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New Study Shows UV Dryers For Gel Manicures May Damage The DNA In Your Hands

A new study published in Nature Communications shows that getting frequent gel manicures using UV nail polish dryers can cause damage to the DNA in our hands, and potentially lead to skin cancer. 

Ultraviolet (UV) rays are known to cause skin cancer at high exposures, and there isn’t a lot of current research on the potential harms of UV nail polish dryers.  

The University of California San Diego recently released a press release that explained “that the common devices in nail salons generally use a particular spectrum of UV light (340-395nm) to cure the chemicals used in gel manicures. While tanning beds use a different spectrum of UV light (280-400nm) there have been studies that show tanning bed UV light is carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, however, the spectrum used for nail dryers has not been extensively studied.”

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“If you look at the way these devices are presented, they are marketed as safe, with nothing to be concerned about. But to the best of our knowledge, no one has actually studied these devices and how they affect human cells at the molecular and cellular levels until now,” said Ludmil Alexandrov, a professor of bioengineering and cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego, and corresponding author of the study. 

Researchers of the study found that using the device for one 20 minute session led to 20-30% cell death, where three consecutive 20 minute exposures caused between 65-70% of exposed cells to die. 

The UV light also caused mitochondrial and DNA damage to the skin cells, resulting in mutations with patterns that can also be seen in skin cancer in humans. 

“We saw multiple things: first, we saw that DNA gets damaged,” said Alexandrov in a press release. 

“We also saw that some of the DNA damage does not get repaired over time, and it does lead to mutations after every exposure with a UV-nail polish dryer. Lastly, we saw that exposure may cause mitochondrial dysfunction, which may also result in additional mutations. We looked at patients with skin cancers, and we see the exact same patterns of mutations in these patients that were seen in the irradiated cells.”

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation “90% of the visible signs of aging come from daily exposure to UV light. This means fine lines, wrinkling, saggy skin, sun spots, uneven skin tone,” says Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine and Prevention Medical Review Board member. 

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“In addition, it can alter one’s DNA repair mechanisms, making skin cancer possible. In general, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.”

UV-cured manicures are safest when one applies a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 around 30 minutes before the manicure, as well as when one wears fingerless gloves during the manicure. 

“UV light with manicures can always pose a risk. LED lights pose less of a risk, but could still pose some potential dangers. It’s kind of analogous to smoking a cigarette, the more you do it, the more at risk you are. If you want to be sure that no exposure is happening, use sunscreen, cover your hands with cotton gloves, or avoid manis that involve light devices,” says Dr. Gohara

“The knowledge that UV radiation exposure causes DNA mutation in the skin is not new. We know that UV radiation is a known and proven risk for skin cancer and this is why we wear sunscreen, sun protective clothing, hats, sit in the shade and ideally have regular skin checks with a board-certified dermatologist,” says Dr. Stern. 

“For anyone getting UV gel manicures, it is advisable to protect the skin with a UV protective barrier such as fingertip-less UV protective gloves as well as broad-spectrum sunscreen applied 30 minutes before the gel manicure. It is key that the sunscreen is broad-spectrum in order to protect against UVA rays,” advises Dr. Stern.