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Can Nail Polish Cause Dermatitis

With the world of beauty comes a world of chemicals. As much as we love having beautifully polished nails, we often turn a blind eye to the things we are applying to our bodies. It’s not widely assumed, but any nail polish you apply to your fingers can actually be absorbed into the body.

If you are a nail hype girl (or guy), you have probably heard about acrylates, which are a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis from nail polish. Acrylates can be found in gel, dip, and shellac nail polishes, among others. Essentially, it’s called a nail cosmetics allergy. And this can also come from nail enamel remover.

Allergic Reaction

There are some people who might experience sensitivity to one or more of the various chemical elements that make up these nail cosmetics. Sensitivity to whichever element may cause allergic contact dermatitis and/or irritant contact dermatitis not only around the nail area but also around areas that are frequently touched like the eyelids, mouth, and chin, and sides of the neck. 

An allergy to nail cosmetics may also lead to nail diseases such as paronychia, onycholysis, and other nail dystrophies.

So essentially, yes, nail polish can cause dermatitis. But let’s discuss what the allergens are in nail cosmetics.

Nail Enamels

This is the most common nail cosmetic people use and it includes both base coats and topcoats but in varying degrees of similar concentration elements. Components include film former, resins, plasticizers, solvents, colorizers, and pearlizers. The chemical most at fault for allergic reactions to nail enamel is toluamide formaldehyde resin. It is also known as toluene sulfonamide formaldehyde resin. 

The North American Contact Dermatitis Group (NACDG) reported toluamide formaldehyde resin was found to be the “seventh most common ingredient causing allergic contact dermatitis in patients with a cosmetic allergy.” While a minimal amount of free formaldehyde may be found in toluamide formaldehyde resin it seems that many people who have a reaction to this resin do not additionally have a formaldehyde allergy. 

An allergic reaction is usually due to wet nail enamel however, some of the allergy affected may also respond to the dried enamel. Additional related causes of dermatitis to nail enamels consist of allergies to the solvent butyl acetate and staining of the nail surface (particularly near the cuticle area) instigated by colorants.

Nail Enamel Removers and Cuticle Removers

Solvents used in nail enamel removers include acetone, alcohol and amyl, butyl, or ethyl acetate.  These are combined with fatty materials such as cetyl alcohol, lanolin (wool alcohols), castor oil, or other synthetic oils. This strips the nail enamel from the nail bed surface. Due to the high solvent concentration, irritant contact dermatitis is more common than allergic contact dermatitis. This can cause nail bed irritation and if used too much, cause drying, brittle nails.

Cuticle removers contain alkaline chemicals that will ruin the skin surrounding the cuticle. The chemicals used are usually sodium or potassium hydroxide. If used and left on for too long it can cause irritant contact dermatitis.

Artificial (Fake) Nails

Fake nails are used to extend the length or make nails look healthier and stronger. This can be created in two different ways – preformed/press-on and pre-glued nails which adhere with special nail glue. Methacrylate-based glue is most common and may cause allergic contact dermatitis. A more potent adhesive used is ethyl 2-cyanoacrylate which could cause onycholysis. 

Acrylic nails are an alternative and are typically stronger and last longer (and must be strategically removed). These are usually sculpted specifically to fit the nail by a nail artist. The mix of chemicals used creates the structure of an acrylic extension. The chemical blend includes liquid methacrylate acid esters such as ethyl methacrylate, powdered polymethyl methacrylate polymer, benzoyl peroxide accelerator, and hydroquinone. The liquid methacrylate acid esters are strong sensitizers and a cause of irritation and allergic contact dermatitis effects.


Hopefully, this gives you a better idea of nail cosmetics and dermatitis.

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