Researchers at the University of California San Diego discovered ultraviolet (UV) nail polish drying devices could cause harm to human cells.
UV nail polish dryers are only used when gel nail polish is involved because it contains oligomers, tiny molecules, in the gel polish that can only be cured by UV radiation. Gel polish and the UV radiation combined lead to shiny and lasting results.
After numerous tests, scientists discovered that seemingly harmless 20-minute nail sessions could kill off between 20 and 30% of cell death. Using adult human skin keratinocytes, human foreskin fibroblasts and mouse embryonic fibroblasts, researchers saw that exposure to UV radiation-damaged DNA and caused mutations in human cells, increasing the risk of skin cancer.
“We saw multiple things: first, we saw that DNA gets damaged,” Ludmil Alexandrov, a UC San Diego professor of bioengineering and cellular and molecular medicine, said. “We also saw that some of the DNA damage does not get repaired over time, and it does lead to mutations after every exposure with a UV-nail polish dryer.”
Alexandrov continued, “Lastly, we saw that exposure may cause mitochondrial dysfunction, which may also result in additional mutations. We looked at patients with skin cancers, and we see the exact same patterns of mutations in these patients that were seen in the irradiated cells.”
The most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and, the deadliest, melanoma. The Melanoma Research Alliance reported that melanoma was more common in white people than people of color because melanin protects against UV light. Meaning the darker skin, the greater the protection is against UV.
That’s not to say that people of color aren’t susceptible to UV radiation’s risks.
While the long-term effects of UV nail dryers have yet to be studied, dermatologists recommend using protection like sunscreen on protective gloves when using these dryers. They also recommend refraining from routine gel manicures—a few times a year.