Do UV-Rays Damage Nails?

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Though nails are hard and offer protection to the skin underneath, they can become brittle in the sun.

We talk about how UV-irradiation affects your skin constantly, we even talk about how UV-irradiation affects hair all the time, but rarely do we consider what the sun can do to our nails. In fact, it can be very damaging to nails and so it’s important to protect them from the sun.

And few people think about the UV-exposure that might be problematic out of the sun, like dryers in salons for gel manicures. Are those dangerous?

What Happens to Nails in the Sun?

The sun can do permanent damage to nails’ growth structures.

The nail plate — which is the hard visible part of the nail — offers protection to the underlying cells, but unfortunately does so at the expense of your nail. UV-exposure can make nails brittle and breakable (Skin Cancer Foundation).

Frequent exposure to sun can have permanent effects on nails. The growth center, the white part at the base of your nail, can be damaged and aged, resulting in less-than-attractive nails.

And the skin around the nail bed is some of the most sensitive, which is why it’s crucial to protect this skin from the sun. If you’re not wearing nail polish, you can use lotion with sunscreen to protect the nail and cuticle, but sunscreen will ruin polish.

Does Nail Polish Protect Nails from UV-Damage?

Polish offers some protection for nails because of ingredients put in to protect the polish’s color.

Nail polish provides some protection from UV-irradiation. One way might be because of the opaque coloring (the same way opaque clothing offers some protection) and the other is because many nail polishes have protection built in to keep the color from being ruined in the sun. An example of this is Benzophenone-1.

In fact, many of the nail polishes that boast UV-protection actually have this ingredient in them. While this is widely considered safe by the Cosmetic Ingredients Review, they can also cause reactions such as contact dermatitis for some (Clinics in Dermatology). Benzophenone has also been studied for having estrogenic activity (Toxicology).

What’s interesting is that many nail polishes are touted as having UV-protection and don’t have any. Because sunscreen may ruin your nail polish, it’s good to look for products that have UV-filters built in if you want nail polish and UV-protection.

Where You Don’t Realize You’re Getting UV Rays

Though there isn’t definitive evidence on whether UV dryers are dangerous, there are products that those who love manicures can get to protect themselves from potential harm.

You know to be concerned about UV-irradiation when you’re out in the sun, but are there places that you don’t even realize you’re susceptible? Well, researchers are still solving the puzzle, but the UV nail dryers after a manicure could be exposing you to carcinogenic UV-rays.

That’s “could,” not “are.” The study that many sources site from used two case studies of healthy, adult women with no family history of skin cancer who both developed carcinoma on their hands with the likeliest culprit being regular manicures dried under UV nail dryers (Archives of Dermatology).

Of course this doesn’t mean that UV nail dryers were, without a doubt, the cause of the cancer. It simply caused researchers to ask whether the practice of drying nails with UV could be unhealthy — there’s no research that yet links them definitively to cancer (The Beauty Aisle Insider).

There are products to try to combat this problem, like Royal Nails Anti-UV Gloves ($5.95, amazon.com) intended for wearing while at the salon.

Bottom Line

Nails, like the rest of the body, are sensitive to UV-irradiation and they can become brittle and breakable with too much exposure. Some nail polishes come with UV-filters and these are a good way to have painted nails and sun protection (since putting sunscreen on painted nails will ruin them). One of the places people are now concerned about UV-irradiation is in the nail salon and while it’s not yet studied enough to have an answer, it’s something to be conscious about.

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Nicki Zevola is the founder and editor-in-chief of FutureDerm.com. Named one of the top 30 beauty bloggers in the world by Konector.com since 2009, Nicki