News: Could a manicure give you cancer?

Can Gel Nails Increase the Risk of Skin Cancer?

News: Could a manicure give you cancer?

Beautifully polished nails that last for weeks. That’s the promise of gel manicures, which use specially formulated nail polish and ultraviolet (UV) rays to create long-lasting results. However, the gel manicure process also can create long-term damage to the skin and nails.

During a gel manicure, the technician applies polish to your nails and then uses a UV lamp to harden the polish and bind it to the nails. The lamp emits UVA rays, which can cause cumulative damage to the skin.

Effects of UV Exposure on Skin

Frequent exposure to UV rays can lead to brown spots on the skin (solar lentigines, seborrheic keratoses, aka “liver spots”), thinning of the skin (solar elastosis), increased bruising (solar purpura), precancerous growths (actinic keratoses) and skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma and more).

The amount of damage that UV exposure can do depends on the strength of the rays, the length of time the skin is exposed, and whether the skin has any protective covering.

For example, people who have had only a few sunburns in their lives will still be at-risk for skin cancer but will not have all of the widespread brown spots, dilated blood vessels, wrinkling of the skin and increased risk of skin cancers that are associated with frequent, long-term, cumulative sun damage to the skin. 

There are cosmetic treatment options available to even out the skin tone as well as medications and surgical interventions to treat the skin cancers. But some damage is irreversible.

UV Rays and Skin Cancer

Both UVA and UVB rays come from the sun and can damage the skin, even leading to skin cancer. However, UVB rays are more potent and are the cause of most sunburns and skin cancers.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and develops frequently in people with fair skin—although people with darker skin can develop it too. Basal cell occurs after frequent exposure to the sun or tanning beds, and is typically a slow-growing cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma usually looks a persistent, non-healing sore or abrasion that gradually gets bigger. This second most common type of cancer tends to form on skin that has had frequent exposure to the sun, such as the face, neck, ears, arms, chest and back.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It usually looks a very dark brown or black lesion that stands out from the other moles on the skin. Look for a combination of asymmetry, border irregularities, color differences, diameter larger than 6mm and an evolving pattern of growth or other changes in appearance.

If a lesion appears that has any of the features above and has been there for at least two weeks, it’s best to see your dermatologist for evaluation. Also see your dermatologist if you’ve had previous skin cancers and you see a new spot that resembles one of your previous cancers or if you have anything that you, a family member or friend has noticed and is concerned about.

Protecting Yourself During Gel Manicures

The fact is, gel manicures can potentially increase the risk of skin cancer. Does that mean you must give up the dream of long-lasting polish? No. The key to having a safe gel manicure is to protect your skin from UV exposure.

Have the manicurist massage your skin with a sunscreen lotion instead of a plain moisturizer before they do the polish and place your hands under the UV lamp (bring your own SPF 45+ sunscreen lotion if needed). You also can wear gloves with the fingertips cut out so your hands are protected but your nails are still accessible to the manicurist.

Skin cancers are incredibly treatable if you catch them early, so it’s important to see your dermatologist for a full skin exam at least once a year.

Also, even though you might the appearance of tanned skin now, that sun damage will just give you more wrinkles, brown spots, bruises and possibly cancers down the road.

Instead, opt for a fake tan at a salon or purchase an over-the-counter product and save yourself a lot of trouble in the future.

Your skin is the largest organ in your body and you’re stuck with it for life, so take good care of it!


Can gel manicures give you skin cancer? Top dermatologists explain

News: Could a manicure give you cancer?

Published: 22:31 BST, 17 May 2019 | Updated: 01:41 BST, 18 May 2019

Gel manicures dry instantly, are resilient to chips, and last up to a month – weeks longer than a standard paint job. 

However, those glossy, strong tips may come with risks – such as infections, aging skin, and skin cancer. 

Studies on gel manicures are scant, largely given that technique varies wildly between salons. 

But dermatologists suggest taking some precautions to protect yourself either way. 

