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Ask the Expert: Do Nail-Drying Machines Emit UV Rays?

WebMD's Skin and Beauty Expert explains how nail-drying machines work, plus how to protect yourself from their harmful UV rays.

In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our May 2011 issue, Susan Evans, MD, WebMD's skin and beauty expert, answered a question about the UV rays emitted by nail-drying machines in nail salons.

Q: A friend told me that nail-drying machines emit UV rays that can give you skin cancer. Do I need to be careful?

A: The nail-drying machines used in professional nail salons come in two varieties: air drying and UV drying. And yes, you do need to be careful about exposing your skin to the UV type. That’s because the rays emitted by these machines are UVA rays, the kind that penetrate the skin most deeply and have been associated with skin cancer.

The level of UVA rays is equivalent to that of a tanning bed. But in addition to exposing your skin to cancer-causing UVA rays, using these nail-drying machines increases your risk of getting the telltale signs of photoaging, including spots, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity. These aren’t on your face, of course, but they can still be unsightly.

When you get to the salon, ask an employee which type of machine it uses, and make sure they know about the risks.

There are two things you can do to reduce your exposure. First, you can decide to forgo the nail-drying machine altogether and take a few minutes longer to let your nail polish air dry (although some gel manicures do need UV light to cure). Second, you can slather on sunscreen after the aesthetician washes your hands and feet but before she applies the nail polish.

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