The worse case scenario: you just got your nails done with some beautiful nail art, but you notice a rash is starting to appear. What should you do? Keep reading to know how to tell the difference between nail allergies and irritations, and what common nail products can cause them.
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Allergic Reaction VS Irritation To Nail Products
Any bad reaction to a nail product isn't pleasant. However, it's important to know the differences between a nail product allergy and an irritation. This will help you treat your condition and avoid allergic reactions in the future.
Here are the main differences between nail allergies and irritations caused by nail cosmetics.
Nail allergies develop over time through a process called sensitization. When you're exposed to the allergen for the first time, you might not feel anything at all. However, over weeks, months, or years of repeated exposure, you'll start to get reactions that get worse each time.
Allergic reactions to manicure products commonly result in a type of rash called atopic dermatitis or eczema. Symptoms appear as redness, dryness, and itchiness. In some cases, blisters can form.
Even though nail enhancement products are often only applied to the nails, this type of rash can also show up anywhere on the body. According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King, this happens because after getting a manicure, you can spread the allergen by simply touching other parts of your body.
Skin irritations caused by nail products are much more common. They happen due to overexposure (too much product used) or repeated low exposure. Symptoms like redness and blisters show up pretty much within minutes or hours of an irritant coming into contact with the skin. The rashes that appear are called contact dermatitis. They are localized, meaning that they only appear in the areas that have come into contact with the offending ingredient.
Why Skin Irritations Can Make Allergy Symptoms Worse
An allergy may become worse due to skin irritations because the skin barrier is weakened or broken. Our skin is a protective layer that prevents small harmful particles like bacteria from getting into our bodies. Once these germs get inside, our bodies start fighting off the invaders which results in an allergic reaction.
What Do Nail Allergies Look Like?
Although much less common, allergy to manicure products can happen with repeated exposure. Here are conditions to look out for:
Skin allergy symptoms usually start with swollen, red, and itchy skin around the nails. This increases the chance of infection or paronychia, which is when germs like bacteria and fungi get through broken skin. When this happens, the initial allergy symptoms will get worse, and pus can form.
Atopic Dermatitis or Eczema
As mentioned above, eczema (dry, itchy, red rashes) can form as a result of skin contact with potential allergens. And this isn't just in the spots where the products are used on the nails. Allergens can also be transferred to places like your face (including the eyelids!), neck, and anywhere else you touch.
A nail cosmetic allergy can also affect your nail plate. Some nail clients start feeling a burning sensation underneath their nails. This then turns into onycholysis, which is when the nail starts lifting off and separating from the nail bed. You can tell that your nail has separated because there's a noticeable gap underneath your nail. The lifted area can also become discolored, usually a whitish, yellow color.
Dip Nail Flu
This is the name commonly used to describe a set of flu or cold-like symptoms that result from allergy to the powder or liquid monomer used for Dip Powder Nails. Symptoms include watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, irritated lungs, nausea, headache, and lethargy.
A feeling of numbness or tingling sensation can be a result of developing an allergy to certain nail treatments. This often alarming condition is called paresthesia. It doesn't usually cause pain, and is described as being similar to the feeling of having 'pins and needles' in a limb.
Nail Polish Allergy Ingredients
Traditional nail polishes, also known as nail varnishes or enamels, can contain ingredients that cause allergic reactions. These potential nail allergens include:
A study by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group (NACDG) found that Tosylamide formaldehyde resin, also known as toluenesulfonamide formaldehyde resin, is one of the top ten ingredients to cause allergic contact dermatitis in individuals who are allergic to cosmetic products.
Potential Allergens in Gel Or Acrylic Nails
Artificial nails include the use of gels (hard gel, soft gel, and gel nail polishes) and acrylics on top of the natural nail (overlays) or to add length to short nails. An acrylate allergy is the most common with gel and acrylic nails.
These are the different types of acrylates found in acrylic and gel products:
Other artificial nail ingredients that can cause an allergic reaction:
What Is HEMA?
HEMA stands for hydroxyethyl methacrylate, and is found primarily in gel polishes. In 2018, it was named as a high-level allergen by the British Association of Dermatologists. HEMA allergies are usually associated with gel polish nails that are not cured properly. This happens when you're using the wrong lamp (too weak) or not putting your nails in the UV or LED light long enough.
Other Nail Care Products You Can Develop Allergies To
Here are some other items used in manicures that could increase the risk of allergies in nail clients:
What To Do If You Have A Nail Cosmetic Allergy
Whether you're having a nail cosmetic allergy or irritation, a well trained nail technician should be able to identify that something bad is going on. Good nail techs will keep a detailed health record, and a list of products used in nail services for every client. This is why it's a good idea to stick with the same nail professional instead of trying a new nail salon every time you get your nails done.
Depending on the type of allergy, your nail tech may or may not remove your nail enhancement before you go see a dermatologist or doctor. To combat inflammation and ease itchiness, you may be prescribed a steroid cream. In some cases, you may be referred to an allergist to confirm your allergy with a patch test.
If you find out which ingredient you are allergic to, you should avoid nail products that contain them.
Here are some products to check out:
How Do I Know If I'm Allergic To Nail Treatments?
Allergic reactions to nail care products will commonly show up as atopic dermatitis or eczema (dry, red, itchy skin). Allergies develop and get worse over time and can appear on any part of your body.
Can Gel Polish Manicures Cause Allergic Reactions?
Yes, some people can be allergic to gel manicures. This is more likely to happen if the gel gets onto the skin or it isn't cured properly (not enough curing time or the nail lamp is too weak).
Can Shellac Cause Nails To Fall Off?
It's rare, but it could happen if you continue to get your nails done even though you have an allergy to shellac or other gel nail products.