Are gel manicures safe? Here's what you need to know about the UV cancer risk
In 2023, the idea of getting a weekly gel manicure is hardly uncommon.
In fact, watching your gel nail varnish harden under the glow of the blue UV lamps has become incredibly normalised over the decades, so much so that some people even do their own gel manicures from the comfort of their own homes.
But are gel manicures actually safe? A new study from the University of California San Diego, published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, sought to find out.
Firstly, some context: while there have been some anecdotal reports of women who frequently get gel manicures also being diagnosed with skin cancer on their hands, there has been little research about whether the two are linked.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays are known carcinogens, and research has shown that some UV-emitting devices, like tanning beds, can cause skin cancer, but, again, there had been no research into whether UV-lamps used for gel nails actually caused cancer, so the researchers concluded that gel manicures posed ‘little to no carcinogenic risk’.
That’s where this new study comes in.
Researchers exposed cells derived from humans and mice to UV light from nail dryers.
After 20 minutes, they found that 20% to 30% of the cells had died. This increased to 65% to 70% after three consecutive 20-minute sessions.
While the study didn’t find a direct link to cancer, it did find that UV nail lamps can damage DNA and lead human cells to permanently mutate, which is associated with a higher risk of cancer.
Taken alongside anecdotal evidence, researchers concluded that the results ‘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.’
However, Claire Knight, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK said it’s ‘very unlikely’ that regular gel manicures would cause skin cancer.
She told Metro.co.uk: ‘Research shows that it is very unlikely that someone would develop skin cancer as a result of using UV nail lamps, even on a regular basis.
‘This study on cells in the lab doesn’t change that.
‘Although these lamps give out UV radiation, the dose is far less than when using a sunbed or spending too much time in the sun.
‘Too much UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of most skin cancers, which is why we encourage people to protect their skin when the sun is strong by spending time in the shade, covering up with clothing, regularly applying sunscreen, and avoiding sunbeds.’
If you do notice any changes to your skin – whether it’s something new, or a change to an existing mole or patch of skin – her advice is to get it checked by your doctor.
‘Most melanoma skin cancers develop on the chest, back or legs, and occasionally they can appear as discolouration under nails or on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet,’ she adds.
‘The chances are it won’t be skin cancer, but if it is, being diagnosed at an early stage means treatment is more likely to be successful.’
Maybe we can stick to our gel manicures, after all.
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