Dermatologist Weighs In On Skin Cancer Risks Associated With Gel Manicures

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Gel manicures are a staple in many women's maintenance routines. Every two weeks or so, when the nails grow out just enough to become unsightly, it's time to book another appointment and start the process over again. Gel manicures differ from a manicure with regular polish in that they require you to put your hands under UV light — specifically UVA light — throughout the appointment, to meld the gel polish to your nail. While this technique keeps the polish intact for longer, your hands and nails are exposed to a light that could be harmful. Scientists have been studying the potential link between UV nail polish dryers and cancer risk for years. 

A study published last month in "Nature Communications" found that UV light dryers used for setting gel nail polish can cause DNA mutations and damage to cells. And lamps that claim to use LED light instead of UV light are unfortunately misleading. "Gels, by definition, need a UVA exposure to polymerize. So if there's no UVA, there is no gel manicure," according to dermatologist Dr. Chris Adigun (via Today). 

Still, the study does not show a direct link between UV nail polish dryers and cancer. "While this report demonstrates that radiation from UV-nail polish dryers is cytotoxic, genotoxic, and mutagenic, it does not provide direct evidence for an increased cancer risk in human beings. Prior studies have shown that an increase in mutagenesis will likely lead to an increase in cancer risk," the authors write. 

One dermatologist has sworn off gel manis

On the podcast "Breaking Beauty," hosts Carlene Higgins and Jill Dunn welcome dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe to discuss the potential ramifications of a routine gel manicure. Dr. Bowe admits that she has long since sworn them off. "I haven't gotten a gel manicure in many, many, many years because these are conversations I actually had with my colleagues early on based on the science; it just sort of keeps coming out, and here's yet another study that's pointing to the fact that these lights that cure your gel manicure are not without risk," Dr. Bowe explains. She admits that gel manicures can be hard to pass up. "They're shiny, and they're glossy, and they last for a long time. But here we're seeing that this is a study that looked at three different cell lines... and they found that not only does the UV light from these lamps kills cells, so there's increased cell death, but there are also mutations, there are DNA mutations that are the same ones that we find in skin cancer. Is this concerning? Yeah. Especially if somebody does this regularly."

There are certain signs of skin cancer you shouldn't ignore, including finding a dark line in your nail, according to Dr. Karan Lal in an exclusive interview. Dermatologists now advise slathering the strongest sunscreen you have on your hands before exposure. You can also wear special UV-blocking, fingerless gloves to your next nail appointment, like this pair from Amazon