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Healthy Nails

While problems are rare, all that buffing, polishing, soaking and massaging can pose some risks for your nails, according to dermatologist Dr. Phoebe Rich, who addressed the issue at the recent American Academy of Dermatology's Derm.

"Nail cosmetics and salon services are generally quite safe, but there are four potential problem areas associated with the use of nail cosmetics and salon services: allergic reactions, irritant reaction, mechanical damage to the nail and infection," says Rich, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at Oregon Health Sciences University, in a prepared statement.

"While these are fairly rare occurrences, they can be serious. Consumers are urged to take some simple measures to guard against these potential health concerns," she says.

The most common nail cosmetic ingredient that can cause an allergic reaction is methylmethacrylate (MMA), which is used in the application of acrylic nails.
"Although MMA has been banned by many states and the FDA has issued warnings about its hazards, the substance is still being used in some discount salons because it costs so much less than the safe acrylate alternatives such as ethylmethacrylate," Rich says.

"If consumers notice a strong odor associated with acrylic nail application, MMA is probably being used and that salon should be avoided. Consumers should also report that salon to the state medical board," she says.

Tosylamid formaldehyde resin is another nail cosmetic ingredient that can cause an allergic reaction.

If you experience itching or burning of the skin following a nail salon service, remove the product as quickly as possible and visit a dermatologist to determine which ingredient is responsible for the allergy.

Nail polish remover and formaldehyde, a common ingredient in nail hardeners, can dehydrate nails. When dehydrated nails are exposed to chemicals or soapy water, the nails can split, peel and become brittle.

"Consumers should not use nail polish remover more than once a week and should moisturize their hands often, especially after using any dehydrating products and after washing the hands," Rich says. "One of the best ways to protect your nails from irritants is to wear gloves when doing wet work, such as cleaning with harsh products or gardening."