Gel manicures lead to "cell death and cancer-causing mutations," says new study

Dammit. A new study published in Nature Communications by researchers at the University of California San Diego has found that gel manicures lead to "cell death and cancer-causing mutations in human cells," according to And it's the UV "dryers" that are the culprit.


The devices are a common fixture in nail salons, and generally use a particular spectrum of UV light (340-395nm) to cure the chemicals used in gel manicures. …

Using three different cell lines—adult human skin keratinocytes, human foreskin fibroblasts, and mouse embryonic fibroblasts—the researchers found that the use of these UV emitting devices for just one 20-minute session led to between 20 and 30 percent cell death, while three consecutive 20-minute exposures caused between 65 and 70 percent of the exposed cells to die.

Exposure to the UV light also caused mitochondrial and DNA damage in the remaining cells and resulted in mutations with patterns that can be observed in skin cancer in humans.

"We saw multiple things: first, we saw that DNA gets damaged," said [the study's corresponding author Ludmil] Alexandrov. "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. 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 researchers caution that while the results show the harmful effects of the repeated use of these devices on human cells, a long-term epidemiological study would be required before stating conclusively that using these machines leads to an increased risk of skin cancers. However, the results of the study were clear: The chronic use of these nail polish drying machines is damaging to human cells.

The first author of the study, Maria Zhivagui, said she had periodically visited nail salons for a gel manicure over the years. But after the study's findings, which she "found to be very alarming," she has called it quits. Good idea, at least until further studies are conducted.