Unless you happen to watch television shows like 20/20 or The Today Show, you probably don’t know that the artificial nails for which so many women have a penchant may be quite dangerous both to the women wearing them and the nail technicians applying them. The kind of facts the research show are the kind of facts that many manufacturers and salons would rather the general public not know. 

Like our skin, nails are porous, absorbing chemicals and compounds right into them. Each time acrylic nails are applied, women are exposed to the chemicals put directly on the nail beds and skin. Local salon owner, Erin Dawson of Inspirations Salon chooses to use LCN gel nails at her salon instead of the potentially dangerous acrylics. She states “Acrylic nails contain harmful chemicals that enter your blood stream every time you have your nails done.” These chemicals, such as formaldehyde and the resin used to apply acrylic nails, have been linked to cancer. Women who apply acrylic nails on a regular basis can be at risk of significant exposure to these dangerous chemicals. 

An increased risk of acrylic nails is the use of methyl methacrylate or MMA, a substance contained in nail adhesives which was banned by the FDA in the 1970s – a substance that continues to be used by many salons due to lack of regulation. Besides causing serious damage to the lungs, permanent damage can be caused to the nail. Extended exposure to MMA can result in complete loss of the nail. Compliant salons have replaced MMA with ethyl methacrylate (EMA), albeit a seemingly less dangerous chemical, one known to cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation. 

According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, acrylic nails are known to harbor a variety of bacteria and can aggravate nail bed infections. Besides being painful, these infections can require surgery and weaken the immune system. When the acrylic nail is removed, the top layer of the nail is often removed with them. Nails are damaged and weakened. 

Research surrounding the health risks to nail technicians applying acrylics is disconcerting. One Colorado study found six nail technicians diagnosed with occupational asthma –all of which applied acrylic nails. Other studies have found an increased risk of spontaneous abortion in nail technicians, leading some technicians to quit their jobs during pregnancy to reduce the risk. The chemical of most concern to pregnant manicurists has been acrylate (acrylic nail glue). Nail technicians diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma believe the chemicals used with acrylics to be the culprit. Studies have also found significance in the difficulties nail technicians exhibit with attention, memory, cognitive processing, learning and sense of smell. Air monitoring in salons has detected formaldehyde, acrylic dusts and vapors, dibutyl phthalate, ethanol, acetone and toluene. A majority of Boston nail technicians surveyed responded that the odors at work made them feel sick, specifically the odors associated with acrylic nail glues. Reported symptoms included headaches and skin and respiratory problems. It seems likely that what is hazardous to the workers themselves will also be hazardous to the customer.

For women have become accustomed, if not addicted, to the look of artificial nails, fortunately, there is a healthier alternative free of the formaldehyde and harmful chemicals in acrylics that break down natural nails. The technological breakthrough, Light Cured Gel Nails (LCN), uses a light cured resin to provide a stronger, longer-lasting and healthier nail treatment. The ingredients are gentle and safe enough to be used continually on natural nails. According to Inspirations Salon owner Erin Dawson, “These gels are strong and beautiful, with the look of what your nails would look like if they were your own. There are no plastic tips or glue applied. They are hand-sculpted nails with a natural brilliant shine that never dulls. They will never yellow or crack like acrylics, and you can expect 3-4 weeks before a fill in is necessary.” Other pluses are you won’t be inhaling toxins and the nails are much less prone to breaking and lifting. And because gel nails are non-porous, they actually protect the nail. 

Erin says “Have you ever wondered why the technicians wear masks and close the jars every time after a fill-in? They all know the stuff is harmful.” She adds that the reason most salons don’t offer LCN gel nails is because LCN gel nails are more costly to the salon. Fortunately, there are salons like Inspirations which don’t believe in jeopardizing the health of their customers in order to pay the bills. For Erin, the price of beauty is not worth the price of health. She says “The cost of your nail may be a little higher, but the integrity of your nail is our first priority.” However, when I checked the prices around town, the price of LCN gel nails at Inspirations is comparable to the price of acrylic nails in other salons. Only the discount nail salons which are generally considered less hygiene-conscious were lower in price for acrylics – perhaps the same discount nail salons that pry broken acrylic nails without soaking and cause permanent damage to the nail. 

As is often the case, Americans are behind the times. Approximately 90% of Europeans have already converted to gel nails. But beware; all gel nails are not alike. “Acrylic gel” contains formaldehyde. LCN is one brand that can be depended on to be free of harmful ingredients. 

When Erin Dawson decided to add nail care to the services offered at Inspirations Salon, she was determined not to offer products or services that would be harmful to her customers or staff. As she plowed through the research, she was dismayed to discover the poor hygienic practices of some salons and the risks involved in nail care. In the end, she chose only the best -- hospital grade disinfectants for the spa tub and nail implements, nail polishes free of dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, DBP and camphor. And not surprisingly, she chose to use LCN gel nails. It’s the only kind of artificial nail you’ll find at Inspirations Salon. 

Erin makes a good point when she says “If I found out tomorrow that I was diagnosed with a horrible disease, I surely wouldn’t think it could have possibly been linked to my nails.” Yet she adds, “It’s something we all need to think about.” Thankfully, there are a few salons like Inspirations that think about it for those who don’t.