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:
In addition, a survey conducted by the BAD found:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.