Experts Rebut Claims that UV Nail Lamps are Unsafe for Skin

by Doug Schoon, M.S. Chemistry, Chief Scientific Advisor, CND

Recent reports incorrectly claim that UV nail lamps are a source of “high-dose UV-A” and also inaccurately compare UV tanning beds with UV nail lamps by overestimating the exposure of client skin to UV light emitted from UV nail lamps.

I worked with two other leading industry scientists and others in the Nail Manufacturers Council (NMC) to review these claims and verify the facts. Using an independent laboratory to test leading UV nail lamps, we measured how much UV-A and UV-B is emitted and then compared that to natural sunlight.

We tested popular UV nail lamps designed to utilize four 9-watt UV bulbs, as well as lamps with two 9-watt UV bulbs, so that the results would be applicable to the vast majority of salons. The UV nail lamps selected for testing are likely representative of more than 90% of those used in salons.

We used an independent scientific laboratory not in the business of manufacturing or selling UV nail lamps. Highly sensitive UV detectors were placed where client hands would normally reside while inside a UV nail lamp. To ensure a proper comparison, the same test equipment was used to measure the UV-A and UV-B light found in natural sunlight.

We have determined that the original dermatogist’s report was flawed in several ways, e.g. authors incorrectly conclude that putting a hand into a tanning bed with twelve 100-watt UV bulbs is the same as putting that hand into a UV nail lamp with four 9-watt bulbs. This is incorrect because: 1) tanning bed users typically use these devices more often and for much longer periods than seen with nail salon services, 2) the authors mistakenly assumed that UV bulb “wattage” is a measure of UV exposure to the skin, when wattage is actually a measure of energy usage, 3) the authors erred significantly by relying solely on UV bulb wattage to estimate the actual amount of UV exposure to skin, and 4) they neglected to consider that UV light reflects many times inside the tanning bed and these internal reflections further increase UV exposure to skin. Therefore, their “estimates” of UV exposure to skin are not scientifically valid.

Since each of the client’s hands are placed into the UV lamp for intervals of two minutes or less, for a total of 6-10 minutes, our study assumed the highest level of exposure: 10 minutes per hand, twice per month. Here is what we concluded:

1. UV-B output for both UV nail lamps was less than what was found in natural sunlight.

The bulbs used in UV nail lamps contain special internal filters which remove almost all UV-B, so this result is not surprising. The test results show that the amount of UV-B to which client skin is exposed is equal to what they could expect from spending an extra 17 to 26 seconds in sunlight each day of the two weeks between nail salon appointments.

2. UV-A exposure is much lower than suggested by the dermatologist’s report.

Test results show that UV-A exposure for client skin is equivalent to spending an extra 1.5 to 2.7 minutes in sunlight each day between salon visits, depending on the type of UV nail lamp used (2 or 4 bulb). This is equivalent to spending 10 to 20 minutes eating lunch outdoors in natural sunlight once per week. These are relatively low levels of UV light and these exposure levels are considered well within safe levels when they are used to perform UV artificial nail services in nail salons.

The dermatologists claim that two patients’ skin cancer was caused by UV nail lamps, but both of their patients live in Texas, a climate where significant incidental UV exposure from sunlight is inevitable even in the absence of deliberate recreational exposure. One patient had been exposed to a UV nail lamp only eight times during the same year, and the authors admitted their patient had “moderate recreational UV exposure”. It seems unreasonable to conclude that this case of nonmelanoma skin cancer was caused by these eight exposures to a UV nail lamp.

A fair examination of the facts supports the conclusion that UV nail lamps are safe when used as directed and brief client exposures are as safe as brief exposures to natural sunlight. Client hands are likely to be exposed to more UV light while driving their cars than they will be from UV gel nail services.

Please read the full report to get more information, e.g. what to recommend to clients who express anxiety.  

Doug Schoon, M.S. Chemistry, UC Irvine, is an internationally known scientist and lecturer with 20 years experience as a scientific researcher in the professional nail industry and has many years experience developing UV cure nail products. Schoon is author of Nail Structure and Product Chemistry, 1st & 2nd editions, many dozens of trade magazine articles and chapters in the textbook Milady’s Standard Nail Technology, as well as chapters on cosmetics in a variety of different reference books for Dermatologists.


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