Rajani Katta, M.D. (320x240)
Rajani Katta, M.D.

From picking out the perfect nail color to the soothing hand massage, a trip to the nail salon is meant to be a special experience. But it can turn negative when getting your nails done causes an allergic reaction or irritation that may even affect more than the skin around your fingers, says a Baylor College of Medicine expert.  

“There are three main issues that can arise when you're using nail products such as acrylic nails or gel nail polish,” said Dr. Rajani Katta, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Baylor. “You can develop damage to the nails, irritation to the skin around the nails or allergic reactions to the nail chemicals.”

A basic manicure consists of just nail polish. Artificial nails such as acrylic, dip powder, and some gel and shellac nails use additional chemicals called acrylates that are known to cause allergies in some people. Although these are applied differently depending on the type of artificial nail, all of these have the potential to trigger reactions. “Many of my patients don’t realize that even gel and shellac nails may use the same types of chemicals as acrylic nails,” she said.

Signs of allergic reactions to artificial nails are redness, itching or flaking around the nail. Sometimes people will even start to develop an allergic rash on the face.  If you find yourself having a reaction to your manicure, Katta suggests following these steps:

  • Remove the nails
  • Use a fragrance-free moisturizing cream to see if that helps with the irritation

If these steps do not work, see your dermatologist. Conditions such as bacterial or yeast infections may also cause redness of the skin around the nails, Katta said, and would require treatment. If the symptoms are due to  irritation or allergy to the nail chemicals, then there are prescription creams that can help relieve the skin inflammation.

While some people may experience an allergic reaction, it is far more common to develop irritation from these nail products or side effects from them such as weakening of the nail itself, she said. Nail damage from artificial nails may result in brittle or thinning nails.

If you want freshly manicured fingers, Katta says a good alternative is to just use nail polish.

“When you go to a salon for a manicure that requires you to put your hands under a special light, that is a sign that they are using these types of chemicals. Many people, especially those with sensitive skin, may be better off using simple nail polish. There are even special topcoats available to enhance your nail polish, without having to go through the actual chemical or acrylic nails,” she added.