Gel Manicures may Trigger Cancer: Study

Results from a new scientific study suggest that nail polish dryers that use ultraviolet (UV) light to cure gel nail polish emit potentially dangerous rays. These rays may lead to cell death and cancer-causing mutations in human cells after only just one 20-minute session.


Researchers began studying the possible harmful effects of UV nail polish dryers after medical journals began reporting that people who get gel manicures frequently or who have high exposure to the UV light dryers like pageant contestants and estheticians (beauty treatment salon workers) are reporting cases of very rare skin cancers in the fingers, suggesting that UV nail polish dryers may be triggering this type of cancer.

Study overview

For the study, researchers used three cell lines: adult human skin keratinocytes, human foreskin fibroblasts and mouse embryonic fibroblasts. The three cell types were exposed to two conditions: acute exposure and chronic exposure to the UV light device using petri dishes of cells and UV curing machines.

Cell death, damage and DNA mutations were seen under both conditions.

The team found that in one 20-minute session with the devices, between 20% and 30% of exposed cells died. Three consecutive 20-minute exposures caused between 65% and 70% of cell death.

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

What is known about the gel manicure dryers

According to the study results, the UV lights in the dryers do damage human cells. (The dryers use a particular spectrum of UV light (340-395nm) to cure the chemicals used in gel manicures.)


“Our experimental results and the prior evidence strongly suggest that radiation emitted by UV nail polish dryers may cause cancers of the hand and that UV nail polish dryers, similar to tanning beds, may increase the risk of early-onset skin cancer. Nevertheless, future large-scale epidemiological studies are warranted to accurately quantify the risk for skin cancer of the hand in people regularly using UV nail polish dryers.”    -Study researchers

It’s not just gel manicures

Researchers say the same UV light is used for teeth whitening, to cure dental fillings and in some hair removal treatments.


Like the initial study findings years ago linking cancer to tanning beds, many more studies will be needed to make a definitive link between UV light gel nail polish dryers and skin cancer on fingers/hands.  Nonetheless, if you have a family or personal history of cancer you may want to minimize or avoid this beauty treatment until more is known.

Journal reference: Zhivagui, M., Hoda, A., Valenzuela, N. et al. DNA damage and somatic mutations in mammalian cells after irradiation with a nail polish dryer. Nature Communications Journal 14, 276 (2023). Study