'There's enough for us to recommend to patients to protect their skin,' Dr Chris Adigun, MD, a dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina who wrote guidelines for the American Association of Dermatology, told 

Dermatologists can't know for certain how gel manicures put you at-risk of cancer because each salon's techniques vary, but there are some things we can be sure of, and ways to mitigate any risks 


Gel manicures are set using LED lamps that emit UVA rays. 

While UVB rays can give you a burn (as from the sun), UVA is the kind responsible for aging, skin damage, and cancer.

And though there are studies on gel manicures, it's hard to quantify how well they reflect real life.  

'The problem' for understanding how risky gels are, Dr Adigun says, 'is that there's no standardization as to how this treatment is carried out from salon to salon.'

What we do know about skin cancer risk is the sun, not LED lamps placed at varying distances from our hands, sometimes once a year, once in a lifetime, once a month, or even every two weeks. 

'There's no one standing by your side saying, “time's up!” in the salon,' Dr Adigun says. 'Most are probably getting a lot higher dose than we see in studies.'


Again, we don't really know. But there are some mediating factors.

Genetics, pigmentation, and cancer history may all play a role – as with anything that increases the risk of skin cancer.

Medication is another thing to be aware of, and something many may not think of, Dr Adigun says.

Some types of chemotherapy or antibiotics can make you more susceptible to UVA rays and their effects. 

It stands to reason that those who get multiple gels a month would be at higher risk due to repetitive UV exposure. 

While there is no way dermatologists can definitively recommend a limit, Dr Joshua Zeichner, MD, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City says gel lovers should capitalize on the longevity of their manicures, for the sake of their health.

'The benefit of gel manicures is that they last for several weeks at a time, so most people do not need to get them any more frequently than once per month,' he told 


Of those that do wear protection to get their gels, there are a few popular techniques.

The most common are: nail-less gloves and sunscreen. 

Dr Adigun recommends the former. 

'I recommend to cover up the skin, I don't care if it's gloves, a scarf, whatever it is, but something that is protective against UV rays,' Dr Adigun says. 

There are too many issues with using sunscreen, she says.

First, 'many take 20 minutes to be effective, and no one's going to put it on then wait 20 minutes.'

Second, the whole procedure of getting a gel manicure ('you have the massage, and the cuticle cutting') may get in the way of putting your sunscreen on, and may even wipe off the protection you so diligently applied. 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: sunscreen was not approved for use under LED lamps.

'All of our sunscreens have been tested under rays similar to those emitted from our sun,' Dr Adigun explains. 

'The level emitted from UVA lamps is much higher than our sun so I don't even know if they would be effective.' 

Dr Zeichner also recommends gloves, but he is not opposed to the sunscreen idea. 

He says those particularly concerned about the risks can use sunscreen and speak with their manicurist about adjusting their technique so that it stays on. 

'Make sure to apply a broad-spectrum high SPF sunscreen to your fingers, including the skin around the nails, to protect against the UVA light,' Dr Zeichner told 


Acetone is used to take off the gel, which is tightly cured to the nail. 

One study suggests even one removal can drastically thin-out your nails.

But Dr Adigun does not recommend peeling them off manually. 

'I've had more than one patient who's peeled off all of their finger nails. They didn't know they were removing their entire nail, but the gel was cured more tightly to their finger than to their nail.'


Skin Cancer Risk and Gel Manicures

News: Could a manicure give you cancer?

Gel manicures offer a longer lasting option than regular manicures, but at what cost?

The UV lights used to cure, or dry, gel polish have some consumers concerned about the risk for skin cancer.

“The lamps emit ultraviolet A rays, which are longer wavelengths than ultraviolet B, and so penetrate the skin more deeply,” explained Dr. Susan Swetter, director of the Pigmented Lesion & Melanoma Program and professor of dermatology at Stanford University Medical Center and Cancer Institute.

“We know that both UVB and UVA light contribute to skin cancer risk including melanoma, mostly from epidemiologic data regarding tanning bed use, since tanning beds emit more UVA than UVB,” she told Healthline. “However, the amount of limited exposure during a gel manicure is unly to increase the risk of skin cancer significantly.”

