Gel manicure lamps can damage cell DNA. Here's what we know about the overall cancer risk.
A new study showed exposure to UV lights used in gel manicures can damage skin cell DNA.
The study's authors said their findings do not prove gel manicures lead to cancer.
Cancer risk from gel manicures is small, but worried salon goers can wear sunblock.
Ultraviolet lights used in gel manicures might damage your DNA, but experts said it's not enough of a reason to stop going to the salon.
A new study, published on January 17 in Nature, found ultraviolet A (UVA) light emitted from nail salon lamps can permanently alter DNA and mutate human cells.
The study researchers exposed cells to 20 minutes of UVA light for three consecutive days — more than the typical gel manicure, which requires up to 10 minutes of exposure to dry the nail polish. Gel manicures last at least two weeks, per Cosmopolitan.
One 20 minute exposure resulted in 20% to 30% of the cells dying, and three exposures resulted in 65% to 70% of the cells dying.
The authors pointed out, however, that these experiments might not reflect the realities of human skin, which has additional layers of protective tissue. So although UV lamps used in gel manicures might change a cell's DNA, the study's senior author Ludmil Alexandrov told The Washington Post their paper cannot conclude UV light from manicures can lead to cancer.
"But we very clearly see that it does negatively affect cells, and it damages DNA," Alexandrov told The Post.
Researchers are still wondering if there is a link between UV nail lamps and skin cancer
High exposure to UV light via the sun or tanning beds can increase your risk of skin cancer because these rays change the DNA of your skin cells. That's caused scientists to wonder if the same is true for UV nail lamps, which emit UVA light to dry gel polish.
This new study builds previous research on whether UVA exposure during manicures is harmful. A 2014 study published in JAMA Dermatology found UV lamps used at nail salons could increase the risk for damaged skin cells over time.
Researchers have loosely tied UV nail lamps to skin cancer in the hands of at least three people, but these case reports did not find conclusive proof of a cause-and-effect. The three people reported using UV nail lamps often, from bimonthly to eight times in a year, but also may have had other risk factors — for example, one regularly also used a tanning bed.
It's still not clear what the true cancer risk is for gel manicure lamps. Because gel manicures are meant to be done infrequently, since the manicure lasts longer, the JAMA study's lead author Dr. Lyndsay Shipp told Reuters the cancer risk is very small. Shipp said she herself will continue to get gel manicures.
You can wear sunscreen to limit UV exposure during gel manicures
Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told The Washington Post that if salon goers are concerned about cancer risks, they can take precautions like putting sunscreen or protective gloves on before using a UV lamp.
Sunscreen would need to be applied 20 minutes before UV light exposure, so around the time after the manicurist has finished soaking the hands and prior to painting the nails, Piliang said.
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