SAN DIEGO — A group of local researchers are questioning a common fixture in nail salons for its health safety.

The ultraviolet light-emitting nail polish drying devices used to cure gel manicures have been found to lead to cell death and cancer-causing mutations in human cells, according to a new study by University of California, San Diego.

Researchers found that in just one 20-minute session, the use of such devices led to between 20% and 30% cell death, while three consecutive 20-minute exposures caused between 65% and 70% of the exposed cells to die, per the UC San Diego study. Three different cell lines were used: adult human skin keratinocytes, human foreskin fibroblasts and mouse embryonic fibroblasts.

“If you look at the way these devices are presented, they are marketed as safe, with nothing to be concerned about,” said Ludmil Alexandrov, a professor of bioengineering and of cellular and molecular medicine at the university. “But to the best of our knowledge, no one has actually studied these devices and how they affect human cells at the molecular and cellular levels until now.”

Researchers found that the UV light also caused mitochondrial and DNA damage in the remaining cells and resulted in mutations with patterns that can be seen in skin cancer in humans. 

“We saw multiple things: first, we saw that DNA gets damaged,” Alexandrov continued. “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.”

While the study showed that chronic use of such nail polish drying machines is damaging to human cells, researchers add that “a long-term epidemiological study would be required before stating conclusively that using these machines leads to an increased risk of skin cancers.”