Cancer Risk Associated With UV Nail Dryers

Drug Topics JournalDrug Topics March 2023
Volume 167
Issue 03

The safety of gel manicures is under renewed scrutiny after a new study suggested they can cause DNA damage

There is speculation that the radiation from ultraviolet (UV) driers used in gel manicures can damage DNA and cause permanent cell mutations. A new study reinforces prior experimental studies that UV radiation can lead to skin cancer.1

Researchers at the University of California San Diego studied the effect of chronic and acute exposure on adult human skin keratinocytes, human foreskin fibroblasts,and mouse embryonic fibroblasts. Exposure consisted of a 54-W UV nail drying machine,harboring 6 bulbs that emit UV photons for curing gel nail polish.

Investigators found that a single 20-minute session led to cell death in 20% to 30% of the cells; 3 or more consecutive 20-minute sessions of exposure killed 65% to 70% of exposed cells. Any remaining cells experienced mitochondrial and DNA damage, resulting in patterns indicative of skin cancer in humans. Genomic profiling revealed higher levels of somatic mutations in the irradiated cells and mutation patterns associated with melanoma.

Because the study was not conducted on living participants, the authors noted that there was not enough data to conclusively quantify an increased risk of cancer or the frequency of use associated with 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 authors concluded.

Although the FDA classifies UV lamps as “low risk when used as directed,” previous evidence indi- cates a valid risk for squamous cell carcinoma from UV dryers.2 The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends the following tips to help keep skin and nails as healthy as possible before, during, and after gel manicures:

-Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a 30 or higher SPF to protect skin from UV radiation.

-Wear dark, opaque gloves and leave only the fingertips exposed during application.

-Allow nails to air dry naturally. Avoid drying lamps or use an air blower without UV lights.

-Soak only fingertips in acetone to remove polish and protect hands and fingers from the manufactured chemical.


1. Zhivagui M, Hoda A, Valenzuela N, et al. DNA damage and somatic mutations in mammalian cells after irradiation with a nail polish dryer. Nat Commun. 2023 Jan 17;14(1):276. doi:10.1038/s41467-023-35876-8

2. How to safely use nail care products. FDA. Reviewed January 6, 2017. Accessed February 7, 2023. consumer-updates/how-safely-use-nail-care-products

3. Gel manicures: tips for healthy nails. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Accessed February 7, 2023. gel-manicures

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