Infection from fake nails

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 can fake nails cause fungus?

Find out the health risks of artificial nails and how to protect yourself against infection and overexposure to certain health risks. 

Types of Artificial Nails 

There are a variety of different kinds of fake nails. They include:

  • Acrylics (or porcelain): These nails adhere to the natural nail bed. The acrylic solution hardens and forms a seal after it is applied. The nails may then be filed, sanded, and polished.
  • Gels: Can appear more natural than acrylics. The gel is applied in layers, like nail polish; an ultraviolet (UV) light is used to dry them faster. Gel nails typically last longer than acrylics. 
  • Shellac: A blend of the gel solution and nail polish. 
  • Silks: Pieces of fabric that can help strengthen cracked or damaged nails. 

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

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What Causes Fungus Under Fake Nails? 

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. 

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.  

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.

Some potential health risks of fake nails include: 

  • Allergic reaction: Redness and itchiness around the nail bed are symptoms of an allergic reaction to the products used to create artificial nails and nail polish remover solution.
  • Eyelid dermatitis: This may occur from allergies to chemicals in the nail polish or remover caused by rubbing your eyes. 
  • Weakened natural nails: Overtime, repeated application and removal of fake nails can make your natural nails thin and prone to breaking. 
  • UV light exposure: While the risk depends on the frequency of your exposure, prolonged exposure to UV light (typically found in lamps to dry gel nail polish) can cause skin cancer.  
  • Chemical exposure: Continued exposure to the fumes at a nail salon can result in headaches, difficulty breathing, and rashes. 

What are the Symptoms of Nail Fungus? 

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.  

How to Treat Fungus from Fake Nails 

Before contacting your doctor, there are a few home remedies you can try to resolve your fingernail fungus on your own. These include: 

  • Soaking your finger in warm water and vinegar. Vinegar has an acid in it that can help prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. Use a 2:1 ratio of water to vinegar. 
  • Applying oregano oil with a cotton swab twice a day. 
  • Soaking your finger in original Listerine mouthwash for 30 minutes. 
  • Applying a small amount of Vicks VapoRub once a day.  

If symptoms aren’t improving after a few days of these home remedies, it is time to contact your doctor.

Your health care provider will probably prescribe an oral medication called terbinafine. This medication may need to be taken continually over several months. Your doctor may prescribe other antifungal medicine, such as amorolfine or Loceryl 5% nail lacquer. These should help clear the fungus over time. 

How to Prevent Fungus from Artificial Nails 

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

  • Don’t fix broken or cracked nails yourself: Returning to the salon and having a professional repair your nail instead trying to fix the nail by yourself reduces your risk of developing a fungus. 
  • Research your nail salon’s hygiene practices: Make sure they sterilize their tools or use new nail files after each customer. Sanitary tools help reduce your risk of infection. 
  • Remove artificial nails every two to three months: This will 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.