A woman's hands in a UV dryer while getting a manicure

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What to know before your next mani-pedi.

Recently, my boyfriend’s mother received what I thought at the time was a rather perplexing birthday gift: a pair of gloves with the tips of the fingers cut out. These were not, as I initially suspected, an ’80s-inspired fashion accessory. They were designed to be worn exclusively while getting your nails done to protect your hands against the UV light used to dry your manicure.

I’d never even heard that the little lamps we hold our hands under after a fresh polish could be dangerous, but there’s a growing body of research that suggests they may pose a health threat — and could even be linked to cancer. Here’s what you need to know before booking your next appointment.

Unpacking a new study

A study published last month in the journal Nature Communications examined how the light from a UV lamp widely used in salons impacted the cells of humans and mice. The researchers found that about 30 percent of the cells died after 20 minutes under the lamp, and some of those that survived had damaged DNA. That damage looks similar to what’s seen in the cells of people with melanoma.

Scientists wrote that the results “strongly suggest radiation emitted by UV-nail polish dryers may cause cancers of the hand” and increase the risk of early-onset skin cancer. However, there’s still not enough data to conclude that it’s time to ban the gel manicure for good, Chris Adigun, a dermatologist told the New York Times.

“We can’t quantify the risk,” she said.

What we know about UV radiation and skin cancer

Ultraviolet radiation, like what’s beamed down to us from the sun and produced by products like tanning beds and nail lamps, are known to age and damage skin cells. Some forms of UV light have also been found to damage the DNA in cells, which in turn leads to cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, most skin cancers are caused by the UV rays in sunlight. And studies have shown that people who use tanning beds have a higher risk of developing melanoma, squamous and basal cell skin cancers.

How can you protect yourself?

Gel manicures, which require a UV or LED light to harden the polish and set it in place, are extremely popular because of how long they last. But you could always try a dip powder manicure, an alternative that will also keep your nails looking good for weeks, if you want to limit your exposure to UV light.

If not, Dr. Adigun recommends channeling your inner Madonna, and getting a pair of your own protective fingerless gloves before your next trip to the salon.

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