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Artificial Nails Can Cause Allergic Reactions
By Alan Mozes

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Beauty has its price. Researchers have found that chemicals used in acrylic nails can in some cases cause an allergic reaction.

This can produce visible irritation of the nail folds, fingertips, eyelids, neck and other facial areas, according to S. M. Erdmann and colleagues at the University Hospital of RWTH Aachen in Germany.

In the June issue of the journal Allergy, the researchers describe two cases in which women who sought care for skin irritation were found to be allergic to acrylics used in artificial nails.

The investigators determined that the women--one a manicurist, the other a client--were allergic to a range of acrylics used in what is called the ``photobonding technique'' for applying artificial nails. This method involves applying acrylic to the nail and briefly exposing the hands to ultraviolet light to bond the artificially molded attachment on top of the natural nail.

The authors note that although artificial-nail sets often carry the label ``harmless when properly used,'' the acrylic chemicals they contain are well known for their ability to cause irritation when used in dentistry, orthopedic surgery and certain printing procedures and cosmetics processing.

Erdmann's team found that the chemicals to which their patients reacted were present in nail hardeners, liquids, gels and strengtheners. The researchers suggest that the chemicals can cause irritation when people are exposed to the airborne powder that is produced when filing bonded nails--as was evident in the case of the manicurist--or by inhaling acrylic vapors.

These cases, according to the German team, suggest that manicurists and their clients need to be made aware of the allergy risk associated with some artificial nails.

``None of our patients were aware of any sensitizing capacity of sculptured acrylic nails,'' Erdmann and colleagues note. ``Since nail cosmetics containing mono(meth)acrylates are strong sensitizers, both the manicurists and their customers should be aware of the sensitizing capacity of these compounds.''

``We do see allergic reactions to all kinds of nail products--to acrylic and sometimes even to nail polish,'' said Dr. Phoebe Rich, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. Rich told Reuters Health that customers should be aware that most allergic reactions occur in the facial area. ``We all touch our faces a million times a day, even if we don't think we do,'' she said. So consumers should watch for any stinging or burning as signs of a reaction.

Rich also noted that one substance used in artificial nails, methylmethacrylate, is prohibited by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because it is known to cause allergic reactions.

However, some nail salons may still use the substance, which is regulated by the state, not the FDA.

Rich added that while many people use acrylic nails and ultraviolet bonding with no adverse results, those that do experience problems often have a habit of getting artificial nails that are too long.

``I don't want to give the impression that they're inherently dangerous, but we see the most problems with nails that are kept too long because the artificial nail won't break and crack on impact. It's like a suit of armor and the force of a bump is transmitted to the underlying nail plate, which tears. Then bacteria and yeast and fungus get in there and cause problems. So keeping the artificial nails short is important,'' Rich advised.

SOURCE: Allergy 2001;56:581-582.


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