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Hardly a week goes by without some sensational story in the media about a new cancer risk or a new carcinogen discovered in our every day environment. A typical example of this is the recent study into the skin cancer risks from UV lights used in nail salons.

UV lights are commonly found in nail salons and high street beauticians, and are used to dry and cure nail polishes, varnishes and other finishes such as acrylic nail fillers. They consist of a small box containing a ultraviolet lamp, with an opening at the front into which the hand is inserted. The concern was whether this exposure to UV rays would be harmful to the skin of the fingers and potentially be a cause of skin cancer.

What did the study show?

This was the first study to use a range of actual salon lamps for testing. Dr Lyndsay Shipp and her colleagues tested 17 different UV lights found in 16 different nail salons. The lamps had an assortment of bulbs of different wattage, emitting a range of irradiance.

Having thoroughly tested the bulbs under laboratory conditions, the researchers found that the high power bulbs did indeed produce higher levels of dangerous UV radiation, which is associated with DNA damage and subsequent skin cancers. Inevitably, this sparked scare mongering headlines in the more sensationalist media, suggesting that weekly manicures could cause skin cancer.

However, a more careful examination of the results shows that this is unlikely to be the case. In fact, the team concluded that while the level of UV-A was, in theory, potentially dangerous, the exposure time for the average nail station client was so short that even with multiple exposures to the lamps, the risk of developing skin cancer as a result remained small.

What this means for you?

With so many ill informed headlines about, it can be difficult to know what to believe, but the Health Information Officer from Cancer Research UK, Dr Indrayani Ghangrekar, made the message plain. “Studies have shown that UV nail lamps are likely to pose very little skin cancer risk,” she explained.

The organisation is far more concerned at the lack of awareness of the skin cancer dangers of excessive sun exposure, which presents a far higher risk than a few minutes under a nail lamp once a week.

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Are nail lamps a skin cancer risk?

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