Many people make regular visits to a salon to maintain their artificial nails. Fake nails, which come in various types, can be a simple way to add a bit of glamour to your appearance. But you also can develop a fungal nail infection from fake nails, and you risk being exposed to harmful light and chemicals at the salon. Find out how to protect your nails against infection and avoid overexposure to certain health risks.

Types of Artificial Nails

The two most popular types of artificial nails are acrylics and gels. Both are used to lengthen, thicken, and strengthen your own nails.

  • Acrylic (or porcelain) nails adhere to the natural nail bed. The acrylic solution hardens and forms a seal after it is applied.
  • Gel nails are similar but can appear more natural than acrylics. The gel is applied in layers; an ultraviolet (UV) light is used to dry them faster. Gel nails typically last longer than acrylics.
  • Other types of artificial nails include shellac (a blend of the gel solution and nail polish) and silk nails (using pieces of fabric to help strengthen cracked or damaged nails).

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Are Artificial Nails Harmful?

Acrylic and gel nail solutions contain chemicals that could harm your natural nails and overall health over time. While these products may not cause short-term health problems, the application process may cause harm to your natural nails.

If acrylic or gel nails come loose, you could be at greater risk for a fungal nail infection. When the seal between the material and your nail is broken, a nail fungus can form in the nail bed. If you notice any discoloration on your nails, such as green, white, or yellow spots, contact your doctor.

Some people may have an allergic reaction to the products used to create artificial nails or to the solution used to remove them. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include redness and itchiness around the nail bed. Others may develop an eyelid dermatitis from allergies to chemicals in the nail polish or remover caused by rubbing their eyes.

Over time, repeated application and removal of artificial nails can weaken your natural nails, making them thin and prone to breaking.

Nail Salons and Hygiene

Many salons use UV lamps to dry nail polish. Prolonged exposure to UV light can cause skin cancer, but the risk depends on the frequency of your exposure. At nail salons, you are also exposed to a variety of chemicals, such as acetone in potent nail polish remover.

As with UV light, if your exposure over time is limited, your risk of developing chemical-related health problems is low. However, continual exposure to the chemicals and fumes at a nail salon can result in headaches, difficulty breathing, and rashes.

Treating Acrylic Nail Fungus and Infection

Improper positioning of artificial nails can allow fungus to grow. You also can develop a fungal nail infection if the manicurist uses unsanitary tools to apply the nails.

The symptoms of a nail fungus infection include:

  • Nail discoloration (often green or yellow)
  • Pain around the nails
  • Redness of the skin surrounding your nail
  • Itching

If you develop symptoms of a fungal nail infection, you should have the fake nails removed at a salon. Then wash your natural nails carefully with soap and warm water. If the symptoms do not improve after a few days, contact your doctor. You may need medicine to fight the infection.

Limiting Nail Damage

There are ways you can avoid an infection from fake nails or damage to your natural nails:

  • If you break or crack an acrylic or gel nail, do not try to fix it yourself. Return to the salon and have a professional repair your nail.
  • Research the nail salon’s hygiene practices to make sure they sterilize their tools or use new nail files after each customer. References from friends can help you find a good, safe salon.
  • Don’t try to remove artificial nails at home. You can damage your natural nails by trying to remove them yourself.
  • Finally, you may want to consider removing artificial nails every two to three months to give your natural nails a rest from the treatments and chemicals.

To learn more about nail health and safety, visit the Department of Dermatology at UPMC.

About Dermatology

The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.