Slap on protection before getting a manicure, surgeons warn


Inconsistent results prompt a precautionary warning about potential dangers associated with acrylic gel nails. Andrew Masterson reports.


Ultraviolet light exposure in the sake of a narrowly defined definition of beauty. It may not be worth the risk.
Ultraviolet light exposure in the sake of a narrowly defined definition of beauty. It may not be worth the risk.
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People should apply sunscreen to their hands before undergoing a manicure, a group of plastic surgeons from Ireland advise.

In a letter contained in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology, Stephanie Marie Bollard and colleagues from the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University Hospital Galway, report on a wide range of skin-cancer risk estimates tied to the use of ultraviolet lamps during acrylic gel manicures.

The ultraviolet lamps are used to catalyse polymerisation and hardening of the gels used during the procedure. Customers typically hold each hand under the lamps for five minutes. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation is an acknowledged skin cancer risk, albeit one that is dose dependent.

Bollard and her colleagues reveal the results of an anonymous survey they conducted in order to assess people’s sense of risk when having a manicure. Over 400 people – overwhelmingly women – responded to the questionnaire, revealing that only 9% believed there was a cancer risk associated with using a nail lamp, while 53% were unsure.

More than 80% said they would not go ahead with a manicure if such a risk was proven.

The researchers run through a number of studies that present startlingly different results from investigation into ultraviolet exposure associated with nail lamps. At one end of the spectrum, a 2013 study tested six different types of lamps and found that safe exposure could last for between 36 minutes and four and a half hours, depending on the type – way longer than the 10 minute total for a full nail job.

At the other end of the scale, another 2013 study found that recommend whole-day exposure to UV could be reached under a nail lamp in less than 10 minutes.

The discrepancies, Bollard and colleagues suggest, arise from the wide range of different makes, models and strengths of lamp used by manicurists.

They call for further study. In the interim, they suggest, wise women should follow precautionary advice issued by the US Skin Cancer Foundation and apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to the hands about 20 minutes before getting their nails done.

Alternatively, they add, fingerless gloves could be a good idea.

  1. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ajd.12806
  2. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ajd.12806
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23550905
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24238177
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