Is gel manicure safe? A new study finds that UV nail polish dryers damage DNA

Glossy, durable, chip-resistant and ideal for concealing nail imperfections, gel manicure It has become a regular part of many people’s beauty routines.

But gel nail polish needs UV light to harden, which raises concerns about the risk of skin cancer when hands, fingernails, and toenails are regularly exposed to UV rays that can be stronger than the sun.

And new studypublished in Nature Communications on January 17, 2023, adds to these concerns because it has found that radiation from UV nail polish dryers can damage DNA and cause mutations in human cells.

LED lights still emit UV rays

Some salons use UV lamps to cure polish; Others use LED lights. Women may think that LED devices skip or reduce ultraviolet light, but that’s a big misnomer, says Dr. Chris Adigun, a dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who specializes in nail disorders and who Contribute expert advice About the safety of gel manicure American Academy of Dermatology.

“Gels are very popular nationwide. They catapult the nail salon industry into another area of ​​revenue,” Adigun tells

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

Here’s the concern: UVA rays are the most mutagenic Long wavelength range of the UVA spectrum, it penetrates the skin more deeply than UVA rays and plays a role in the development of skin cancer and premature skin aging such as wrinkles and sun spots.

To harden gel nail polish, people place their hands under a lamp that emits UVA rays for anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, depending on the type of device.

LEDs have much shorter cure times, Adigun said, but that’s because the ultraviolet light they emit is much more intense than regular UV lights or even the sun. It’s so strong that she didn’t know how it compared to the UV exposure people get by being outdoors.

When described a 21-year-old woman who received a gel manicure on a regular basis and I found out she has skin cancerOne dermatologist called the lamps “like hand-held tanning beds,” though Adigun said it’s a bit different because tanning beds use both UVB and UVA rays.

Can a few minutes under a nail lamp increase the risk of skin cancer?

“Theoretically yes, because we know exposure to UVA rays increases your risk skin cancerAdigun noted that there is a particular concern about increased exposure to gel nails over time. Some women go every two weeks.

“But have we already proven this association? Do we have this cause and effect proven? We don’t.”

A 2023 study in Nature Communications provides a new cause for concern. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, used three different cell lines — from humans and mice — and exposed them to a UV nail polish dryer. Researchers reported that cell death, damage, and DNA mutations were seen after acute exposure (limited to two 20-minute sessions in one day) and chronic exposure (limited to 20 minutes per day for three days) to the device.

Maria Zhivago, a postdoctoral researcher and first author of the study, says she no longer gets manicures after seeing the results.

“I started using gel nails periodically for several years,” she explains. in the current situation. “Once I saw the effect of radiation from a gel polish desiccant on cell death and that it actually alters cells even after a single 20-minute session, I was surprised. I found this to be very concerning, and decided to stop using it.”

The authors write that it is important to remember that this study does not provide direct evidence of an increased risk of cancer in humans. They note that these are experimental results using in vitro cell line models, which do not completely mimic what happens to people in real life, so long-term studies are needed.

However, these findings combined with previous research “strongly suggest that radiation from UV nail polish dryers may cause hand cancers and that UV nail polish dryers, such as tanning beds, may increase the risk of skin cancer in early,” the authors write.


Another concern is that there is no standard for the length of the hands that must be kept under the lamp. Devices are not regulated, Adigun said, and each gel polish has its own lamp and recommended curing time.

The salon may follow the recommendations and may not have the right type of lamp. There is also an incentive to keep the hands under the light longer.

“You can imagine that a nail salon client is less likely to complain about a well-cured gel polish — potentially over-curing — than a manicure that’s not adequately cured,” Adigun noted.

Research continues in this area, but because gel manicures are fairly new and it can take decades for melanoma to develop, the full picture may not be clear for some time.

Long-term exposure to uv lamps may increase the risk of cancer and skin aging caused by uv rays, a found a 2013 study.

a Paper 2014 He cautioned that longer periods of exposure led to an increased potential for skin damage, but concluded that the risk of cancer was minimal.


another sheet Profile of two women Those who were regularly exposed to UV nail lights developed squamous cell carcinomas on their fingers and hands.

For nail melanoma, UV exposure is not thought to be a significant risk factor because the nail matrix is ​​under the skin. But the Study 2017 She discovered that some nail melanomas contained UVA signature mutations, surprising experts in the field.

“What this says is that we don’t know, and we can’t definitely conclude that skin cancer is unrelated to UV exposure,” Adigun said.

How to protect yourself:

Adigon confirmed that it’s not “anti-gel,” and that you can still get gel nails as long as you protect your cuticles.

The best approach, she said, is to cover your hands and fingers with clothing with a UV protection factor, whether it’s a cut-off glove, a T-shirt, or a scarf. TODAY style editor Bobby Thomas Showed the gloves Specially designed ones that you can buy.

The American Academy of Dermatology, too Recommend applying a broad spectrum sunscreen With an SPF of 30 or higher on your hands before getting a gel manicure. Adigun still prefers physical covering over sunscreen because it’s not clear how effective sunscreen is at blocking the intense UVA rays emitted by some lamps.

Be aware that there are many medications that can increase your sensitivity to UV light, such as doxycycline, which is an oral antibiotic. People taking these medications should take extra care to protect their skin during a gel manicure to avoid blisters or burns on their hands.

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