On behalf of Dr. Lawrence Jaeger and the medical staff at Advanced Dermatology Associates, we are extremely focused on ensuring optimum health is a choice for everyone. As the leading Dermatologist provider network in New York City, we strongly encourage both men and women to educate themselves with the proper knowledge and to seek the necessary medical care for decreasing the incidences of cancer. In this blog, we’re discussing the medical issues related to the potential dangers and risks from acrylic or artificial nails. An industry which grew to a record $7.47 billion this year.
Dangerous Risks – Acrylic, Artificial Nails
What Are Acrylics and Artificial Nails.
For starters, let’s define what are acrylics or artificial nails. For those who simply have no clue – acrylics are the fake nails placed on top of real nails, either painted a color of one’s choosing or covered in “fillings” — such as a white or clear powder substance. More-so like bi-weekly rites of passage for women and young ladies.
Now consider these two very important points.
- First, cosmetics and nail products do not have to undergo clinical trials before being sold on the market.
- Second – nail salons are not required to list ingredients on labels unless the product is available for purchase.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates nail products for both home and salon and considers nail salon services safe as long as they are administered carefully by trained and licensed nail technicians. The agency has stated that while many nail products “contain potentially harmful ingredients,” they are allowed on the market “because they are safe when used as directed.” But it’s really up to you to make sure that they are.
Ironically what goes into manicures and pedicures can be quite undefined and mysterious as the water your feet were soaked in. As we explore
Why the Deadly Causes?
Let’s just start with the basics, for many years, polish usually included substances known to be toxic:
- UV Light (directly linked to skin cancer)
- Acetone – Nail salons typically remove nail polish and artificial nails by soaking nails with acetone, ethyl acetate (a sweetish smelling “non-acetone”), or acetonitrile. No removers are considered safe for use.
- Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which adds flexibility to polish, is a toxin linked to feminizing effects in baby boys through breast milk, decreased sperm count, and other developmental and reproductive problems.
- Toluene, which helps stabilize nail polish color and creates a smooth finish, has toxic effects on the brain and spinal cord, and as a result it can cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
- Formaldehyde, which serves as a nail hardener, is known to be a cancer-causing substance as well as a skin irritant.
Literally all the chemicals used to apply artificial or acrylic nails are notoriously unhealthy and include offenders as resins and formaldehyde, which have been shown to cause cancer. Then add to the continuous use of these materials which can lead to serious nail breaks, infection and loss of the natural nail. The cost of unnatural beauty can be more damaging than you currently realize.
Since consumer advocacy campaigns targeted these “toxic three” in 2006, many major companies have excluded these chemicals from their products. OPI, Essie, Nail Tek, Orly, Sally Hansen, and Milani — among others — now advertise that their nail polishes are DBP-, toluene-, and formaldehyde-free. Some newer brands, including Priti and Karma, have never contained these ingredients.
MMA’s (Methyl Methacrylate) have been banned by the FDA for use on nails because of toxicity, some lower-end nail salons still use the toxic substance to cut back on costs.
But older products may still be on the market, particularly at discount stores. So be sure to only purchase polish that is specifically labeled as free of the toxic three.
Older products may still be in use at salons, too. Always ask your nail technician to use only products that are DBP-, toluene-, and formaldehyde-free. Better yet, bring your own nail polish: When the California Department of Toxic Substances Control tested a random sampling of 25 polishes from nail salons in 2011, they found that five of seven products claiming to be free of these three chemicals included at least one in significant levels. Most of the mislabeled products were brands available only at salons, not in retail stores
Are There Healthier or Safer Alternatives?
“The short answer is NO. Really there are no healthy alternatives to adding a false “coat of armor” to your nails. But creating a strong healthy natural nail base by using products free of formaldehyde or chemicals is the key.” stressed Dr. Lawrence Jaeger, a NYC Dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology Associates who specializes in nail disorders.
Artificial nail application is a popular service provided by nail salons, whether to strengthen nails or add length. Besides acrylics, there are now some newer alternatives.
- Acrylic nails: Made with a liquid acrylic compound called ethyl methacrylate (EMA), acrylics are considered safe if applied carefully to avoid skin contact. Redness and swelling can occur if the product comes in contact with the skin around the nails.EMA replaced methyl methacrylate (MMA) in acrylic nails after MMA was removed from the market in 1974. MMA was taken off-market due to risks including serious allergic reactions, nail infections, permanent nail deformities, and respiratory problems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advises that salons should not use products with MMA. Even so, some MMA is still in use because no regulation specifically prohibits its use in cosmetic products.If you can, ask your nail technician whether the salon still uses MMA. More importantly, be alert to tell-tale signs. MMA gives off an unusually powerful and noxious odor. Also, be suspicious of very low-priced full-sets and fills, since MMA is significantly cheaper than EMA.
- Gel nails, made with a gel resin and pigment, are less durable than acrylics, but they may be preferable because they don’t contain solvents. They also stay shiny and unchipped for significantly longer than a basic manicure.A nail technician paints layers of a thin, gel-like coating onto nails to create a flexible nail covering. Nails feel dry and smooth once hardened under a UV lamp. Like mini tanning beds, UV lamps emit rays that can harm the skin. Up to 10 minutes of exposure is required when gel nails are first applied and again whenever gaps are filled as the nails grow out. This repeat exposure over time can have a negative, unhealthy aging effect on the skin. UV lamps are associated with a higher risk of skin cancer and earlier signs of aging.Removing both gel nails, as well as acrylics, requires a soak in acetone after first filing off the top layer (to make acetone soak in faster).
- Shellac nails, yet another option now available at many nail salons, are similar to gel nails but require a shorter-term commitment. This gel-polish hybrid is applied like polish and cured under a UV light like gels. It lasts up to 2 weeks and is easier to remove than acrylics or gels — requiring a soak in acetone but no filing.While the chemical risk from shellac, as well as gel, formulations may be quite low, the harms posed by repeated UV exposure should not be underestimated.
- Minx nails offer a way to avoid many of the undesirable side effects of nail application. Available at many nail salons today, Minx are like stickers for the nails. After you select from an array of patterns or colors, a nail technician heats the flexible adhesive polymer and then presses it onto your dry nails, trimming each one to fit. There is no drying time, and the product is odorless. Minx nails last 1 to 2 weeks. They can be removed by heating the nails with a hair dryer and then peeling them off. Be aware that there isn’t any product safety information available for Minx nails, so no one really knows if any chemicals are released when the polymer is heated.
The takeaway here is a bittersweet and costly truth, which is seriously damaging to your health. There are healthier choices, but no shortcuts. Stop and think about how costly and medically damaging your nail beauty (vanity) is causing. If you suspect a nail infection, consult a dermatologist for an evaluation.
- The hard-to-clean area underneath your nail may cause your nails to be extra sensitive, especially if an MMA-based acrylic (Methyl Methacrylate) is used. Though they’ve been banned for use on nails because of toxicity, some low-end nail salons still it.
- Acrylics may create inflamed or itchy cuticles if the tools used to apply them are worn out or coarse. Be mindful of those which have sharp odors — this is a sign that something is off.
- Depending on your nail strength, acrylics may cause a splitting or painful nail plate. Pay close attention to how strong and think your nails are. Extremely thin nails may not be the best for acrylics.
- It might be hard to spot, but infection below the nail bed can become all too real. This also goes back to overused, worn out nail tools.
- Pay attention to your nail growth over time. Acrylics often weaken nails, making them prone to breakage.