Researchers from Georgia Regents University recently set out to determine how much ultraviolet radiation is emitted when nail salon clients place their hands under driers that use ultraviolet (UV) light to hasten drying of the nails. The use of UV radiation in nail salons has come under scrutiny over concerns that it could be exacerbating skin cancer risk, which make sense. But in the end, the authors of the Georgia study concluded that the use of UV nail polish drying lamps poses only a small risk to clients.
Dr. Lyndsay R. Shipp, the study’s lead author and a postgraduate resident at the university’s Medical College of Georgia, noted that there is a theoretical risk, but it’s very low. And on her personal use of post-manicure nail lamps, Shipp said she planned to continue using them. “I do use them every couple of months. You can get that amount of exposure when driving down the road in your car.”
Which doesn’t mean that manicures in general are risk-free, but in this age of rapid-fire information (and all too often, misinformation) we wouldn’t be surprised to see nail salon lamps attainting public-enemy status soon. All it takes is someone reading a study headline, skipping the article, spreading the word and voila, a new urban myth is born. If you're prone to worry, it seems wise to at least worry about things that are perhaps more worrisome — like the bona fide risks of skin cancer.
So with that in mind, let’s address the real factors that may increase your risk of skin cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic.
1. Having fair skin
Anyone can get skin cancer, no matter the color of their skin, but the less pigment the skin has, the less protection it has against damaging UV radiation. People with blond or red hair and light eyes — and who are easily susceptible to freckles and sunburns — are much more likely to develop skin cancer than those with darker skin.
2. Having a history of sunburns
Not only are sunburns in adulthood a risk factor, but having had at least one blistering sunburn as a child or teenager increases the risk of getting skin cancer later in life.
3. Getting excessive sun exposure
At this point, this one should be obvious, but here goes: Anyone who spends significant time in the sun is at higher risk for skin cancer, especially if they do so without the protection of sunscreen or clothing that covers the skin. Tanning, by sun or tanning salon, also ups the risk; a tan is your skin's injury response to too much UV radiation.
4. Living in a sunny or high-altitude climate
Calling a sunny, warm climate home increases the risk of developing skin cancer, as people living in such climates are exposed to more sunlight than those who live in colder climates. Also, sunlight is stronger in higher elevations, which can raise the risk as well.
5. Having many moles
Those who have many or abnormal moles (dysplastic nevi) have an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
6. Possessing a weakened immune system
People with weakened immune systems are more likely to get skin cancer, including people living with HIV/AIDS and those taking immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant.
7. Having a family history of skin cancer
Keep tabs on your family’s medical history: If one of your parents or a sibling has developed skin cancer, you are more likely to get it as well.
8. Being exposed to radiation
Those who have undergone radiation treatment for conditions like eczema and acne may have a higher risk of skin cancer, notably basal cell carcinoma.
If you fall into any of these categories and you're concerned about nail salons, just treat the UV lamps as you would the sun; apply sunscreen after your hands have soaked and before your nails are painted or use UV protection gloves with the fingertip snipped off to expose the nails.
Related stories on MNN:
- 5 easy ways to reduce your risk of cancer
- What you may not know about sunscreen
- Is your nail polish safe?