Question & Answer

Do UV lamps in nail bars cause skin cancer?

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The Evidence

  • A recent study linking UV lamp use for gel nail polish manicures and pedicures with cancer-causing genetic changes was reported in the media. However, this study was not based on people, it was a lab-based study using mouse and human skin cells, so we can’t be fully sure if this happens in humans in everyday life.
  • Although we looked for systematic reviews or studies we didn’t find any that were of good enough quality to rely on.
  • We found three reviews (Review one, review two and review three) about the use of UV lamps for gel nail polish and cancer. All the reviews were of very low quality, and the studies they included were either of low quality or lab-based studies. Some of these studies suggested that UV lamp use is a risk factor in developing cancer, while others suggested there is no or very low risk.

Guidelines and recommendations

The WHO and other organisations do not recommend the use of UV tanning devices, but they don’t say anything about using UV lamps for gel nail polish.

Things to Remember

  • Look out for treatment effects that are based on small studies of a few people.
  • Just because a study finds links or associations between two things, this doesn’t prove that one is caused by the other.
  • When studies only involve animal models, it is very uncertain what the effects of the treatments are in people.


  • Lead Researcher: Dr Elaine Toomey, Lecturer in Evidence-Based Healthcare, College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Galway,
  • Reviewed by: Dr Paula Byrne, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network & Evidence Synthesis Ireland, University of Galway
  • Topic advisor: Dr Caroline McCarthy, Clinical Lecturer and Research Fellow, Department of General Practice, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and General Practitioner, Leixlip, Co Kildare.
  • Public and Patient Advisor: Deirdre Mac Loughlin, Public and Patient Involvement in research (PPI) advisor, PPI Ignite, University of Galway.
  • Journalist Advisor: Dr Claire O’Connell, PhD in cell biology, Masters in Science Communication. Contributor to The Irish Times, writing about health, science and innovation.

Conflict of Interest Statement: The authors have no financial or other conflicts of interest for this health claim summary.