Woman with fake nails

Are fake nails worth it?

The promise of acrylic nails seems so sweet – more permanent than a regular polish, easy to maintain and a way to strengthen and lengthen those short, 'ugly' natural nails – but the side effects can be scary. Here's everything you need to know about gel and acrylic nails.

What woman doesn't want long, beautiful nails? As we can see by the success of the artificial nail industry, women are not only willing to shell out big money for gel and acrylic nails, they're also sometimes willing to compromise their health.

As with most things cosmetic, the side effects of artificial nails are something you may want to consider seriously before engaging your manicurist in the art and science of these two severely synthetic nail treatments.

What's the big deal?

Well, first, the chemicals used to apply acrylic nails are notoriously unhealthy and include such offenders as resins and formaldehyde, which have been shown to cause cancer. Exposure to these chemicals through your nails over a long period of time can result in complete nail loss by destruction of the nail matrix.

Also, an artificial and natural nail has a much stronger bond than the one between a real nail and nail bed. If the nail rips from the nail bed, that gap, or space, provides a rich, moist, warm environment for bacteria and fungi (e.g., an infection) to grow. Prolonged time on the nail allows infections to worsen. With acrylics, the opposite – drying out of natural oils – can occur, which can cause damage and splitting. Rigidly adhered acrylics may also lead to serious nail breaks, infection and loss of the natural nail.

Allergic reactions have also been reported with acrylic nails, resulting in serious inflammation and thinning of the beds. The healing time, resulting in pain and sensitivity, can last more than a year.

Food for thought: Some hospitals don't allow employees to wear artificial nails due to the risk of infection to patients. What's even more eye-opening? Several deaths of premature infants in the late '90s were blamed on an acrylic nail infection transmitted by a nurse!

Also beware, some disreputable nail salons are using a poisonous and illegal substance called MMA in their nail adhesives. MMA (Methyl Methacrylate) can cause serious damage to the lungs as well as permanent damage to your natural nails.

MMA is an ingredient sometimes found in liquid monomers used to make artificial nail enhancements. MMA is considered a safe ingredient for dental prostheses but a health hazard in the salon.

Clients must be warned of the risks associated with MMA including severe allergic reactions, permanent loss of sensation in the fingertips, nail damage, deformities and respiratory problems with eye, nose and throat irritation.

The FDA classifies MMA as "a poisonous and deleterious substance" and has deemed it unsuitable for salon use. Even with this knowledge, some salons still use liquid monomers containing MMA.

I'm sticking with natural

Some all natural, eco-friendly nail polishes can now give you an amazing look. If you take good care of your nails and give yourself a weekly manicure, you can achieve the look of artificial nails without compromising your health. I highly recommend:

SpaRitual: A pioneer in the non-toxic nail business

DBP (dibutyl phthalate) is a plasticizing ingredient that is banned for use in cosmetic products in the European Union (the U.S. is behind the times) but can be found in everything from polishes to skin creams. DBP is a potential developmental and reproductive toxin that has been shown to cause a broad range of birth defects.

SpaRitual is 100 percent DBP-free and uses a safe, effective plasticizing alternative. As a bonus, its products are paraben-free, formaldehyde-free, toluene-free, cruelty-free and vegan. Also, whenever possible, SpaRitual uses organic or wildcrafted essential oils in its formulas.

Wildcrafted plants are carefully harvested from their natural habitat to ensure that the remaining wild crops will thrive. Organic plants are grown without synthetic herbicides, pesticides or GMOs.

Choosing organic beauty products >>

Priti non-toxic polishesPriti NYC: Offers the first line of non-toxic nail polishes for children! How cool is that?!

Priti Princess nail polishes come in eight milliliter bottles (as opposed to the 12 milliliter size of a standard nail polish), which is perfect for the hands of tiny fashionistas.

Priti polishes are all non-toxic and toluene-free, DHB-free and formaldehyde-free. Priti has a great soy nail polish remover that is not only 100 percent biodegradable, non-toxic and non-carcinogenic but is also housed in an apothecary-style bottle that is completely recyclable and reusable. Check out the ingredient glossary here!

And if your nails need the strengthening that acrylics promise, check into these recommended natural supplements, the best for general nail health: Biotin, Silica, L-Cysteine, B-Complex vitamins and, believe it or not, pre-natal vitamins, which are beefed up in just the vitamins your hair and nails need for extra TLC.

Expert Suki Kramer founded suki® clinically-proven natural solutions® skincare with a commitment to education, empowerment and 100 percent natural beauty products that work like they should. She has found loyal followers in some of Hollywood's hottest green enthusiasts like Alicia Silverstone, Courteney Cox and Julianne Moore and top celebrity makeup artists Jenna Hipp (renowned green nail stylist) and Pati Dubroff.

More nail tips

Top 10 tips to prevent and repair dry, damaged nails
Would you put Diet Coke on your nails?
Eat your way to better hair, skin and nails


Recommended for you


Comments on "The health dangers of artificial nails"

Emily - Nail technician March 18, 2014 | 12:31 PM

I am a nail technician by trade and it doesn't matter how much oil you use around the cuticle area and on the nail, you will still not be able to kill the infection be that a fungal in fiction or any infection to be honest. even if you get the slightest bit of lifting with a false nail extension your natural nails are vulnerable and will be more prone to infection. Lifting can occur from many different factors, some nail types will not agree with the acrylic, another reason for this may be the the technician that has done your nails has not prepped them properly (making sure that the natural nail bed is fully dehydrated.) as soon as the artificial nail has lifted, it will then cause a lot of moisture to build up (acrylic nail are never very suitable for people with jobs such as hairdressers, as water can get trapped and cause infections). If you believe that you are getting an infection under your nail extension the best thing to do will be to go back to your nail technician and ask them about your nail concerns, whatever it may be, they will then give you the best option. I would always recommend to my clients that if they have an infection, that they should have their nail removed and wait for the infection to grow out. although this usually takes between 4-8 weeks depending on how quickly you caught the infection. then it is best if you don't get any type of extension until they fully grow out.

Maggie March 18, 2014 | 8:31 AM

Sounds like a fungal infection. Apply 100% pure tea tree oil to it twice a day. Be sure you drop it onto the nail so that you don't infect the bottle. ( You can but pure tea tree oil at any haelth store. )

candy March 05, 2014 | 6:52 PM

I was wearing the store bought nails with the little tube of glue, for about 2 weeks. after removing them, 4 of my fingernails have turned partially black. I don't know what to do about it. But I threw those nails away 5 minutes ago! They don't hurt, I wouldn't have even known about it until I removed them. I would love some input on what to do about this problem please.

+ Add Comment

(required - not published)