Can UV gel nail polish dryers cause skin cancer?

Woman applying gel nail polish before inserting her hand into a UV nail dryer

People don’t typically think about the risk of ultraviolet radiation exposure to their hands when getting their nails done. The truth, though, is that UVA nail dryers like those used in salons to cure long-lasting gel manicures can damage skin and may even increase the risk for skin cancer.

What we know about gel nail polish dryers and skin cancer

A recent study published in Nature Communications says that frequent use of UV nail dryers can damage DNA and cause cell death in human hands, potentially increasing the risk of skin cancer due to chronic and repeated UV exposure.

UV-induced DNA damage proliferates and doesn’t get repaired, leading to cell mutations that then lead to cell dysfunction, cell death and then skin cancer.

It’s a preliminary study and more research is needed to see exactly how much risk these gel nail polish dryers pose for regular users, but we have enough information to advise avoiding this kind of UV exposure when possible.

These dryers are widely available in salons and sold for home use. They’re marketed as being safe, so the assumption is that there’s no risk or downside to using these convenient tools. The problem is that UVA rays are carcinogenic, and exposing your skin to direct, concentrated amounts isn’t recommended, whether they’re coming from a tanning bed or from a gel manicure dryer. The skin on fingertips and around nails is also harder to treat when we find problems.

How to lower your risk of skin cancer when using UV nail dryers

The best way to reduce the risk of damage to your skin and reduce the risk of skin cancer is to forgo gel manicures or have your nails done this way less often — return to old-fashioned manicures, or reserve the gel manicure for special occasions.

Gel manicures are popular, though, because they last longer even if you wash your hands frequently throughout the day. So if you’d still like to have gel manicures, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen all over your hands or wear fingerless gloves when your hands are under the gel-setting lamps.

Your salon might also have alternative drying methods, such as LED lights, which are likely safer for the skin.

Who’s most at risk for developing skin cancer from exposure to gel manicure lights?

Anyone can develop skin cancer. However, you’re more at risk for developing skin cancer if you have:

  • Fair skin
  • Skin that burns easily
  • Light-colored eyes
  • Light hair (blond or red)
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • A large number of moles or certain types of moles

Worried about your skin?

Ohio State's dermatology team provides comprehensive care backed by one of the nation's leading academic health centers.

Expert care starts here


Related websites

Subscribe. The latest from Ohio State Health & Discovery delivered right to your inbox.


Get articles and stories about health, wellness, medicine, science and education delivered right to your inbox from the experts at Ohio State.

Required fields

By clicking "Subscribe" you agree to our Terms of Use.
Learn more about how we use your information by reading our Privacy Policy.