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Radiation from nail dryers can damage DNA and cause cancer-causing mutations in human cells, according to a new study — and it might have you wondering if your regular gel mani-pedi is worth the risk.
Some dermatologists say the results of a study published Jan. 17 in the journal Nature Communications aren’t new when it comes to concerns about ultraviolet or UV light from any source. In fact, the results reaffirm why some dermatologists have changed the way they get their gel manicures or stopped getting them altogether.
“The results contribute to already published data regarding the harmful effects of (ultraviolet) radiation and show direct cell death and tissue damage that can lead to skin cancer,” said Dr. Julia Curtis, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Utah. , who did not participate in the study.
“Tanning beds are listed as carcinogenic and UV nail lamps are mini tanning beds for your nails to cure the gel nail,” Curtis said.
A form of electromagnetic radiation, ultraviolet light has a wavelength ranging from 10 to 400 nanometers, according to the UCAR Center for Science Education.
Ultraviolet A light (315 to 400 nanometers), found in sunlight, penetrates deeper into the skin and is commonly used in UV nail dryers, which have become popular over the past decade. Tanning beds use 280 to 400 nanometers, while the spectrum used in nail dryers is 340 to 395 nanometers, according to a press release from the study.
“If you look at the way these devices are presented, they are marketed as safe, without any concerns,” said corresponding author Ludmil Alexandrov in the press release. “But to our knowledge, no one has actually studied these devices and how they affect human cells at the molecular and cellular levels until now.” Alexandrov holds the dual titles of Associate Professor of Bioengineering and Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
The researchers exposed human and mouse cells to UV light, finding that a 20-minute session resulted in 20-30% cell death. Three consecutive 20-minute exposures caused 65-70% of the exposed cells to die. The remaining cells suffered mitochondrial and DNA damage, resulting in mutations with patterns that have been seen in human skin cancer.
The biggest limitation of the study is that exposing cell lines to UV light is different from conducting the study on live humans and animals, said dermatologist Dr. Julie Russak, founder of Russak Dermatology. Clinic in New York. Russak did not participate in the study.
“When we do it (irradiate) inside human hands, there’s definitely a difference,” Russak said. “Most of the UV radiation is absorbed by the top layer of the skin. When you directly irradiate cells in the Petri dish, it’s slightly different. You have no skin, corneocyte, or upper layer protection. It is also a very direct UVA irradiation.
But this study, combined with previous evidence – such as case reports of people developing squamous cell carcinomas, the second most common form of skin cancer, in association with UVA dryers – means we should “definitely think more just exposing our hands and fingers to UVA light without any protection,” said Dr. Shari Lipner, associate professor of clinical dermatology and director of the nail division at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Lipner was not involved in the study.
If you’re concerned about gel manicures but don’t want to give it up, there are some precautions you can take to mitigate the risk.
“Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen containing zinc and titanium around the nails and wear UV gloves with your fingertips cut off when hardening your nails,” said Curtis, who doesn’t get gel manicures. “I would recommend alternatives to gel nails, like the new wraps available online.” (Gel nail wraps or strips are adhesive gel nail products that do not always need to be attached by UV nail dryers.)
Some salons use LED lights, which “are supposed to emit no UV light or much, much lower amounts,” Lipner said.
Lipner receives regular manicures – which usually last seven to ten days – not in order to avoid UV rays, but rather because she doesn’t like the nail-thinning acetone soak involved in gel manicures.
“Regular manicures are just air dried,” she added. “Gel manicures need to be saved or sealed, and the polymers in the polish need to be activated, so this can only be done with UVA lamps.”
If you regularly have gel manicures, Lipner recommends seeing a board-certified dermatologist who can examine your skin for any precursors to skin cancer and treat it before it becomes a serious problem. (Ultraviolet light can also age skin, showing up in sunspots and wrinkles, she said.)
There’s not enough data for experts to gauge how often people can get gel manicures without putting themselves at risk, Lipner said. But Curtis recommended saving them for special occasions.
Russak doesn’t get a gel manicure very often, but uses sunscreen and gloves when she does, she said. Pre-applying antioxidant-rich serums, such as vitamin C, could also help, she added.
“As a dermatologist, I change gloves probably three, four times with one patient. And with regular nail polish, after three or four glove changes, the nail polish is gone,” Russak added. A gel manicure definitely has much better longevity, but is it really worth the risk of photoaging and developing skin cancer? Probably not.”
People with a history of skin cancers or who are more photosensitive due to lighter skin or albinism, medications or immunosuppression should be more careful about taking precautions, experts said. Whether or not you’re at higher risk, however, CNN’s dermatologists spoke with an urgent caution.
“Unfortunately, complete protection isn’t possible, so my best recommendation is to avoid these dryers altogether,” Zeichner said.