Acrylic Nails & Toxins

Woman having manicure
Acrylic nails may look pretty, but toxins can pose a number of health hazards. (Image: Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)

Many women head to the salon for artificial nails for their convenience and beauty. The process requires a manicurist to apply artificial nail tips, using both a liquid and powder acrylic to bond the tips to your natural nails. Despite the attractiveness of acrylic nails, however, several toxins lurking in artificial nails can pose a risk to your health.

Process

Before acrylic nails can be applied, the manicurist cleans and files your natural nails. Once your nails are clean and dry, the manicurist selects artificial nail tips that match the width of your natural nails. She applies a liquid and powder acrylic, using a small brush to quickly blend the artificial nail tip and the natural nail. After the acrylic has been applied and the nail is bonded, the manicurist files your artificial nails to the desired length and buffs away any acrylic debris that may be left over.

Chemicals

While acrylic nails look pretty, they contain several chemicals that can pose a health risk. Although the FDA banned the chemical methyl methacrylate, or MMA, in acrylic nail solutions, some nail salons still use it because of poor regulation in the industry. MMA is known to cause respiratory problems, eye and skin irritation and neurological issues.

Toluene, a toxic chemical found in some nail polishes and acrylic nail glue, has been shown to cause respiratory issues, irritated skin, headaches and dizziness. Prolonged or repeated exposure to toluene may also pose more severe health problems, including damage to internal organs, such as the liver or kidneys.

Acetonitrile, found in artificial nail removers, can cause breathing difficulties and skin irritation. Methacrylic acid, used in nail primers, is generally considered safe in small doses but can cause a number of health issues, mainly respiratory problems. However, many people are sensitive to this chemical and may experience symptoms immediately after contact, including eye and skin irritation. Prolonged exposure can also cause more severe health problems, including damage to the kidneys and eyes.

Regulation

Both OSHA and the FDA monitor the use of toxic chemicals in nail salons, but it is ultimately the responsibility of each individual salon to inform their nail technicians about potential health risks and the proper way to handle these chemicals. Fortunately, OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard requires all product manufacturers to provide salon owners with a safety data sheet for all products that may contain dangerous chemicals. Additionally, this safety data sheet must also inform salon owners about the potential health risks associated with using the products; proper storage and usage tips; and a complete list of any hazardous chemicals in the products. The FDA also monitors the use of nail products in salons, and prohibits the use of any product that may contain harmful or dangerous chemicals that could pose a health hazard when used as directed.

Precautions

Whether you are a frequent wearer of acrylic nails or only get them for special occasions, be aware of the potential risks to not only to your natural nails, but to your overall health as well. To avoid permanently damaging your natural nails, make sure to have your acrylics removed by a professional nail technician at a reputable salon. Additionally, make sure your technician properly sterilizes all tools and implements to avoid a potential infection. Finally, limit your exposure to toxic chemicals found in acrylic nails by wearing them infrequently. While short-term wear isn't likely to cause any permanent damage to your nails or your health, wearing acrylic nails regularly can pose a significant health risk.

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