Ultraviolet (UV) nail polish dryers, typically used to cure gel manicures, could damage DNA in our hands and cause mutations, new research finds.
The dryers are a common fixture of beauty salons – but despite their widespread use and the fact that some spectrums of UV rays are known to be carcinogenic, there has never been formal research into the effect of the radiation they emit on mammalian cells.
Unlike tanning beds, which use a different spectrum of UV light (280-400nm) and have been proven to cause cancer, nail polish drying devices (340-395nm) have barely been studied.
“If you look at the way these devices are presented, they are marketed as safe, with nothing to be concerned about,” corresponding author Ludmil Alexandrov, a professor of bioengineering as well as cellular and molecular medicine, said in a statement. “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.”
After exposing both human and mouse cells – adult human skin keratinocytes, human foreskin fibroblasts, and mouse embryonic fibroblasts – to the UV emitted from nail polish drying devices, the researchers identified mitochondrial and DNA damage as well as cell death.
Just 20 minutes under the lights, followed by an hour out to repair damage and a further 20-minute exposure, resulted in 20 to 30 percent of the cells dying. Meanwhile, 20-minute sessions every day for three consecutive days led to between 65 and 70 percent cell death.
Typically, one manicure session involves nails and hands being placed in the UV device for 10 minutes in total, much less than the exposure used in the study.
The damage seen in the remaining cells was not always repaired, which caused mutations comparable to those seen in human skin cancers. According to Alexandrov, there have also been some reports of rare finger cancers in people who regularly get gel manicures, such as pageant contestants and estheticians.
While concerning, it’s important to note that the study doesn’t provide direct evidence that UV nail polish drying devices increase cancer risk. There is also no way of knowing how frequently someone would need to get their nails done to be at risk of harm. A long-term epidemiological study is needed before any such questions can be answered.
“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 write.
“Nevertheless, future large-scale epidemiological studies are warranted to accurately quantify the risk for skin cancer of the hand in people regularly using UV-nail polish dryers. It is likely that such studies will take at least a decade to complete and to subsequently inform the general public.”
The study is published in Nature Communications.