Do you need to worry about a manicure habit?

This year, Miss USA pageant contestant Karolina Jasko made headlines when she announced she was diagnosed with melanoma on her fingernail at age 18.

“The doctor said I most ly got it from getting my nails done from the nail salon from getting acrylics from the light,” she told Fox 32 news in Chicago.

While Jasko’s experience is worrying, it is ly rare.

A 2014 study in JAMA Dermatology measured the amount of UVs coming from the lamps and concluded that the amount of energy exposure, even after numerous gel manicures, poses a low risk of skin cancer.

Another study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that while the UV exposure from the lamps used in gel manicures is low, in less than 10 minutes, a person’s hands receive an energy dose equivalent to the day-long recommended limit for outdoor workers. The researchers recommended further research to determine any physiological effects from the manicures.

Protect your hands from damage

Authors of both studies recommend either wearing sunscreen on your hands or protective gloves with the fingertips cut off if you’re getting manicures that use a UV lamp.

But Swetter warns that gloves have their flaws. The SPF of white cotton gloves would only be about 4, so you would need dark, opaque gloves.

“I think the use of gloves is probably overkill, unless you have a photosensitive condition or are on a medication that makes your skin more sensitive to UVA light,” she says.

Wearing sunscreen is a more viable option, but even water-resistant sunscreens are ly to be washed off if the manicurist uses soap and water, scrubs your hands, and applies lotion, as is typical with most manicures. If you really want to protect your hands during your manicure, you’d want to skip the hand pampering.

“In general, I’d recommend that people be more diligent about sunscreen use when outside during the day, than about gel manicure-related skin cancer risk,” says Swetter.

Even if gel manis aren’t a major risk for skin cancer, there is a potential for accelerated photoaging, or premature aging of the skin, said Swetter.

Photoaging is a known risk of deeper penetrating UVA rays, but the UVA exposure is very brief during gel manicures, as opposed to tanning beds or outdoor sun exposure, so more research is needed, she says.

Signs to look for

Regardless of whether or not you get regular gel manicures, visit your dermatologist if something seems off.

Nonhealing, reddish sores on your hands could indicate a nonmelanoma skin cancer, while a wart- growth or persistent scaly spot on the hand or around the finger nails could be a sign of a squamous cell carcinoma. (Or just a wart — don’t panic!)

Less common are basal cell carcinomas or melanomas, which are generally pigmented and often show up as a streak in the finger or toenail, says Swetter.

Keep your nails healthy

“Gel manicures themselves are hard on the nails, causing damage to the nail plate, especially if picked off,” says Swetter.

Opt for getting them professionally removed and ask them not to buff the top of the nail, which causes more damage.

Swetter also advises her patients to avoid getting their cuticles cut during a manicure, which can lead to other problems, secondary bacterial or yeast infection.

Particularly if you get gel manicures regularly, letting your nails have a break every few weeks is a good idea. Not only does it give them an opportunity to breathe, but you’ll be better able to spot any abnormalities under the nail.


Is your gel manicure giving you cancer? – National

News: Could a manicure give you cancer?

Smaller font Descrease article font size Larger font Increase article font size

There are a lot of reasons why people choose gel manicures and pedicures.

For one thing, their chip-free guarantee means having perfectly polished digits for weeks; for another, those who suffer from weak, brittle or otherwise unhealthy nails feel they can have a new lease on beauty with gel nails. But the process does expose you to unnecessary UVA rays, which are exactly the ones dermatologists implore us to protect against all year long.

READ MORE: Nail salon safety: What to watch for at your next manicure or pedicure

Gel manicures are cured (or set) by putting your nails under a lamp that uses UVA radiation. These are the same rays that account for up to 95 per cent of the UV radiation that reaches the earth’s surface, and are responsible for premature aging of the skin. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA contributes to and may even cause skin cancer.

Story continues below advertisement

Considering that when curing a gel manicure or pedicure, up to 50 per cent of the hands or feet could be exposed to these rays for up to 10 minutes, many have wondered whether they’re exposing themselves to possible skin cancer risk.

