Can I harm my natural nails by wearing acrylic nails?

Answers from Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D.

Acrylic nails aren't likely to harm your natural nails but can sometimes cause problems, such as an infection.

If an acrylic nail is damaged or as your natural nails grow, a gap can develop between the acrylic nail and your natural nail. This gap provides a moist, warm environment in which a nail infection can flourish. A nail infection might also occur if acrylic nails are too long or rigid, or the nails are applied with unsanitary tools. It's also possible to have an allergic reaction to components of acrylic nails or their adhesives. Signs of a nail infection include redness, swelling and pus.

If you choose to have acrylic nails applied in a salon, take steps to minimize the risks:

  • Stick to salons that display a current state license, and work only with technicians also licensed by the state board.
  • Make sure your nail technician properly sterilizes all tools used during your treatment and washes his or her hands between customers.
  • Request a new nail file — or consider bringing your own — since nail files can't be sterilized.
  • Return to the salon every two to three weeks for maintenance.

If you apply acrylic nails at home, follow the safety precautions printed on the package. Work in a well-ventilated area, and protect the skin around your nails from the chemicals used during the application process.

Consider removing your acrylic nails and letting your natural nails breathe every two to three months. If you suspect a nail infection, consult a dermatologist for an evaluation.

Feb. 04, 2015