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Quick Tips: Acrylic Nails and Your Health

Acrylic nails are the perfect fit for anyone looking for the perfect sets of nails. Unlike a manicure done on your natural nails artificial nails are a cosmetic enhancement that won't chip or peel. If you're a nail-biter -- or just too impatient to wait out the one-tenth of an inch nail grown each month -- you can instantly have long, well-shaped nails [source: Robb-Nicholson].

Salon manicures can come with some unwanted side effects, from staph infections due to unsanitary conditions to a potentially higher risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer from exposure to UV nail lights. While artificial nails aren't bad for your health, they aren't risk-free.

Let's talk about infection first. When acrylic nails are applied, there is room for error -- in fact any extra room left between the natural nail and the artificial one is an open door for bacteria and fungus. Acrylic nails that become loose or start to separate from your natural nails, nails that are not properly cleaned and disinfected before artificial nails are applied (or reapplied) and even nails that are too long or not flexible enough can lead to bacterial or fungal infection in and around your natural nails. Natural nails become thicker and discolored and may appear rough or jagged as infection sets in. The nail application process, as well, could potentially damage nails, cuticles or the skin around the nail and increase your risk of developing an infection [source: WebMD].

If you have a history of fungal infections you're also at an increased risk of developing another. And infections are also more common in people who are undergoing chemotherapy, have poor blood circulation, have an autoimmune disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and pernicious anemia), or otherwise have compromised immune systems from disease or certain types of medications [source: WebMD].

Sometimes the products themselves, not fungus or bacteria, can cause a problem -- some people may find they have an allergic reaction to the artificial nails or to the adhesives used during application. The acrylic polymers used in artificial nails, most often ethyl methacrylate monomer, are listed as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel finds that for some people skin contact with methacrylates may cause an allergy to develop and those perfectly manicured nails to become swollen, red and painful around the nail bed [source: FDA].