UV Light From Nail Dryers May Damage DNA, Study Suggests

A study indicates that exposure to UV light from nail dryers used for gel manicures causes cell death and DNA mutations similar to those observed in skin cancer patients.

UV nail drying lamps are used to dry or “cure” gel nail polish and acrylic or gel nails. They are widely used in salons and can also be bought online. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) views devices as low risk when used as directed by the label.

However, there has been little research on the possible health risks of using UV nail dryers regularly.

Researchers at the University of Southern California San Diego and the University of Pittsburgh exposed three different combinations of human and mouse cells to UV light from nail polish dryers.

They found that a single 20-minute session resulted in the death of 20–30% of cells. When the cells were exposed to three consecutive 20-minute sessions, 65% to 70% of them died.

In addition, exposure to UV light caused mitochondrial and DNA damage in the remaining cells and resulted in mutations with patterns that can be observed in skin cancer in humans.

“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,” said Ludmil Alexandrov, a professor of bioengineering as well as cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego, and corresponding author of the study.

The researchers say that the study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature does not provide direct evidence that exposure to UV light from nail polish drying lamps increases cancer risk.

“Taken together, our experimental results and the prior evidence strongly suggest that radiation emitted by UV-nail polish dryers may cause cancers of the hand and that UV-nail polish dryers, similar to tanning beds, may increase the risk of early-onset skin cancer,” the study authors conclude.

UV nail dryers use a particular spectrum of UV light (340-395nm), while tanning beds use a different spectrum of UV light (280-400nm) which studies have proved to be carcinogenic.

One of the study's limitations is that it was conducted not in humans but in cells derived from them. The research authors emphasize the need for large-scale studies to evaluate the exact risk of skin cancer of the hand in people regularly using UV-nail polish dryers. Such studies may take a decade.

Earlier research indicated no health risks associated with using nail dryers. For example, a study from 2013 found that 30-minute daily exposure to UV radiation from the device was below the permissible daily occupational exposure limit.

A literature review from 2020 also suggests that gel manicures do not increase the risk of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer on the dorsum of the hands and nails of adults aged 15 to 39.

The FDA says people may want to avoid UV nail dryers if they are using certain drugs or supplements making them more sensitive to UV rays, such as antibiotics, oral contraceptives, estrogens, and supplements that include St. John’s Wort.

The agency also recommends removing cosmetics, fragrances, and skincare products before using nail dryers and wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.

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