For years, acrylic, or artificial, nails have been the answer for anyone who has longed for well-manicured hands. They don't chip, peel or crack, and you don't have to wait weeks for your nails to grow to have fabulous fingernails. Aside from time and money necessary to maintain acrylic nails, there can be some downsides, which usually involve nail fungus or an allergic reaction to the polymer-based substances in the product.

For most people, acrylic nails are a safe cosmetic enhancement. While it's unlikely that acrylic nails will harm your health, some people may notice that their real nails get tougher or become discolored [source: Gibson]. If this happens, simply remove the acrylic nails and let your fingernails grow out. However, there are some more serious consequences of having acrylic nails.

Some ingredients in acrylic nails are highly flammable, so they must be kept at a distance from hair straighteners, dryers or curling irons, as well as from heat and flames when cooking [source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration].

Infection is another potential health problem that can develop -- this is especially likely if you bump the nails or if they begin to separate from your natural nail. The moist, dark space between your nail and the acrylic is a perfect breeding ground for fungus and bacteria. You may not immediately notice the signs of infection because your nails are covered, so it's best not to leave acrylic nails in place too long [source: Gibson]. If your immune system is compromised in any way, perhaps due to drug treatments like chemotherapy, an autoimmune disease or a history of fungal infections or poor blood circulation, you're at a higher risk of developing an infection and may want to forgo acrylic nails [source: WebMD].

For most people, the risks of acrylic nails are minimal, so go ahead and indulge. To learn more about acrylic nail safety, check out the links on the following page.