Gel manicures linked to cancer.

The new cigarettes?



The promise of long-lasting, chip-free nails always seemed too good to be true, and now a study has found UV nail lamps used to cure gel manicures pose a skin cancer risk.

A gel manicure uses three coats (each coat is set using UV light) of a special type of gel polish from brands such as Shellac or OPI. Salons charge between $25-$65 for the service with removal of the polish about $20.

The study released by the Skin Cancer Foundation in America has shown that ultraviolet radiation-emitting devices are carcinogenic to humans. And that includes gel manicure UV curing lamps.

“Although studies have shown that the skin cancer risk associated with UVR-emitting nail lamps for gel manicures is very low, it is not insignificant,” says Elizabeth K. Hale, vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The risk, according to anecdotal research, is greatest for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates 700,000 cases of SCC are diagnosed each year in the US, resulting in approximately 2,500 deaths. SCC is mainly caused by chronic UV exposure and is very common on the hands and around the fingernails.

Writing in the American Academy of Dermatology, Dr Chris Adigun, from the New York University School of Medicine, is also concerned that the nail lamps aren’t regulated, meaning consumers don’t know how much exposure they are getting to the harmful UV rays.

“Local councils are responsible for checking nail salons and nail bars, but unfortunately there is not one overall body to ensure uniformity across Australia,” says Tayla Bergmann of Bio Sculpture Gel Australia.

Another concern – aside from premature ageing- is the long-lasting gel can camouflage nail brittleness, thinning and cracking.


“In general, any manicure left in place for an extended period of time is not a good idea because you are not seeing what is going on underneath the nail polish,” Adigun said.

As for the nail companies involved, a spokesman for Creative Nail Designs (CND), the company behind Shellac has likened the UV exposure from nail lamps to the kind you would receive sitting in an office. 

“The amount of energy from a UV lamp during a nail service would be roughly equivalent to the amount of UV exposure one would experience during a typical day of exposure in indoor fluorescent lighting,” Dr David Valia, the Director of Research and Development CND said. 

Locally, Tayla Bergmann of Bio Sculpture has said: “Both Bio Sculpture UV and LED curing lamps have been safety tested, we are the only company internationally to receive this safety rating. Bio Sculpture Gel was the first gel formula ever created and is the only gel manicure on the market to offer different treatment gels that can be tailored to the individual nail health needs.

“Our formula is free from nasty chemicals and does not require bonders or primers to attach it to the nail, which means the nail underneath remains healthy, unlike with other brands on the market such as Shellac.”

While the risks are categorised as low, there is still a risk. And if you are willing to take it, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying sunscreen to your hands beforehand.

But also good to know is there are other UV-free options available now. All of Bio Sculpture’s lamps have been tested and are approved by the Australian Radiation Authorities – the only nail lamps to have done so. And Deborah Lippmann, Dior and Julep are among the beauty brands that have released at-home gel topcoats that don’t require UV lamps to set the polish.

Have you had a gel manicure in the past? Would you continue getting them?