaz says there are a few things you can do to limit damaging sun exposure at the nail salon, including: applying SPF 30-plus to hands, fingers, nails and forearms or limiting your gel nail treatments and choosing a regular manicure with nontoxic polish.

Only you can decide if you are comfortable with getting under the UV lights, but it is nice to know there are alternatives. And if the side effects make you nervous, you don’t have to give up having pretty nails all together — there’s always the air dryer.

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