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Are acrylic nails unhealthy?

Acrylic nails are a great accessory, but there are a few caveats to be aware of if you choose to get them.
Acrylic nails are a great accessory, but there are a few caveats to be aware of if you choose to get them.

For the well-manicured fashionista, acrylic nails are a terrific option. Strong, durable and attractive, they can last for weeks, offering a worry-free accessory. And the nails themselves are usually harmless. However, you should be aware of several possible side effects stemming from their removal and application that can create health concerns.

First, the bonding adhesives -- and the solvents used in their removal -- have to be pretty potent to do the job correctly. Look, if you're having your nails professionally done in acrylic -- and the technician is using a face mask -- then there are some serious chemicals at play (many techs use surgical gloves for the same reason). It's even possible for clients to have an allergic reaction to either the nails or the solvents and adhesives, resulting in redness, itching, swelling or pain.

However, the most likely downside to these acrylic add-ons is infection, which can result from improper application, the technician using unsterilized tools, or the nails being jarred loose during everyday activities. If they separate from your natural nails, the pocket that can form is an open invitation for bacterial or fungal infection. Nail fungus (or onychomycosis) thrives in the warm, moist environment between faulty seals and can lead to deformed nails that are discolored, thick and rough. Left untreated, infection can also affect the nail bed and might even cause the natural nail to separate from the skin underneath.

The solvents and adhesives used in the removal and application process can also irritate the adjacent skin, especially for those who are hypersensitive, and can lead to dermatitis. Mayo Clinic dermatologist Dr. Lawrence E. Gibson encourages customers to tell the technician to refrain from trimming or recessing cuticles, which can increase the risk of infection. If you suspect an infection or adverse reaction, consult a dermatologist.

A less-likely possibility is that you could have an adverse reaction to the smell or the vapors of the adhesives and solvents. If you detect a strong odor, it should raise a red flag and might indicate that the salon isn't properly ventilated. And if you feel at all nauseous, get outside immediately and find some fresh air. Always make sure that your salon of choice is properly licensed (that license should be clearly displayed) and that each technician you work with is also licensed.

According to Gibson, customers can help ensure a safer experience by verifying that the technician properly sterilizes all the tools before treatment, and also washes her (or his) hands between sessions. Gibson also recommends insisting on a new nail file, or bringing your own, because they are difficult to sterilize. If you're at all concerned about a possible reaction, have just a single nail applied first. WebMD experts also recommend limiting artificial nail use to three months at a time, with a month between applications to allow the natural nail to recover.

When it comes time to remove your nails, err on the safe side, and have it done by a licensed technician.