Not to be fawning, but a good manicure can be mood changing. I’m a fan of almond-shaped nail extensions and shiny gel polishes. So it’s a little surprising that this is my second article this year exploring the harmful effects of these enhancements on the skin and nails. But I have good reasons. Ever since I’ve started taking breaks between nail appointments, I’ve not only noticed that my nails are less prone to breakage but have also the skin around my nails is also healthier. Thus, my curiosity.
So to understand the adverse effects of nail extensions, I spoke with Dr Sravya Tipirneni Reddy, dermatologist and trichologist, and Dr Kiran Sethi, MD Skin and aesthetic Specialist, Founder of Isya Aesthetics and Author of Skin Sense. With every question I asked these experts, it became clearer to me that despite their beautiful cover, a careful approach must be taken. So read on:
What’s The Damage?
Nail extensions might not be damaging if they’re done once in a while from reputed salons. However, it is important to know that frequent sessions can put nail health at certain risks that demand attention and consideration.
Dr Sravya highlighted that while nail extensions, when applied and maintained correctly, can be relatively safe, there are inherent risks. “The space between the natural nail and extension can trap moisture, creating a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Improper sanitation during application or removal can further increase this risk,” she says.
She further explains that allergic reactions to adhesives or materials used in extensions can result in redness, swelling, itching and even blisters. “Though occasional use may not have lasting consequences, frequent or long-term wear of nail extensions can lead to weakened nails and nutritional deficiencies as the artificial barrier created by extensions may hinder the natural absorption of nutrients from the nail bed,” she adds.
Ingredients To Watch Out For
Dr Kiran expresses similar concerns about the dangers of prolonged use of nail extensions. She warns against ingredients like formaldehyde derivatives found in some nail products that pose additional health risks, including potential allergic reactions and, in extreme cases, even an increased risk of cancer. She says, “For those with allergies that show up around the eyes, nail paints or extensions are not for them.” Dr Sravya additionally talks about Methyl Methacrylate, a banned substance in many countries due to its potential to cause allergic reactions and even permanent nail damage.
UV lamps, used to harden gel polish either on the nail or nail extensions, emit UVA rays that are also emitted by the sun. Although there is limited research and no conclusive evidence for this, researchers at UC San Diego say that exposure to UV lamps can cause cell death and potentially irreversible damage to the DNA. These UVA rays destroy collagen and are associated with skin cancer. On the more physical front, they cause photoaging of hands by wrinkling, thinning and sagging the skin.
Care & Alternatives
Dr Kiran emphasises the importance of going to a hygienic place, using sterilised nail instruments and ensuring you maintain nail extension breaks. Additionally, she advises using nail-strengthening products like Foltene Nail Rescue Treatment and petrolatum jelly on and around the nails during these breaks.
Dr Sravya suggests keeping the extensions clean and dry and having them professionally removed instead of picking or biting them off on your own. She also suggests a few alternatives to nail extensions for those looking at achieving the look without ensuring the damage:
Gel or Acrylic overlays: These apply directly to the natural nail, providing a thin layer of protection and enhancing length and strength.
Hardening polishes: Formulated with strengthening ingredients, these can help promote natural nail growth and prevent chipping.
Press-on nails: High-quality press-on nails can offer a temporary length and style boost without the risks associated with extensions.
Nail Wraps: Nail Wraps are high-shine stickers that adhere to the nail, can be filed down and give the appearance of a fresh manicure.