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UV nail dryers and cancer concerns: Local dermatologist weighs in

A recent study shared that UV nail dryers used for gel manicures could be associated with a higher risk of skin cancer.

AUSTIN, Texas — Gel manicures have become a hot commodity because they are quick-drying and long-lasting.

However, the manicures' popularity could soon wear off as a study published in the Nature Communications Journal shared radiation from UV nail dryers can damage DNA and cause permanent mutations in human cells – which is linked to an elevated risk of cancer.

Dr. Olivia Chen, a board-certified dermatologist with Central Texas Dermatology, said UVA radiation is a higher energy radiation that goes through the atmosphere. Once it reaches the ground, it can transfer through glass windows.

"It can go through your skin to deeper levels, where it can cause DNA damage. And we know that the accumulation of these mutations in DNA over time can predispose to the formation of cancer," Chen said.

Although the study didn't observe real people, tests were conducted on human and mouse cells and the data showed the effects of chronic and acute exposure to UV rays. The data showed that after 20 minutes of acute exposure, 20 to 30% of the cells had died.

After three consecutive 20-minute sessions of chronic exposure, 65 to 70% of cells had died.

"Acute exposure and chronic exposure ... saw negative effects in both cases. Now, one caveat of the study is that it was done in mouse cells, in human cells. We don't have long-term human studies that show, you know, 10 years, 20 years out if there is a skin cancer risk," Chen said. "We really need those studies to say conclusively. But I think, you know, it's good that UVA light and tanning salons can contribute to skin cancer very positively. So I would say tread carefully."

If you decide to continue using gel manicures with a UV light, Chen recommends wearing gloves and wearing at least SPF 30 sunscreen. If you get gel pedicures, the skin on your feet can also be affected by UV light.

"Whether the sun is shining or whether not, [skin cancers] can form on the bottoms of your feet, they can form on the tops of your feet and the tops of your hands," Chen said. "So in the sun-exposed areas, it's important to think about, you know, the risk control that you have ... The data is not conclusive. These studies haven't been done in people, but they have been done in cells you know, human cells. And so, they have shown that these mutations occur."

Long-lasting nail polish options that don't require UV dryers include dip powder or old-school lacquer nail polish.

Chen said the best thing you can do to protect your skin is to start caring for it early. A lot of the patients she has seen who developed skin cancer experienced it because they didn't take care of their skin when they were younger.

Simple daily inclusions like wearing sunscreen SPF 30+ and reapplying throughout the day, in addition to wearing sun-protective clothing are all preventative measures that can help reduce your risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

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