Dermatologists warn about gel nail ‘allergy epidemic’

Gel and gel polish nail manicures use polishes that are hardened under UV light and are popular for their long-lasting results (Peter Byrne/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The trend for gel and acrylic nail polishes is causing an “allergy epidemic” in the UK and Ireland, dermatologists have warned.

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) said an audit of 13 dermatology units last year found that 2.4% of people tested had an allergy to at least one type of (meth)acrylate chemicals, the key ingredients in acrylic nails, gel nails and gel polish nails.

It said these chemicals were “causing a contact allergy epidemic in the UK and Ireland”.

A separate survey of 742 people attending dermatology clinics found that almost one in five respondents (19%) had experienced adverse effects from acrylic nails applied in salons, while 16% suffered from a reaction to a salon gel polish treatment.

Gel and gel polish nail manicures use polishes that are hardened under UV light and are popular for their long-lasting results. Gel nails are physically buffed off and gel polish nails need to be removed by soaking in acetone.

Acrylic nail paste is applied and left to harden by exposure to air, and is also removed by soaking in acetone.

The BAD said sensitisation happened when the uncured chemicals came into contact with skin, and was most likely to occur when people applied a product themselves or if nail technicians were insufficiently trained.

Allergic reactions may involve the nails loosening, or a severe red and itchy rash, not just on the fingertips but potentially anywhere on the body that has come into contact with the nails, and on very rare occasions breathing problems could also occur.

(Meth)acrylates are also the main substance used in the production of acrylic plastics. They are used in the graphic and printing industry, aircraft manufacture, adhesives, orthopaedic cement, dressings and dentistry.

However, the BAD said it was their use in the nail enhancement industry and subsequent increasingly widespread exposure which was causing alarm among dermatologists.

Dr David Orton, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “It is really important that people know they can develop allergies from artificial nails.

“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.”

Consultant dermatologist Dr Deirdre Buckley, who led the audit of dermatology units last year, said: “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 would particularly urge people to be careful when using home kits.

“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. Avoid any direct skin contact with the (meth)acrylate nail product.”