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Are UV gel nail polish lamps safe? New study finds link to increased DNA damage

Researchers noted that a long-term study still needs to be done before “stating conclusively” that these machines could lead to an increased risk of skin cancers

Amber Raiken
New York
Tuesday 24 January 2023 05:21 GMT
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Related: UV nail polish dryers linked to cancer-causing cell mutations

A recent study has found that the ultraviolet lamps used in order to dry gel nail polish may come with a few health risks.

In the study published in Nature Communications, researchers at the University of California, San Diego found that UV-nail polish dryers can damage DNA and lead to cancer-causing mutations in the human cells.

These researchers went on to look at three different populations of cells: adult human epidermal keratinocytes, human foreskin fibroblasts, and mouse embryonic fibroblasts. The cell lines were then exposed to two UV light conditions, acute exposure and chronic exposure, for different periods of time.

Results showed a link between these nail dryer lamps and the damaging of cells’ a “single 20-minute” session with these UV emitting devices resulted in “20 to 30 per cent cell death”. In addition, three consecutive 20 minute exposures to the lights “caused between 65 per and 70 per cent [of] cell death”.

Ludmil Alexandrov, a corresponding author of the study, also explained how exposure to the UV light results in mutation patterns of cells that can also be seen in humans with skin cancer.

“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,”  Alexandrov, who’s also a professor at USC, San Diego, said. “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.”

Although results showed the danger of using UV-nail polish dryers on a repeated occurrence, researchers noted that a long-term study still needs to be done before “stating conclusively” that these machines could lead to an increased risk of skin cancers.

Dermatologists have also acknowledged that the risk of developing cancer through gel manicures ties into how often you go to the salon.

“If you’re someone who goes to get their nails done once a week and you put your hands under those lamps for 10 minutes, you might want to be worried,”  Melissa Piliang, MD, told the Cleveland Clinic in January 2021.

She noted that if you go to the nail salon a couple times a year, you shouldn’t be too concerned, adding: “It’s a very, very small risk.”

Over the years, researchers  have continued to look at the UV lights to see if they’re linked to an increased cancer risk. In a 2020 study published inThe Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, researchers looked at patients aged 40 or under who had a history of “chronic gel manicures and had been diagnosed with nonmelanoma skin cancer or melanoma”. Results found that there is “little to no carcinogenic risk inherent with UV gel manicures”.

In addition, the Food and Drug Association (FDA) noted that even though UV radiation can damage your skin, “nail curing lamps” present a low risk for cancer “when used as directed by the label”.

Although the cancer risk from nail dryers isn’t high, the UV light from “tanning beds can cause melanoma and increase the risk of a benign mole progressing to melanoma”, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. The medical site explained that “indoor tanning can increase users’ risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 58 per cent and basal cell carcinoma by 24 per cent”.

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