Acrylic nails are an extremely popular modern-day fad. A 2013 study showed that over 10% of services given at nail salons are dedicated to applying acrylics. With more and more icons sporting new styles and designs of acrylic nails all the time — like Cardi B, for example — it’s safe to say this trend isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Yet, while acrylic nails may be a fashion statement — or even something cultural — a conversation about how they can negatively affect nail health is absent from popular discourse. People shouldn’t ignore the health effects of acrylic nails just for the benefits of beauty.
Revealing what acrylic nails actually are and the general process for applying them may lead to some practical questions about how healthy they really are. A search on YouTube shows videos showing the application process. First, an electric tool bluntly called a “nail drill” quickly spins around a rotating metal rod in order to file down the entire nail. This unnatural filing process makes the nail bed rough in texture so the acrylic nail will stick to the natural one.
Licensed nail technician Christina Stull talks about the dangers of nail drills and how even “reputable nail salons” will use them to speed up the process. She says that the harsh filing that comes from using a nail drill can lead to damaged nail beds and cuticles that greatly weaken the natural nail. In her post, she includes pictures of botched nails post-drill, some so damaged they look like paper. Personally, I’ve never been in a nail salon that didn’t use a nail drill in the acrylic process, and the ones that don’t can pose other risks, through chemical substances.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) brings up another health risk of acrylics — their actual chemical substance. One substance is Toluene, which is typically used in nail glue when applying acrylics. This substance can cause dizziness when heavily inhaled and is known to cause throat and lung irritation.
In fact, OSHA has even set legal limits as to how much Toluene nail technicians can be exposed to in a day, yet all the while, this chemical is being applied to customer’s nails and inevitably touching skin as well. Other toxic chemicals like Formaldehyde and Dibutyl Phthalate are commonly used in the acrylic process and exposure to them can lead to side-effects like asthma, dermatitis and more. Even removing acrylic nails involves soaking them in acetone, which is considered a hazardous waste material that’s extremely irritating to the skin.
Despite all of this, some articles claim acrylic nails aren’t unhealthy at all. One blogger says that as long as they’re taken off every few weeks to give the nails a sort of rest period, there won’t be any problems. The blogger also claims, “there are sites and professionals that tell you they aren’t bad if you take care of them properly,” but doesn’t offer a substantial article to back this claim. In fact, every reputable medical website online says the exact opposite.
The AAD recommends abandoning acrylics altogether and instead, opting to get gel nails, claiming the gel allows the natural nail to bend as it normally would with little chance of cracking. Yet, even with gel nails an acetone soak is often still applied. Mayo Clinic warns against acrylic nails but insists that if it’s necessary, major precautions should be taken beforehand, like making sure your nail technician is licensed. Whether or not someone chooses to get acrylics is a personal decision, but they should be made aware of the dangers in advance.
Josie Haneklau is a sophomore political science and psychology major. Contact Josie at firstname.lastname@example.org.