Shiny and chip resistant, gel manicures have become an indispensable part of many women’s beauty routines. Gel polishes are held in a long chain of molecules that form a flexible yet durable coat upon hardening. However, the downside with gel manicures is that ultraviolet light is crucial to cure the gel polish. In short, no UV light, no gel manis! To harden gel polish, a woman places her hand under a lamp emitting UVA rays. This is concerning as UVA rays are the most mutagenic wavelength range of the UV spectrum.

Are LED lamps better?

Some salons use LED lamps and you may be wondering if that is a better option. It is a common misconception to think that LED lamps are better as it uses LED instead of UV. LED is used by many salons as it has a much shorter curing time, however, this is a double edged sword as LED lamps actually emit much more intense UVA rays than UV lamps or even the sun. Another concern for the use of nail lamps is that there is no standard for how long hands should be kept under the lamp. Salons are more likely to want over cured gel nails and happy customers instead of an under cured nails, prolonged exposure of UVA lights add up.

Does gel manicures increase my risk of developing skin cancer?

person wearing silver ring with black manicure

According to an interview conducted by Today magazine, Dr. Chris Adigun, a dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who specializes in nail disorders and who contributed expert advice on the safety of gel manicures for the American Academy of Dermatology said that theoretically it is likely that exposure to UVA rays during gel manicure appointments add up and may increase your chance of getting skin cancer as UVA rays increase one’s chance of getting skin cancer and one is exposed to those very rays during a gel manicure. However, she acknowledged that there isn’t enough research done to support this claim as gel manicures are fairly new.

Here is a compilation of research done on gel manicures:

  • A 2014 research warned longer exposure times led to increased potential for skin damage, but concluded the risk for developing cancer was small.
  • A paper profiled two women who had regular exposure to UV nail lights and developed squamous cell carcinoma on their fingers and hands.
  • UV rays are thought to not affect nail melanomas, however, a 2017 study discovered some nail melanomas contained mutations with a UV signature, which means a link between UV rays and nail melanomas cannot be shrugged off yet.

What can you do?

person holding brown woven basket

Worried about the risks but don’t want to give up gel manis? Don’t worry, we have some solutions for you!

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying a broad based spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher before your nail appointment. Ever wondered what SPF numbers mean? Click here to find out. However, it is not clear how effective sunscreen is at blocking intense UVA rays emitted by nail lamps. The best way to protect yourself is to invest in a pair of fingerless gloves with an UPF (Ultraviolet protective factor). Covering your hand with garments such as scarfs, or other items of clothing also helps.

Finally, it is important to note that many medications can increase your sensitivity to UV rays and cause blistering and burns on skin exposed to nail lamp. If you’re currently prescribed some drugs, check with your doctor if it is okay to go for a gel mani.


 “The Gel Manicure Lowdown: UV vs. LED | Allure.” 16 Dec. 2014, Accessed 29 Apr. 2021.

 “Acrylic nail curing UV lamps: High-intensity exposure … – JAAD.” Accessed 29 Apr. 2021.

“Further Investigation Into the Risk of Skin Cancer Associated With ….” 30 Apr. 2014, Accessed 29 Apr. 2021.

 “Occurrence of Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers on the Hands After UV ….” Accessed 29 Apr. 2021.

 “Unexpected UVR and non-UVR mutation burden in some … – PubMed.” Accessed 29 Apr. 2021.

 “Is a UV or LED lamp better for curing gel polish? | Salons Direct.” 25 Sep. 2014, Accessed 29 Apr. 2021.

 “Are Gel Manicures Safe? – WebMD.” 23 Sep. 2014, Accessed 29 Apr. 2021.

 “Are gel manicures safe? What to know about UV exposure, skin ….” 17 May. 2019, Accessed 29 Apr. 2021.