Photo of a person getting a manicure and drying nails under UV nail polish dryer.

New Study Links Gel Manicures to Increased Cancer Risk. HICCC Experts Weigh In.

February 23, 2023
Headshot of Dr. Larisa Geskin

Larisa Geskin, MD, professor of dermatology (in Medicine) and director of the Comprehensive Skin Cancer Center in the Division of Cutaneous Oncology in the Department of Dermatology.

Getting regular gel manicures could come with an increased cancer risk. 

A new study, published in Nature Communications, links DNA damage and cancer-causing mutations to ultraviolet-emitting nail polish dryers commonly used for gel manicures. In light of this new research—and recent news headlines—experts at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center weigh in.

What do we need to know about ultraviolet-emitting nail dryers?

A type of ultraviolet light, called ultraviolet A or UVA, constitutes about 90% of the UV radiation that reaches the surface of the Earth. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply and cause less direct damage since they are poorly absorbed by DNA. UVA light is the type of UV light commonly used in nail dryers for gel nail manicures. When these dryers are used, both nails and hands are irradiated up to 10 minutes per session with UVA rays. 

Megan Trager, MD, postdoctoral dermatology residency fellow in the Department of Dermatology

What new evidence does this study bring forth with respect to melanoma risk and UV light nail dryers?

We already know from previous studies that UVA light is harmful. This study further highlights the dangers of UVA light in causing DNA damage and potentially cancer-causing mutations. It strongly suggests that radiation from UV-nail polish dryers may contribute to cancers of the hand, similar to tanning beds, and may cause early onset skin cancer.

Does this change any recommendations you have for patients regarding getting gel manicures?

We would recommend avoiding UV nail dryers completely and using alternatives to gel nail polish. Regular nail polish can air dry and does not require a UV light, and now there are longer-lasting nail polishes on the market that can last for up to 10 days (like gel polish). There are also new alternatives to gel nails, including stick-on gel nail strips and dip powder manicures for longer-lasting manicures. Although dip powder isn’t associated with UV damage, it does pose other risks including the use of cyanoacrylate, a type of adhesive, which can damage the nails and may cause irritant dermatitis in some people. 

How can people reduce their risk (if possible) while getting gel manicures?

People who don’t wish to give up gel manicures should apply mineral sunscreen containing zinc and titanium dioxide to the rest of the hands when getting a manicure and wear UV gloves with the fingertips cut off. We also recommend having fewer gel manicures done. It would be preferable to reserve having a gel manicure done for special occasions and regular manicures done in the interim.


Larisa Geskin, MD, is a professor of dermatology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S) and a member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. She is a leading expert in skin cancer treatment, research and prevention.

Megan Trager, MD, is currently a postdoctoral dermatology residency fellow in the Department of Dermatology at VP&S and focuses on general dermatology and cutaneous oncology.