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Radiation from nail salon tools may damage DNA and cause cancer-causing mutations in human cells, a study has found — and that might have you wondering whether your regular gel mani-pedi is worth the risk.
Some dermatologists say the findings, in a study published in January 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 the reason why some dermatologists have changed the way they get their gel manicures or have stopped getting them altogether.
“The findings contribute to data already published 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, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Utah who was not involved 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 explained.
According to the UCAR Centre for Science Education, ultraviolet light is a type of electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength ranging from 10 to 400 nanometers.
Ultraviolet light (315 to 400 nanometers in wavelength) present in sunlight penetrates the skin more deeply and is widely employed in UV nail dryers, which have gained popularity in the last decade. According to a study news release, tanning beds use 280 to 400 nanometers, whereas nail dryers use 340 to 395 nanometers.
“If you look at the way these devices are presented, they are marketed as safe, with nothing to be concerned about,” said corresponding author Ludmil Alexandrov in a news release. “But, to the best of our knowledge, no one has studied these devices and how they affect human cells at the molecular and cellular levels until now.” Alexandrov is a bioengineering and cellular and molecular medicine associate professor at the University of California, San Diego.
Researchers exposed human and mouse cells to UV radiation for 20 minutes and discovered that 20% to 30% of the cells died. Three 20-minute doses killed 65% to 70% of the exposed cells. The remaining cells were damaged by mitochondrial and DNA damage, resulting in mutations with patterns similar to those seen in human skin cancer.
According to dermatologist Dr. Julie Russak, founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic in New York City, the most significant restriction of the study is that exposing cell lines to UV light differs from conducting the study on actual humans and animals. Russak was not involved in the research.
“When we’re doing it (irradiating) inside human hands, there’s a difference,” Russak said. “The top layer of skin absorbs the majority of UV irradiation.” When you directly irradiate cells in a petri dish, the results are slightly different. You are not protected by the skin, corneocytes, or the upper layers. It also provides very direct UVA irradiation.”
However, when combined with previous evidence — such as case reports of people developing squamous cell carcinomas, the second most common type of skin cancer, in association with UVA dryers — this study suggests that we should “definitely think harder about just exposing our hands and fingers to UVA light without any protection,” according to Dr. Shari Lipner, an associate professor of clinical dermatology and director of the nail division at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Centre. Lipner was not a participant in the study.
How to reduce UV light exposure when getting a manicure with nail salon tools
If you’re worried about gel manicures but don’t want to give them up, there are certain safeguards you can take.
“When it’s time to cure your nails, apply broad spectrum sunblock containing zinc and titanium around the nails, and wear UV gloves with the fingertips cut off,” added Curtis, who doesn’t get gel manicures. “I would recommend alternatives to gel nails, such as the new wraps that are available online.” (Gel nail wraps or strips are stick-on gel nail products that do not usually require UV nail dryers to be set.)
LED lights, which “are thought to emit either no UV light or much, much lower amounts,” are used in some salons, according to Lipner.
Lipner gets regular manicures, which last her seven to ten days, not to avoid UV rays, but because she dislikes the nail-thinning acetone soaking associated with gel manicures.
“Regular manicures are just dried in the air,” she explained. “Gel manicures must be curated or sealed, and the polymers in the polish must be activated, which can only be accomplished with UVA lights.”
If you get gel manicures regularly, Lipner suggests contacting a board-certified dermatologist who can inspect your skin for skin cancer precursors and treat them before they become significant issues. (Ultraviolet light, she claims, can also age the skin, causing sunspots and wrinkles.)
There isn’t enough data for professionals to say how frequently people can get gel manicures without putting themselves in danger, according to Lipner. Curtis, on the other hand, suggested keeping them for rare occasions.
Russak doesn’t get gel manicures very often, but when she does, she wears sunblock and gloves. Applying antioxidant serums, such as vitamin C, prior may also assist, she says.
“As a dermatologist, I probably change gloves three or four times with each patient.” “And with regular nail polish, the nail polish is gone after three, four glove changes,” Russak explained. “The gel manicure has a much longer lifespan, but is it worth the risk of photoaging and skin cancer development?” Most likely not.”
People who have a history of skin cancer or who are more photosensitive due to fairer skin or albinism, medicines, or immunosuppression should be extra cautious, according to specialists. However, despite your risk, dermatologists CNN spoke with advised caution.
“Unfortunately, full protection is not possible, so my best recommendation is to avoid using these dryers altogether,” said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, an associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.