Acrylic nails are made from a special paste that bonds to your natural nail. It can make your nails look longer and thicker—and open the door for eye-catching manicures and nail art that won’t chip for weeks.
However, there are horror stories of allergic reactions, infection, or even an entire nail breaking off. This has made people ask, “Can acrylic nails damage your nails or cause other nail problems? Are they safe to use?”
Acrylic nails are completely safe, and do not pose any more risk than other artificial nail products. The problem occurs when they are improperly applied or removed.
What mistakes can cause acrylic nail damage?
Even the safest product will cause damage if it’s not used properly. Unfortunately, many people will try all sorts of acrylic nail hacks or DIYs they see on the Internet, completely ignoring the manufacturer’s instructions or basic techniques.
This is the most common mistake that can lead to acrylic nail damage. If you remove too much of your nail surface, or use the nail file at the wrong angle, you could create weak spots where irritation can occur. This is typically called “rings of fire” or red areas at the bottom of your nail.
Be sure to only lightly buff the nail in just one direction. If it’s a new file, stroke the edges to remove any sharp corners.
Overfiling is bad enough, but the risk of nail damage increases if you also happen to use an acrylic nail formula that includes methyl methacrylate (MMAs). This polymer isn’t really safe to use on the nail plate.
If you’re new to acrylic nails, pick formulas that contain safer monomers or ethyl methacrylate (EMAs).
To prevent irritation and infection, prepare the nail before applying any kind of color. First, wipe your hand and nails with an anti-bacterial spray and a piece of cotton or tissue. You can also soak your nails in an anti-bacterial solution, which can also soften the cuticle.
Then, apply a pre-primer to remove any moisture (avoid the skin, especially if it contains an acid).
Make sure that your work surface is clean, and that you’ve sterilized any manicure tools that you’ll be using.
Needless to say, if you’re going to a nail salon, be sure that they also follow hygiene protocols whenever do any kind of treatment.
Forget the supposed acrylic nail hacks of using dental floss or a credit card to peel off an acrylic nail. And please stop yourself from chipping it off with another nail—even if it’s an absent-minded habit. The only safe way to remove acrylic nails is to us an acetone-based solvent.
How can I prevent acrylic nail damage?
While acrylic nails are safe, just like any other nail polish it does contain chemicals. So, to prevent nails from becoming yellow, brittle or weak, you need to take a few precautions.
Refresh your acrylic nails after four weeks
Acrylic nails can go for several weeks without showing signs of chipping—that’s one of the reasons why people like them over regular manicures.
That said, don’t wait until they’re completely worn down before you go back to have them refreshed or filled in.
One nail expert uses the analogy of a see-saw. When acrylic nails are newly applied, the weight is evenly distributed across both ends. Over time, the weight shifts and becomes imbalanced. While you won’t particularly notice it, the uneven pressure of old acrylic nails can damage nails.
That’s why it’s best to redo your nails after 4 weeks, even if they still look fresh. Go back to the salon, or follow an expert tutorial on how to safely remove them at home.
Use an LED curing light
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, an LED light emits less radiation and dries the polish faster than a UV curing light. The lower radiation levels and the shorter exposure time is safer for your nails and the skin around your hands.
Go to a reputable nail salon
A good nail salon will properly train nail technicians on how to apply and remove acrylic nails properly, and will use high-quality formulas and curing lamps. There’s less of a risk of overfilling and over drilling, which is the biggest cause of weak or peeling nails.
It’s worth spending a little extra for a reputable place that takes extra steps to prevent infection and irritation, rather than an unknown salon with questionable practices.
Take a break from acrylic nails
It’s wise to give your nails a chance to go bare between acrylic nail sessions. After you’ve removed the acrylic nails, go for a month without using any kind of nail polish.
Instead, trim your nails as short as you can, and then add a coat of clear nail strengthener or nail growth serum.
You can also make a DIY “nail spa” treatment by mixing three tablespoons of olive oil with one tablespoon of lemon juice. Soak your nails in this solution for 15 minutes and then wash off. This can help counteract yellowing and staining, especially if you have used dark nail polish.
Apply cuticle oil frequently
Cuticle oil will help moisturize not just cuticles but the skin around the nails. Apply several times in the day. Keep one or two bottles in accessible places, like in your desk drawer or bedside table, so you never forget to give your nails some TLC.
Speaking of cuticles, it’s better to use cuticle oil to keep them soft rather than to cut them away. Cuticles serve an important purpose of protecting the nail bed, so trimming them can increase risk of infection and irritation when you’re using acrylic nails.
Wear gloves when you clean or do dishes
If your nails are already weak or brittle, then you’re more prone to getting damage from acrylic nails. Keep them healthy by preventing unnecessary exposure to water and chemicals. Wear gloves when you wash dishes, do laundry, or use cleaning products.
Keep your nails healthy and beautiful
Acrylic nails won’t damage your nails, if you take proper steps to keep your nails strong and healthy, and follow the best practices for applying and removing acrylic nails.