The Risks of Acrylic Nails: 3 Ways They Can Make You Sick

Acrylic nails can increase your chances of infection. This can happen if a space develops between your artificial and natural nails. Additionally, both the ingredients and the application process come with some risks. 

If you’re asking yourself “can acrylic nails make you sick,” you’ll want to know all of the possibilities. Below, I will cover the potential for harm from the ingredients, application process, and everyday wear.

How the ingredients in acrylic can be harmful

The first risk of acrylic nails comes from the ingredients in them. Acrylic nails are a mixture of monomer liquid and powdered polymer. Most of the potential harm comes from the monomer liquids used. Some of the common monomers that have been or still are being used include:

  • Ethyleneglycol-dimethacrylate (EGDMA)
  • Ethyl methacrylate (EMA)
  • Hydroxypropyl methacrylate (HPMA)
  • Methyl methacrylate (MMA)

Of these, MMA is the worst culprit. It has been known to cause contact dermatitis since the 1940s. Luckily, it has been banned since the 1970s. Since this monomer is no longer in acrylic nails, everything should be fine, right? Unfortunately not.

Since MMA was discovered to be extremely harmful, other methacrylate monomers have been used. While they are not as harmful, there have still been cases where they cause allergic contact dermatitis. 

These monomers won’t affect everyone who gets acrylic nails. The reason people react this way is an allergy to the ingredient. Without exposure to said ingredients, it can be nearly impossible to know whether you have an allergy. Even after exposure, it can be hard to realize that the nails are causing an allergic reaction since the reaction does not always center around the nails. 

However, these and other ingredients can still be harmful without an allergy. Some nail products can contain formaldehyde, toluene, and other chemicals that come with their own risks. These can be especially harmful if inhaled. 

Potentially harmful aspects of acrylic nail application

The second potential risk of acrylic nails lies in the application process. Tied to the previous risks, there are a lot of chemicals in the air while applying acrylic nails. If precautions are not taken, they can cause dizziness, headaches, skin irritation, or lung irritation. 

Aside from chemicals–which are the largest concern during application–there is also some risk from filing nails. The dust created by filing natural nails in preparation for application can be harmful to breathe in. On the other hand, filing acrylic nails can release the earlier mentioned chemicals.

Another risk comes from the hardening process. Both acrylic and gel nails are set with UV lights. The lamps used give off UV radiation that can contribute to skin cancer. Thankfully, this is not quick or particularly common. That said it is something to keep in mind.

How acrylic nails can cause infection

The above risks are commonly known. What is harder to see and less known to those new to artificial nails is that they can promote infection. 

Nails, both natural and artificial, can accumulate pathogens underneath the nail. These areas are often neglected when handwashing. In a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers found that more health care workers with artificial nails had pathogens on their hands before and after handwashing than those without.

Another risk area exists between the artificial and natural nails. Normally there is no gap between the two. However, improper application and accidents can create one. This space becomes a prime breeding ground for bacteria, fungus, and yeast. 

These problem gaps can be hard to notice. Until an infection is causing serious problems it can be hard to tell if there is an issue at all. The pathogens that these nails promote can also be spread to others. This makes them a potential risk to yourself and others. This is why health care workers are discouraged from having artificial nails. 

Another contributing factor comes from trimming or pushing back the cuticles on your fingers. They are meant to protect the base of your nail from infection. Cutting them only increases the chances for infection to take hold.

Everyday risks associated with acrylic nails

Those are the three main ways acrylic nails can make you sick. However, there are a few more risks associated with these artificial nails. There are two potential everyday risks. One which is tied to the above risks and one that is not.

The first can arise when you hit your hand hard. In addition to any blunt trauma on your hand, you could open a gap between your fake and real nails. As discussed above, this is not a good thing. The other part of this is the risk of separating your natural nails from their nail bed. This is referred to as onycholysis.

This can be made worse as it is sometimes hard to tell what the damage to your nails is when they are covered by acrylic. 

The other risk is less likely though no less damaging. Acrylic nails are surprisingly flammable. If you get too close to a flame or source of extreme heat, they could light up. Stovetops, cigarettes, and candles are all common everyday risks.

What you can do to avoid getting sick from your acrylic nails

These risks to your health from acrylic nails are admittedly extreme cases. That said, there is no sense in being careless. There are a few things you can to do avoid getting sick from your nails.

  • Only go to licensed salons
  • Choose less toxic products
  • Don’t trim your cuticles
  • Set your nails with LED rather than UV light
  • Give your nails a rest between applications
  • Wear a mask when getting nails applied
  • Use products that can be removed from soaking

Licensed salons will be up to date on safety precautions and be staffed by professionals. Your manicurist will also be able to recommend safer nail products at a reputable salon. 

You should let your nails rest between sets of artificial nails. This will allow them to recover from the chemicals and any drying out they may have gone through. Let them rest a week or two.