advice: do acrylic nails pose health risks?

artificial nails are not only a fashion trend, they can also help nail-biters break the habit and boost weak and brittle nails.

serena williams is a big fan of acrylic nails
people often go for acrylic nails because of their durability and artistry. getty
dear asking for a friend,
i am wondering about acrylic nails — any health risks i should be aware of?
love my long nails
dear love my long nails,
when it comes to beauty, some people say the best finishing touch is applying your favourite lipstick. others swear by getting their nails done. and fashion has never been hotter for amazing nail art (if you’re looking at runway shows and magazine spreads).

acrylic nails, also known as fake nails, offer all kinds of art possibilities, not an option with shellac or regular manicures, says bridget ferguson, professor and academic coordinator of the esthetics and spa management program at loyalist college in belleville, ontario.

ferguson, who along with teaching, also develops the program curriculum for the college’s college spa, unwind , says that if you’re looking for the kind of creative runway nail sculptures and art, acrylic is the product to use.

what are acrylic nails, exactly?

“the term acrylic is actually a liquid and powder mixture that forms a hard coating onto your natural nail or onto a plastic nail enhancement tip that can be shaped and styled,” she says, adding that the mixture becomes a soft ball of product that’s pressed onto the nail and then sculpted into shape. “acrylic comes in so many different colours and because it’s such a hard surface, it can also hold metal nail art.” dangling nail hoops and charms are also popular add-ons.

celebrities are all over the trend, too, like pop queen rihanna with bold yellow smiley face acrylics and tennis star serena williams who likes orange acrylics painted with lightning bolts and lip kisses while she’s on the court, according to hello magazine .



beyond the creative aspect to acrylics for nail technicians and clients, another big advantage of acrylic nails is that even someone who bites their nails or has weak, peeling or brittle nails, can fake it. they’re very hard to chew off, says ferguson.
durability is another plus.
“if you think how soft the natural nail is, having this hard coating over the top looks great and helps protect from the outside environment,” she adds.

the down side to acrylic nails

there are some cons to acrylics that you need to be aware of. one is the time and money needed for maintenance — the average cost is about $50 for the first time and slightly less to refill, which needs to be done every three to four weeks.
“really, acrylics are are like dying your hair,” says ferguson, calling them a “full-time commitment.”
in addition to the cost and upkeep, there’s also a risk of infection from wear and tear. if your hands are in water often, or the hard seal gets broken on the acrylic and water gets under the surface between your natural nails, it can create the perfect environment for mould and fungus, causing an infection.

a 2020 review of nail health in women published in the international journal of women’s dermatology noted that acrylic nails can reduce the normal and healthy evaporation of water from the nail. so even if the hard seal isn’t damaged, the nail and nail bed can become excessively hydrated, making the nail bed more likely to separate from the nail plate itself (where you attach your extensions), and increasing the vulnerability to infection.



how to prevent an infection

according to healthline , the best way to avoid an infection is to have the nails put on at a reputable salon with safe hygiene protocols, dry nails thoroughly after they get wet, and avoid putting sharp objects under your nails.

some people can also have a reaction to the acrylic mixture used for the nail application, which is made from acrylates. known for their resistance to breakage, acrylates can also be found in adhesives, caulking products, dental materials for denture repair and soft contact lenses, according to the encyclopedia of environmental health . still, health canada reports the risk to human health from exposure to these substances is considered to be low.

despite the low risk, acrylic nails, however, are not done in the classroom or college spa because of the strong chemical odour, which can be irritating to some people, says ferguson. wearing a mask can help to reduce your exposure to the strong scent.
karen hawthorne is a toronto-based writer.
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