But their rise in popularity is proving to be a cause for concern for dermatologists, who have this week issued a warning that (meth)acrylate chemicals, the key ingredients in acrylic nails, gel nails and gel polish nail varnish, are causing an 'allergy epidemic' in the UK and Ireland, which is "overwhelmingly affecting women."
The 2017 study, conducted by the British Association of Dermatologists, found that allergic reactions are likely to happen when uncured (still wet) substances touch the skin, and that they can involve "the nails loosening, or a severe red, itchy rash, not just on the fingertips, but potentially anywhere on the body that has come into contact with the nails, including the eyelids, face, neck and genital region".
The study took three types of nail enhancements into consideration: gel nails, acrylic nails, and gel polish. It involved 4931 people from 13 UK and Irish dermatology units and tested them for (meth)acrylate allergy. It found that 1.5% tested positive to 2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate (2-HEMA), the most common (meth)acrylate to cause allergic sensitisation, and 2.4% tested positive to at least one type of (meth)acrylate. It also concluded that women made up 93% of those affected.
Out of 742 people, 19% of those had "experienced adverse effects from acrylic nails applied in salons, and 16% from gel polish nails applied in salons.
The findings might seem negligible, but they are backed up by a separate survey conducted by the British Association of Dermatologists, with the help of Stylfile. The research concluded that out of 742 people, 19% of those had "experienced adverse effects from acrylic nails applied in salons, and 16% from gel polish nails applied in salons". According to the survey, the reactions included "nail damage and allergic dermatitis - itching and swelling on hands, eyelids, cheeks and neck". Although very rare, the study pinpointed breathing problems as an issue, too.
“It is really important that people know they can develop allergies from artificial nails," explained Dr David Orton, of the British Association of Dermatologists. "The truth is that there will be many women out there with these allergies who remain undiagnosed, because they may not link their symptoms to their nails, especially if the symptoms occur elsewhere on the body. It is important that they get a diagnosis so that they can avoid the allergen, but also because developing an allergy to these chemicals can have lifelong consequences for dental treatments and surgeries where devices containing these allergens are in common use."
Dr Deirdre Buckley, from the Royal United Hospital Bath, President of the British Society of Cutaneous Allergy and the consultant dermatologist leading the initial study added, “Although the rate of allergy to (meth)acrylates is continuing to increase, many doctors are unaware of the issue, and these chemicals are not routinely included in patch tests. We are now recommending that all dermatologists patch test for (meth)acrylates routinely."
The findings include at-home kits too. "We would particularly urge people to be careful when using home kits," continued Dr. Buckley. "If you do use one, make sure that you use the recommended UV lamp for curing, and read the instructions carefully. Using the wrong lamp may mean that the gel polish does not cure properly, and this means an increased chance of allergy. Also, avoid any direct skin contact with the (meth)acrylate nail product.”
If you're worried or experiencing any of the above allergy symptoms, book an appointment with your GP or an experienced dermatologist, who can advise you further.