In a study published in JAMA Dermatology, researchers from Augusta University looked at a small sampling of nail salons to evaluate the potential danger of UV light exposure. They concluded that although not all UV dryers emitted the same amount of radiation, the low-energy exposure means it would require multiple visits to reach the threshold for potential DNA damage.

“Being exposed to such a low dose, for only a few minutes, on only a small percent of the total surface of the body — we don’t have any data on that, because the risk would be so small that it would be almost impossible to detect it,” Paolo Boffetta, the director of cancer prevention at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said to The Atlantic.

“Being outside on a very sunny day will make a much bigger difference, in terms of the amount of exposure people get compared to this sort of thing.”

Tweet This

Plus, he says, the risk for DNA damage that can lead to cancer is greater in adolescence, so anyone getting gel manicures in their 20s, 30s or later may have an even more reduced risk.

Story continues below advertisement

But when Karolina Jasko, Miss Illinois USA, recently saw a dark line appear across the surface of her nail and showed it to her doctor, she was diagnosed with melanoma.

“I got this black vertical line on my fingernail and I never really noticed it because I had acrylics,” the 20-year-old said to KTVU. “The doctor said I most ly got it from [the light] from getting acrylics [at] the nail salon.”

Dr. Carolyn Jacob, director of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, believes that Jasko may have been at higher risk because of a family history of melanoma, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen to those who don’t have the same medical profile.

READ MORE: 6 ‘greenwashed’ beauty labels explained

“Whether indoor tanning, UV lamp, outdoor tanning, all of those can cause aging of the skin and potential for skin cancers,” Jacob said.

That’s not to say that you need to swear off gel manicures, though. Doctors suggest slathering on sunscreen before going under the light, whether it’s a lotion or a powder. There are also UV-protecting gloves on the market specifically for gel polish setting, or you can fashion your own by snipping the tips off a pair of white cotton gloves.

As for Jasko, she’s using this as an opportunity to get the word out about how to protect yourself from the potential hazards of a UV manicure.

“Being Miss Illinois USA helps me a lot because I get to talk about it with large groups of people and I feel I get to bring awareness.”

Story continues below advertisement

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


Are gel manicures safe? What to know about UV exposure to hands and nails

News: Could a manicure give you cancer?

Shiny, durable, chip-resistant and ideal for masking nail imperfections, gel manicures have become a regular part of many women’s beauty routines.

But gel nail polish needs ultraviolet light to harden, raising concern about the risk of skin cancer when hands, cuticles and nails are regularly exposed to UV rays that can be more powerful than the sun.

Some salons use UV nail lamps to cure the polish; others use LED lamps. Women may think the LED devices skip or minimize the ultraviolet light, but that’s a big misnomer, said Dr. Chris Adigun, a dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who specializes in nail disorders and who contributed expert advice on the safety of gel manicures for the American Academy of Dermatology.

“Gels are massively popular nationally. They have catapulted the nail salon industry into a whole other stratosphere of revenue,” Adigun told TODAY.

“Gels, by definition, need a UVA exposure to polymerize. So if there’s no UVA, there is no gel manicure.”

Skin cancer signs and symptoms: Melanoma patients share stories

May 6, 201905:34

Here’s the worry: UVA rays are the most mutagenic wave length range of the UV spectrum, penetrating the skin more deeply than UVB rays and playing a role in skin cancer development and premature skin aging such as wrinkles and sun spots.

To harden gel nail polish, a woman places her hand under a lamp that emits UVA rays for anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, depending on the type of the device.

LED lamps have much shorter curing times, but that’s because the UVA rays they emit are much more intense than regular UV lamps or even the sun, Adigun said. They’re so powerful that she didn’t know how they would compare to the UV exposure people get by being outdoors.

Stuff We Love

Get a daily roundup of items that will make your life easier, healthier and more stylish.

