Acrylic nails are glued onto real nails with adhesive. While acrylic nails are generally safe, some people may have an allergic reaction to the components of the acrylic nails or the adhesive used to apply them. If you are allergic, your fingers can become red, itchy and swollen around the nail bed. While over-the-counter creams can reduce the discomfort from an allergy to acrylic nails, only removing them and avoiding future contact will prevent symptoms from recurring.
Acrylic nails and adhesives are commonly made from a chemical called ethyl methacrylate monomer. Even though ethyl methacrylate monomer has been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration, you can still have an allergic reaction to it. Another monomer, methyl methacrylate, used to be routinely used in acrylics, but was banned by the FDA in 1974 after complaints of fingernail deformity and damage, as well as allergic reactions. Even so, methyl methacrylate monomer can still be found in some acrylic nail products, especially in ones used in discount nail salons that do not use the more expensive ethyl methacrylate monomer.
Contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin caused by an allergic reaction to an irritating substance. Contact dermatitis from acrylic nails or their adhesives usually causes swelling, redness and pain around the nail bed. You may also have rashes and blisters, with peeling and cracking skin developing afterwards. Symptoms will typically appear within 10 days after getting acrylic nails for the first time. After the first contact, the symptoms will reappear within 24 to 48 hours after each exposure.
A dermatologist will diagnose whether you are allergic to acrylic nails by examining your fingers and asking questions about your use of acrylic nails and other possible irritants. A patch test may be done to definitively determine the irritant. A patch test involves three steps. Small patches of the possible irritant are applied to your skin. They are removed 48 hours later to see if you have developed a reaction. Your skin is then checked again two days later for a delayed reaction.
If you are allergic to acrylic nails, go to a reputable nail salon to have them removed, since improper removal can cause further pain and permanent damage. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, applying over-the-counter corticosteroid skin creams and calamine lotion will reduce inflammation and itchiness. Avoid any future contact with acrylic nails. See a dermatologist immediately if your fingers do not improve within two to three weeks, or if the condition worsens.