Acrylic nails, otherwise known as fake nails, are made of a liquid and a powder. When mixed together, they form a thick epoxy that can be used to apply tips and colours to natural nails. The mixture is shaped and applied over the natural nail. Gel acrylics are another form of artificial nails, which result in a natural-looking nail that can last for up to several weeks.
Breathing in the fumes is a concern for pregnant women. Additionally, some of the chemicals used to apply acrylic nails can be absorbed into the natural nail. While no studies have specifically examined the safety of acrylic nail usage during pregnancy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has concluded that methyl-methacrylate (MMA), one of the ingredients used, poses a health hazard. Studies show that MMA has the potential to cause allergic reactions in some people. Consequently, many salons are now using the ingredient ethyl-methacrylate (EMA), which is considered a safer alternative.
Pregnant women can limit potential side effects of acrylic nail compounds by not getting their nails done until after the first trimester, when the risk to the developing foetus is lower. Even later in pregnancy, a woman should wear a dust mask and avoid getting chemicals on her skin when having acrylic nails applied. Additionally, the adhesive used to glue artificial nails onto natural nails may contain cyanoacrylate. When nails are filed, dust that contains this chemical can be inhaled.
Women can visit the nail salon earlier in the day, when fumes tend to be less. They should also wear a mask to avoid inhaling the vapours. Many salons have manicure tables with built-in ventilation systems that help to pull dust and vapours away. Hands should be washed before eating or drinking to prevent any chemicals on the skin from being swallowed. Nail technicians should properly treat any nips or cuts to the cuticle to prevent possible infection.
In other work environments where acetone concentration is much higher, exposure to the chemical early in pregnancy has been associated with increased risk of miscarriage. Research suggests that the effect of such solvents on the nervous system of the developing foetus may cause developmental delays and learning disabilities. Additionally, because these nails are not attached naturally, bacteria can grow between the acrylic and natural nails.
There is no overwhelming evidence indicating that the products used to make acrylic nails cause birth defects. However, solvents, like the acetone used to remove acrylic nails, have been found to pose a potential risk when pregnant women are exposed to high concentrations. Additionally, since bacterial infections are commonly acquired in health care environments, the number of routine prenatal visits put pregnant women more at risk for infection of any origin.
While the medical community seems to have no clear answers about the safety of acrylic nails during pregnancy, women are generally advised to be careful. The few studies that have been conducted used lab animals for testing. Results are inconclusive about the potential harmful effects of these chemicals on pregnant women. Some women report that their nails grow stronger during pregnancy, however. This is attributed to increased oestrogen in the body.
Toxicologists and paediatric specialists say that even though acrylic nails contain potentially hazardous chemicals, if a pregnant woman is a customer rather than a worker in the salon, exposure is minimal and likely poses no significant risk to the foetus. On the other hand, pregnant women who are exposed to solvents all day long are at greater risk, especially if the chemical fumes make them feel sick. Doctors recommend that women who worry about potential problems related to acrylic nails not have their nails done while pregnant.