Are Gel Manicures Causing a Rise in Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers Developing Around the Fingertips? Experts Are Weighing In!

Dermatologists and other skin experts are warning of an apparent rise in melanoma and other skin cancers as a result of gel manicures – which expose the nails to UV light during the curing process. This UV light exposure adds up over time and increases the risk of cancer around the fingertips and cuticles.

“It’s like tanning beds for your hands,” says Dr. Vishal Patel of the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences – located in Washington D.C.. “We’re seeing a lot of patients having not only melanomas, but all types of skin cancers around the fingertips and the cuticles,” he continued. 

Considering many people undergo gel manicures several times per month, the persistent exposure to UV light is putting many people at an increased risk – even though many sessions are only 20 minutes long. The growing concern has many skin experts and doctors recommending alternatives to gel manicures. 

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“I started using gel manicures periodically for several years. Once I saw the effect of radiation emitted by the gel polish drying device on cell death and that it actually mutates cells even after just one 20-minute session, I was surprised. I found this to be very alarming, and decided to stop using it,” said one expert. 

One 25-year-old patient, Karolina Jasko, is learning of this concern the hard way. Despite being well aware of the dangers of skin cancer and regularly checking herself for signs of the disease, Jasko says her case of melanoma snuck up on her in a place she never would’ve thought to look in the first place.

She was visiting a nail salon in 2016 when her technician noticed a black line with a purplish tint running down from the top of her nail to the bottom of her nail. Jasko decided to see a doctor after her nail got infected and underwent a biopsy the next day – which confirmed that she had melanoma under her nail. 

Jasko ended up having her entire thumb nail matrix removed during surgery and now has a skin graft from her groin area covering her thumb, but it could’ve been worse as doctors warned they might have to amputate the entire thumb. Luckily, doctors were able to treat the melanoma before it started to spread.

How to Check Your Nails for Melanoma

When most people check the body for signs of melanoma and other skin cancers, they tend to focus on the skin and neglect other areas of the body that are prone to the disease – such as the nails. With procedures like gel manicures growing in popularity, it’s extremely important we focus on the nails, too.

The most common symptom of nail melanoma (also known as acral lentiginous melanoma) is a dark, black vertical streak running from the top to the bottom of the nail (also known as melanonychia). Many people liken it to a black line being drawn on the fingernail (usually thumb or big toe) with a fine sharpie. 

Other symptoms of nail melanoma include dark skin located next to your fingernail, the nails on your toes and fingers separating from the nail bed, nails that split down the middle, or finding a bump under your nails. A family history of melanoma is known to increase a patient’s risk of developing nail melanoma. 

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In order to prevent this disease from developing, patients should limit and avoid UV light exposure to the nails (and skin, in general) and utilize sunscreen when necessary – not just on the hands, but any area of the body being exposed to sunlight and/or UV rays. Visit your skin doctor regularly for a check up.

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