From long tips to intricately curated designs, nails are and have always been one of the best beauty accessories. Lucky for us, these days we can now find our next nail idea with a Google or social media search. I spend hours scrolling through Instagram for inspiration and although I’ve become a press-on connoisseur, I still love the occasional full set of acrylic nails—as some designs simply last longer and look best with acrylic extensions.
We all know that acrylic nails can thin your natural nails, but did you know for some acrylics can cause allergic reactions? If you already knew this fact, you’re steps ahead of me. If you’re like me and had no idea, get ready to hear what makes acrylics an allergy culprit. I chatted with board-certified dermatologist, Hadley King, MD, to get the deets on how acrylic can affect our skin. And, if you’ve been finding yourself with post-nail appointment skin irritation, celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann offers a few suggestions that don’t require acrylics. Keep reading to learn more.
Meet the Expert
What Are Acrylic Nails?
If you’ve ever had a full set done, you know that nail techs use a powder and a liquid that form a pliable opaque gel they spread over the nail that hardens, creating a hard base that typically must be gently removed by soaking the nails in acetone.
So what ingredients are in the formula? Well, it’s pretty simple. “Acrylic nails are made from a combination of a liquid monomer and a powder polymer that form a paste which is bonded to the natural nail,” King explains. So now that we know the combo, what makes acrylic nails cause allergies? The culprit is likely methacrylate, a component of the liquid and powder mixture.
Can You Be Allergic to Acrylic Nails?
For a small percentage of people, methacrylate can cause an allergic reaction on the skin. Additionally, King reminds us that artificial nails can leave your nails thin, brittle, and dehydrated, while chemicals in the products used to apply the artificial nails can irritate the skin around the nails or cause allergic contact dermatitis.
This can be especially true if your nail tech is cutting around the cuticle. King says this common practice is a no-no even if you love the look after the skin is trimmed away. “Don’t trim the cuticles,” she advises. “Cuticles protect the nail and surrounding skin from infections.”
As an alternative to trimming the cuticle, try a liquid cuticle melter. I can personally vouch for Butter London’s Melt Away Cuticle Exfoliator. After two minutes, the formula gently melts away dry or overgrown cuticles sans cutting. I then follow up with a cuticle oil or cream.
Signs You’re Allergic to Acrylic Nails
Signs that you’re allergic to acrylic nails include:
- Flaking around the nail bed
What to Do If You Have a Reaction
“An irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis can present in the same way,” King explains. “A patch test can be done to confirm an allergic contact dermatitis.” If you find yourself with a rash or bumps that seem like an allergic reaction, King recommends scheduling an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist who can prescribe topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
Alternatives to Acrylic Nails
There are tons of alternatives out there that still offer an opportunity to express yourself through nail design that can last up to two weeks. Celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippman recommends gel or nail wraps as an alternative to acrylic nails. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the pre-application mani: “No matter what enhancement you choose, you should always have a full proper manicure before applying the enhancement,” says Lippman. So let’s talk about alternatives.
As I mentioned earlier press-ons are now my jam, and there are a wealth of independent nail artists offering custom press-ons that can be delivered right to your doorstep. Additionally, there are options from mainstay brands, too. And the best part? Each of these sets is reusable. Nail art, but make it eco-friendly.
Nail Polish Wraps
Nail polish wraps are an excellent alternative to acrylics as they offer unique designs and can be easily removed with nail polish remover. If you’re a first-timer, as with any nail service, you’ll want to start with a clean, oil-free base for the best application. Similar to press-ons, nail polish wraps offer a range of nail sizing in each packet so you can find your perfect fit.
Once you find your fit, applying the wraps is relatively easy, but there is one pro-tip you’ll want to keep in mind: When filing off the excess wrap file behind your nail. This technique will prevent you from filing off or chipping the design.
Gel Nail Wraps
Gel manicures are another ideal alternative to acrylics. However, if you are interested in doing your nails at home, gel polish might not be your first choice. But, we have a solution: gel nail wraps. Similar to the nail polish wraps above, gel nail wraps wrap around the nails; however, their ingredient makeup differs. While traditional nail wraps are made with nail polish, gel nail wraps are made with gel polish. The material is flexible, making it easy to mold onto different nail shapes and sizes. Like the gel polishing process, a UV light is required to fully cure the wrap making it a long-lasting nail care option.
The Final Takeaway
For anyone who has had an allergic reaction to acrylic nails or is looking for an opportunity to give their nails a break, there are so many options available. However, we want to leave you with one piece of advice from our dermatologist if you still love acrylics: “Leave artificial nails for special occasions.” Not only will this give your nails a break, but it’ll make your appointments with your nail tech even more special.