This site is protected by recaptcha Privacy Policy | Terms of Service

When TODAY recently profiled a 21-year-old woman who received regular gel manicures and discovered she had nail melanoma, one dermatologist called the lamps “ tanning beds for your hands,” though Adigun said they’re a bit different since tanning beds use both UVB and UVA rays.

Staying safe from skin cancer: Why you need to be careful with your iPad

May 4, 201704:10

“Theoretically yes, because we know that UVA ray exposure increases your risk of skin cancer, and you have to have UVA exposure to cure a gel manicure,” Adigun noted, adding there’s particular concern about the gel manicure exposure adding up over time. Some women go every two weeks.

“But have we actually proven that link? Do we have that cause and effect proven? We don’t.”

Another concern is that there is no standard for how long hands should be kept under the lamp. The devices are not regulated and each proprietary gel polish has its own lamp and own recommended curing time, Adigun said.

A salon may or may not follow the recommendations or have the right kind of lamp. There’s also incentive to keep the hands under the light longer.

“You can imagine a nail salon customer is less ly to complain about a well-cured — potentially over-cured — gel polish manicure than they would an under-cured manicure,” Adigun noted.

How to take gel nails off at home

Feb. 24, 201702:28

Research continues in this area, but since gel manicures are fairly new and it can take decades for skin cancer to develop, the full picture may not be clear for a while.

Long-term exposure to UV nail lamps may have the potential to increase both cancer risk and UV-induced skin aging, a 2013 study found.

A 2014 paper warned longer exposure times led to increased potential for skin damage, but concluded the risk for developing cancer was small.

Another paper profiled two women who had regular exposure to UV nail lights and developed squamous cell carcinoma on their fingers and hands.

As for nail melanoma, it's been thought UV exposure isn't an important risk factor since the nail matrix is underneath the skin. But a 2017 study discovered some nail melanomas contained mutations with a UV signature, surprising experts in the field.

“What this says is that we just don’t know, and that we can’t really conclude for sure that nail melanoma has nothing to do with UV exposure,” Adigun said.

Knockout nails! Bobbie Thomas shares the season's nail trends

May 22, 201502:29

Adigun emphasized she’s not “anti-gel,” and that you can still get gel manicures as long as you protect your skin.

The best way is to cover your hands and fingers with a garment that has a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating, whether it’s a glove with the tips cut off, a shirt or a scarf, she said. TODAY style editor Bobbie Thomas demonstrated gloves especially designed for this purpose that you can buy.

The American Academy of Dermatology also recommends applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to your hands before getting a gel manicure. Adigun still preferred a physical cover rather than sunscreen because it’s not clear how effective sunscreen is in blocking the intense UVA rays emitted by some of the lamps.

Be aware there are many medications that can increase your sensitivity to UV light, such as doxycycline, an oral antibiotic. People taking these drugs must be extra careful to protect their skin during a gel manicure to avoid blistering or burns on their hands.

“,”author”:null,”date_published”:null,”lead_image_url”:””,”dek”:null,”next_page_url”:null,”url”:”″,”domain”:””,”excerpt”:”Gel nails are “massively popular,” but does a key step in the process raise your risk of skin cancer?”,”word_count”:884,”direction”:”ltr”,”total_pages”:1,”rendered_pages”:1}


Are Gel Manicures Going to Give Me Skin Cancer?

News: Could a manicure give you cancer?

I stayed off the ‘cures for two full months before deciding to do some actual research, and then I reached out to Paolo Boffetta, the director of cancer prevention at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

I spent several minutes of our interview trying to explain the way gel manicures work: Most will involve five to ten minutes of exposure to approximately 50 to 60 percent of the back side of the hand, and generally, you wouldn’t get this treatment done more than twice a month.

Boffetta is very clear that heavy exposure to UV light does carry the potential to increase one’s risk for skin cancer, but gel manicures probably aren’t the place to worry about it.

“Being exposed to such a low dose, for only a few minutes, on only a small percent of the total surface of the body — we don't have any data on that, because the risk would be so small that it would be almost impossible to detect it,” says Boffetta. We take a much greater risk every time we go outside on a sunny day.

