Are gel manicures safe? UAE doctors urge caution after study finds cancer risk

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UAE doctors have warned of the harmful side effects of widely used UV nail dryers after a new study claimed the devices could damage DNA and cause permanent mutations that may lead to cancer.

The devices use ultraviolet light to set gel manicures – a beauty routine used by millions of women worldwide – and for years researchers have suspected they may have dangerous side effects.

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Now researchers from the University of California San Diego and the University of Pittsburgh who set out to test the UV-emitting devices using cell lines from humans and mice have published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Damaging DNA

They found that chronic use of the machines can damage DNA and cause mutations in human cells that could increase the risk of skin cancer.

It revealed that after 20 minutes, 20 to 30 percent of the cells had died and after three consecutive sessions this figure had alarmingly risen to 65 to 70 percent dead cells.

But, the scientists caution, more data is needed before being able to state that conclusively.

Maria Zhivagui, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego, US, and one of the study's authors said: “At this point, I would recommend or advise people to just weigh the risk.”

In the UAE, doctors say while it is too early to know with certainty the effects of long-term expose to UV nail dryers, they are likely to have harmful side effects.

“Acrylic/gel nails are appealing and long-lasting; however, procedural damage builds up,” Dr. Swetha Dilip, aesthetic and anti-aging specialist at Cosmesurge Clinics in Dubai, told Al Arabiya English. “UV-A from the lamp ages the skin causing DNA damage and contributing to skin cancer.”

“However, strongly associating UV gel manicures with the prevalence of skin cancer is quite presumptive and needs to be studied thoroughly.”

‘Take precautions’

However the doctor says there are precautions to take for women who want to continue having gel manicures.

“Keeping everything in perspective, I advise my clients to limit their acrylic/gel manicures for special occasions and apply SPF 50 to their hands before their nail appointment.”

“Nonetheless, if you’re a habitual gel-nail user who goes every month for an appointment, I’d advise you to look up nail studios that favor LED lamps over UV lamps.”

UAE doctors have warned of the harmful side effects of widely used UV nail dryers after a new study claimed the devices could damage DNA and cause permanent mutations that may lead to cancer. (Twitter)
UAE doctors have warned of the harmful side effects of widely used UV nail dryers after a new study claimed the devices could damage DNA and cause permanent mutations that may lead to cancer. (Twitter)

Dr. Hinah Altaf, a specialist dermatologist at Saudi German Hospital Dubai, said she also has concerns over the devices.

“My teenage daughter is upset that we don't go for manicures together like her friends,” she told Al Arabiya English. “My concern as a dermatologist is that more than half of the nail problems that I see in my clinic are manicure related-be it nail fold infections, mechanical nail damage due to repeated aggressive buffing, filing and use of strong chemical solutions leading sometimes to irreversible damage to the nail plate.”

Manicures are not the problem, the doctor added.

“A gel manicure uses gel based polish and requires UV light to cure the polish and lock it into the nails.”

“It is proven beyond doubt that excessive UV light exposure over time is detrimental- leads to premature aging of the skin, sun spots and even skin cancer depending on the cumulative UV exposure.”

“Of course, the degree of damage depends on the intensity and length of time a person is exposed to UV radiation – meaning therefore that too frequent exposures to UV radiation should be avoided.”

The doctor said it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with manicures and associated UV exposure and to make informed choices about nail care.

Use sporadically

When asked about the dangers of UV nail dryers, Dr. T.C. Satish, a specialist dermatologist at Medeor Hospital, Dubai, said: “Should people be concerned? Yes and no.”

Gel manicures involves applying polish on the nail and setting it with a UV nail dryer.

Why should people be concerned?

“Because it is well-known that UVA radiation is carcinogenic,” the doctor said.

“Why no? Studies using UVA nail dryers have shown mutation and cell death in in-vitro studies, but whether that is true in real-life humans is still not established. Also, occasional exposure may be of little concern.”

The doctor continued, “It is to be noted that UVA radiation's side effects are cumulative, so repeated exposure is more likely to cause side effects, including cancer. The common side effect is, of course, skin aging.”

However, the doctor said there’s no need to panic but just be cautious.

“It would be wise to exercise caution as we still do not know the long-term consequences of UVA exposure during this gel manicure process.”

Dr. Satish concluded, “Unnecessary exposure to UVA radiation must be avoided. If occasional exposure is unavoidable, adequate precautions like applying a sun protection cream with SPF 50 and wearing fingerless gloves appear to be safe.”

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