Since they first appeared around 2010, gel manicures have become a staple at nail salons across the US and many parts of the world, and it’s easy to see why. Compared to traditional nail polish, gel variants are more resistant to damage and smudging and retain their shine until you remove the nail polish from your fingernails. Best of all, when you’re impatient, you don’t have to wait an hour or more for a gel manicure to dry. These benefits all come from the way the polish cures. Instead of waiting for a gel polish to dry naturally, place your hands under a UV light, which activates the chemicals in the gel and causes it to harden.
While the dangers of UV light – particularly in tanning environments – are well known, until this week scientists had not studied how the ultraviolet light used to cure gel polishes might affect human skin. You might think that what we know about tanning beds applies here, but the equipment used by nail salons emit a different spectrum of ultraviolet light. A group of researchers from decided to examine the devices after reading an article about a beauty pageant contestant who was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer.
Using different combinations of human and mouse cells, the researchers found that a single 20-minute session with a UV nail polish dryer resulted in the death of up to 30 percent of the cells in a petri dish. For three consecutive 20-minute sessions, 65 to 70 percent of exposed cells died. Among the remaining cells, the researchers saw evidence of mitochondrial and DNA damage, in addition to mutations seen in skin cancer patients.
You might think the advice here is to avoid UV dryers, but it’s not that simple. Gel manicures have become the industry standard for a reason. For many people, regular nail polish begins to chip after a day or so, so a traditional manicure is often not worth the time, money, or effort.
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