Could Your Manicure Give You Cancer?

UV nail dryers can put salon goers at risk for skin cancer
by Megen Donovan
Next time you go to the nail salon for a little pampering, have your sunscreen handy.

The Archives of Dermatology published a study in April 2009 that highlights the risk of skin cancer caused by nail dryers used in salons. The researchers observed two middle aged women with no family history of skin cancer and fair amounts of recreational UV exposure. The women in the study had histories of previous, routine manicures, which required the use of UV nail dryers. Both developed skin cancer on the tops of their hands.

The dryers emit UV light in order to dry and set the nails, putting the sensitive skin on our hands and feet at risk for the disease. Further investigation on this topic is needed because this study was so small.

Dr. David A. Wrone from Princeton Dermatology is concerned about the use of UV nail dryers. “If you were a little boy you would use a magnifying glass to burn ants. The nail itself acts like a magnifier,” Wrone says. The UV light is capable of penetrating through the nail to the skin beneath.”

The nail sits in a pocket of skin, explains Wrone. The cuticle on the top of the nail wraps underneath, where there is a little ribbon of skin. It can be very difficult to see the cancer grow because it is under the nail. The longer it sits the more likely it is to spread.

As with all forms of cancer, early detection is extremely important. Wrone advises women to be on the lookout for scaly red areas and bumps on your hands or any kind of discoloration and streaking that starts at the base of the nail. “My cut off is usually six weeks,” says Wrone. “If something is there more than 6 weeks, they should really be looked at, and conceivably have it biopsied.”

Use sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB rays. Ask your manicurist if you can apply sunscreen before they paint your nails. By the time your nails are beautified, the sunscreen will have absorbed into your skin, which will in turn protect your hands from the UV exposure during the drying cycle. “I also like the idea of an opaque nail color,” Wrone suggests. The darker color may block the UV light from penetrating the nail to the skin.

Dermatologists recommend checking once a month for new or changing moles, so women who get their nails done frequently should also take that time to check their nails in between manicures. “Every couple of weeks when you take them off, you should check your hands and nail beds,” Wrone says.

One may compare the UV exposure from nail dryers to tanning beds. Risk levels depend on the wavelengths and amount of time spent under the lamps, Wrone explains. As with tanning beds, frequent use of UV nail dryers calls for extra care and vigilance to the exposed areas.

Wrone said that most dermatologists recommend routine screenings for people over 50-55 years old. Also, anyone with a history of severe blistering sunburns and sun damage, more than 50 moles, or a family history of skin cancer, should see a dermatologist once every year.
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