Why Your Manicure Might Be Doing More Damage Than You Think

Unless you’re a hand model, you’ve probably thought or have gotten your nails done at some point. Whether it’s before a special event, for a holiday, or just to feel a little bit better about yourself, having a manicure adds that extra level of ‘I’ve got my sh*t together’.

However, if you’re someone who gets their nails done regularly, you might want to think twice about the habit – there can be a number of harmful effects as a result of a manicure. We spoke to Dr Dana Stern, a board-certified dermatologist who specialises in the diagnosis, treatment, and surgery of the nail, about the potential damage the treatment can have on your nails.

What are the risks?

Perhaps the most obvious side effect of constant manicures is nail thinning. A study from the Miami School of Medicine found that gel manicures do cause nail thinning, from both the chemical composition of the polish, as well as the acetone soaking process during removal. “My opinion is that the removal process is what causes the nail damage,” says Dana.

Regular shellac or acrylic manicures also expose your skin to UV, as part of the drying process. “The light emitted is in the UVA spectrum, which can contribute to signs of skin aging such as brown spots and wrinkles,” says Dana. Whilst this level of exposure is unlikely to contribute to the risk of skin cancer, it’s still a good idea to pop on some sunscreen, or a piece of fabric (like a fingerless glove) prior to exposure.

Your eyes are also at risk from this UV, as the light can potentially damage your eye if near your visual field. If you can see the light, you should be wearing broad-spectrum sunglasses to ensure protection. If your salon uses LED devices, Dana says protective eyewear with a yellow or orange lens is ideal.

Phototoxicity is another risk. “If you’re taking certain medications, when combined with light they can cause an increased risk of sunburn, lifting or separation of the nail, or increase the risk of damage to the retina in the eye,” says Dana. If you’re a salon goer, it’s  always best to ask your doctor if your medications can cause photosensitivity or phototoxicity.

What can you do to combat them?

Dana advises manicures in moderation and ensuring you’re assertive during both the application and removal process.

“Be sure to ask how the product will be removed, and make sure that they don’t use a gritty file, sander or other implement to vigorously scrape the product off… these methods can cause tremendous and sometimes irreversible damage to the nail and cuticle.”

If gel polish does not come off easily after soaking in acetone, you know something’s wrong. The same goes for if your cuticles are cut or removed in prep for a manicure.

For manicure addicts, all is not lost. Dana recommends her Dr Dana Nail Care System, a three-step treatment that uses natural ingredients like coconut oil and grapefruit oil to exfoliate, hydrate and revitalise the nail.

“It is the first and only nail treatment containing glycolic acid, which is essential for nail exfoliation as it removes surface damage and reveals a lustrous shine.” Other treatment products should also contain glycolic acid, as well as hydrating ingredients rich in phospholipids, which increase nail flexibility.

If you do go to a salon, make sure they’re using sterile equipment and replacing their tools on the reg. Other things to look out for include:

  • Cuticle oil must be dropped onto cuticles, not brushed on, as re-used brushes can harbour bacteria and fungus.
  • Emery boards (nail files) should be discarded after one use, as they can also harbour bacteria and fungus.
  • Not all nail files can be used on natural nails. Sandpaper grade buffing blocks should only be used on acrylic nails.

What are some other tips for helping nail health?

To prevent brittleness and breakage, Dana recommends wearing gloves for household chores, especially dish washing. 

“Also, avoid excessive use of hand sanitisers that contain alcohol, because alcohol is extremely drying to nails and skin,” she adds.

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