“Being outside on a very sunny day will make a much bigger difference, in terms of the amount of exposure people get compared to this sort of thing,” he adds. Among groups of people considered at-risk for skin cancer, gel manicure-getters are very low on the list — far below anyone who ever sunbathes, or lives in a sunny place, or works outdoors.

Additionally, the risk posed by UV light exposure is greater in adolescence. “'The risk with UV is largely with its ability to interact with the DNA,” he says. “That's why early exposure is more harmful than exposure later, because people who have this damage to the DNA done early on may accumulate more effects over time.”

Christina Chung, an associate professor of dermatology at Drexel University, also tells me that one’s age plays a role in assessing the risk posed by UV light exposure.

Most (if not all) studies on the effects of UV radiation don’t control for their subjects’ previous sun exposure. This makes it very difficult to pick much smaller and less-frequent forms of exposure, gel manicures, the noise.

And because most people who get gel manicures are adults with many years of sun exposure already behind them, the real damage has probably already been done.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the professionals aren’t going to stop you from getting your nails done — in fact, light boxes similar to those used in nail salons are also used in dermatologists’ offices to treat a number of skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema.

While dermatologists’ light boxes use UV-B lighting and gel-curing boxes typically use UV-A, the former are typically much stronger, and are still considered quite safe. In fact, Chung tells me, “You'd have to do the weekly nail treatments for 250 years to have the same risk as a normal course of light box therapy provided by your dermatologist.

” Of course, this information is mathematical modeling, so nobody can promise you that you for sure won’t get skin cancer from gel manicures, but the research suggests it is very, very, very unly. One’s exposure to UV-A light in the average gel manicure is simply too brief and too minimal.

Says Chung: “If your skin isn’t changing color or turning red, the amount you're getting is probably very, very little.”

“,”author”:null,”date_published”:”2017-07-05T12:00:00.000Z”,”lead_image_url”:”×1999/960×500/media/img/mt/2017/07/wtkm_5/original.jpg”,”dek”:null,”next_page_url”:null,”url”:””,”domain”:””,”excerpt”:”The procedure hardens nail polish using UV light—but not enough to do serious damage.”,”word_count”:1,”direction”:”ltr”,”total_pages”:1,”rendered_pages”:1}


Levels Of Some Cancer-Causing Chemicals In Nail Salons Higher Than In Auto Garages Says New Study

News: Could a manicure give you cancer?

Dangerous levels of a cancer-causing chemical have been found in nail salons in Colorado, posing a… [+] health risk to employees. Photo credit: Getty royalty-free.


A new study from researchers at the University of Colorado has identified that nail salons have higher levels of some harmful and cancer-causing chemicals than auto garages and oil refineries.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, looked at levels of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), commonly found in nail products, including formaldehyde-most popularly known for preserving organic specimens.

The dangers of these chemicals has been documented before and they have been long-suspected to have an effect on the health of nail salon workers, but the study is among the first to make these definitive links.

“The study provides some of the first hard evidence that these environments are dangerous for workers and that better policies need to be enacted to protect them,” said Lupita Montoya, lead author of the research and Research Associate in The University of Colorado, Boulder's Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.

There are numerous potentially harmful chemicals in products typically used in nail salons and benzene, in particular, is a proven carcinogen, which has mostly been linked to the development of blood cancers.  

The researchers studied workers in 6 nail salons in the Colorado area and also modeled the impact of the increased exposure to benzene and formaldehyde over 20 years on the risk of the workers developing certain types of cancer.

The risk for squamous cell carcinoma (lung cancer), head and neck cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma was projected to increase in all of the workers.

Strikingly, they calculated that the relative risk of developing leukemia due to exposure was over 100-fold greater in some of the workers.

“For squamous cell cancers of the nose and throat, they predicted that people had a 6-38 fold higher risk and for leukemia due to formaldehyde exposure, it was between 21- and 135-fold higher risk.

