Is HEMA Free Gel Polish Better For You

Is HEMA Free Gel Polish Better For You?

What's up with HEMA free gel polish and do you need to make the switch? Keep reading to find out what is HEMA, and how it can affect the health of nail technicians, enthusiasts and clients.

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What Is HEMA?

HEMA is short for 2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate or hydroxyethyl methacrylate. In salons, this popular ingredient can be found in nail products such as gel polishes, soft and hard gels

HEMA is actually a really useful ingredient in the nail industry. Have you ever gotten a gel manicure that lasted really well? It's highly possible that HEMA was responsible for that because it helps with adhesion to the natural nail.

For those of you interested in the chemistry behind HEMA, let's talk about its molecular structure. Chemists categorize HEMA as a monomer, which is another name for a very small molecule. This molecule is so tiny that it can pass through our skin barrier and into our blood!

Is HEMA Bad For You?

HEMA is commonly used in nail products since it has the amazing ability to stick to our natural nails and help manicures last longer. However, there seems to be a recent influx of HEMA free products becoming available to nail techs and enthusiasts - So, what's up?

This increased interest in HEMA-free gel nail polish was brought on by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD). In 2018, BAD published a research paper naming HEMA as the main cause of an ‘allergy epidemic'. The claims were based on a 2017 study where they gave patients allergy tests for different types of methacrylate polymers found in things like nail products, adhesives, and dental materials. This is what they found:

  • 2.4% of their patients tested positive for being allergic to at least one type of methacrylate.
  • The most common methacrylate to cause allergic sensitization was 2-HEMA, also known as 2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate (1.5% of test subjects).
  • The second most common was HPMA, also known as 2-hydroxypropyl methacrylate (1% of study subjects).

In addition, a survey conducted by the BAD found:

  • Respondents who ended up with a bad reaction (like contact dermatitis) or nail damage from a salon included 19% who got acrylic nails, and 16% who got a gel polish service.
  • 26% of respondents reported that they'd applied artificial nails on themselves at home, while 11% felt that the instructions included in DIY nail kits didn't give adequate information.

According to Dr. David Orton of BAD, these findings show that artificial nail enhancements can cause allergies. He warns that it should be something that nail technicians, enthusiasts and clients take seriously. He also stresses that salons need to spend more time educating their employees on proper application techniques (avoiding getting any gel on the skin), and wearing the correct protective gear.

How Does HEMA Cause Allergic Reactions?

HEMA particles are very small, they can be absorbed into the skin and get into the bloodstream. While this won't affect most people, some peoples' immune systems will react and trigger an allergic reaction.

People with an allergy to HEMA may see the following reactions to their skin and nail plate:

  • Onycholysis - The nail plate starts lifting off from the nail bed starting from the free edge.
  • Contact Dermatitis or Eczema - Red, itching, swelling, peeling, cracking skin around nails, fingers and other parts of the body.

The downside of developing an allergy is that it'll never go away. Instead, reactions will get worse every time you are exposed to the known allergen.

Starting in 2021, all manufacturers of cosmetic products in Europe have to include the warning label ‘For professional use only. Can cause skin allergy.’ for any HEMA containing cosmetic products.

Here are some ways beauticians can protect themselves and their clients from allergic reactions:

  • Wear protective gear.
  • Get proper training and certifications.
  • Avoiding contact with the skin when applying gel nail products.
  • Curing gel products in an UV or LED lamp for the right amount of time.
  • Be able to identify possible irritation or allergy reactions.

Alternatives & HEMA Free Gel Polish

Luckily for us, chemists in the nail industry have been working quickly to replace products containing high levels of HEMA with different formulas. Here are some formulations they came up with:

  • Lowering the HEMA concentration by mixing in similar monomers - For example, a 50/50 blend of HPMA and HEMA to reduce the chance of reactions.
  • Attaching HEMA molecules to larger ones to create oligomers, which are too big to get into our bodies through skin contact.
  • Using alternative monomers such as Tetrahydrofurfuryl methacrylate. Try Vettsy HEMA-Free Gel Polishes.

?️ Use SUNDAYBEAUTY20 to get 20% off your Vettsy purchase!

How To Identify HEMA In Your Gel Products

First off, the ingredients list for any cosmetic product should be easily found on the label of their container or packaging. If it isn't there, a reputable company will provide you with that information if you ask for its MSDS (materials safety data sheet) or SDS (safety data sheet). These documents include important information about things like what chemicals are inside, signs of overexposure, and what to do in emergency situations.

In ingredient lists, HEMA can also show up with the following names:

  • Unbound HEMA - These are the small molecules that can penetrate our skin
  • 2-HEMA (2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate)
  • HEMA (hydroxyethyl methacrylate)
  • Bound HEMA - These HEMA monomers are attached to larger molecules that are too big to get into our bodies
  • Bis-HEMA
  • Di-HEMA

The higher an ingredient is listed, the more of it there is in the product. 

Also keep in mind that unbound HEMA is very cheap, while bound HEMA and alternatives are more expensive for the manufacturer. You can often see this reflected in the retail price. 

Conclusion - Is HEMA Safe To Use?

In low concentrations, HEMA is a very useful ingredient in nail gel products as it helps your gel manis stay on longer. If you're using the products correctly, and aren't experiencing any allergic reactions, then you can hold off on throwing away your entire gel polish collection! On the other hand, if you suspect that you or your client is allergic, experiment with a few HEMA free gel products first before making a bigger investment.


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About the Author Catherine

As a kid, I discovered the world of Japanese nail art through a magazine and since then, I haven't been able to stop thinking about anything related to nails! After following a more traditional educational path and earning my Bachelor's of Science in Food and Nutrition, I decided it was time to pursue my childhood passion. In 2015, I earned my diploma from Blanche Macdonald’s Nail Technology Program. After that, I got certified with YUMI Lashes and opened Sunday Beauty Boutique in 2017. These days, I'm focused on providing a 'no rush' experience to a select clientele, teaching as a nail instructor at Blanche Macdonald, as well as providing resources on beauty related topics to clients and estheticians on my blog.

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