  This is a fairly small study, but if this is representative, this is very concerning. Leukemia isn’t that common but if the risk is increased by this much, it is no longer a small number of cases,” said Brian Christman, MD.

Volunteer Spokesperson for the American Lung Association and Professor and Vice-Chair at Vanderbilt Medicine.

However, caution is certainly warranted regarding the proposed increase risk of cancer in nail salon workers as no large studies to evaluate whether these people actually get more cancers have been done to-date. There were also other factors to consider which may have contributed to the levels of some of the VOCs in some of the salons.

“It is unclear whether the pollutant levels can be attributed to work in the nail salons rather than other nearby exposure sources,” said Dr Lauren Teras, Senior Principal Scientist in the Epidemiology Research Program for the American Cancer Society. 

“The authors note that their benzene findings were not consistent with previous nail salon studies, and also that the three salons with the highest benzene levels were in close proximity to gas stations, a known source of high benzene levels. Cigarette smoke also contains high levels of benzene and other pollutants and it is unclear if the study participants were exposed to smoke or other non-salon-related sources of pollution.” said Teras.

Dr Lupita Montoya, left, and PhD candidate Aaron Lamplugh have been studying how Colorado nail salon… [+] employees are exposed to high levels of carcinogenic chemicals and possible solutions to mitigate exposure and dangers.

Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

While a direct link to cancer is currently unproven, it is certain that nail salon workers often spend long hours being exposed to the chemicals with the study.

The research showed that nail technicians reported working an average of 52.5 hours a week and as many as 80 hours in some cases.

70 percent of workers reported experiencing at least one symptom ly related to their exposure to the VOCs, including eye and skin irritation and headaches.

Americans spent over $8 billion on nail salon services in 2018 and it is very important to note that people who visit salons for short periods of time or do their own nails at home are very unly to be exposed to a significant concentration of these chemicals.

“It really depends on how much time you spend in and around that environment. Customers spend a fraction of the time in salons that workers do. Unless they have pretty severe allergies or asthma, there's not much for customers to be concerned about,” said Montoya.

“The duration of the exposure from going into these businesses as customers, the risk is very small, I’m mainly worried about the workers there several hours a day,” said Christman.

Montoya's inspiration for the research comes from visiting a salon several years ago and being struck by the pungent smell of the chemicals involved in nail applications. She suspected the air quality for the workers might be poor and set about designing a study to find out more.

On two occasions she tried to get permission to test for VOC levels in salons, but had difficulties finding locations to agree to work with her for the studies. Over 90 percent of nail salons in the U.S. are small businesses and employ a predominantly minority workforce, with many lacking resources to ensure worker safety.

“This is an issue that requires tremendous sensitivity and a respectful approach to the communities being served.

The reason that we haven’t had much success in working with these problems historically is that representatives from the communities are not well-represented in science, so typically the people who care about these people most aren’t able to be involved in addressing the problems,” said Montoya, referring to the diversity problem present in U.S. science.

Fearing consequences, many salons declined to participate. Eventually, six salons did agree to participate on condition of anonymity and equipment to monitor VOCs over an 18 month period was set up, yielding the shocking results.

“The workers are being placed at risk and this is concerning. This study shows us we need to invent new ways to mitigate this exposure at relatively low cost. Surely we can find a way in the U.S. to do a better job with this,” said Christman.

Although the study represents some of the most persuasive evidence to-date showing that levels of harmful chemicals are ly to cause health problems in salon workers, some areas are already taking steps to bring in safety standards to protect workers.

Last month, Santa Clara County, California, home to Silicon Valley launched  a voluntary safety certification program which salons can sign up for in order to promote good ventilation and the use of safer products. So far, 120 salons have signed up.

“We have a genuine interest in helping this community achieve a safe working environment. Our ultimate goal is to provide evidence that this is an important problem and the initiative that they have in California can be expanded to other states. Ideally, I want these programs to spread out throughout the country so that there are more protections for these workers,” said Montoya.

“Further research is needed, particularly longitudinal studies, to assess the health risks of employment in the nail salon industry,” said Teras.