Home Nail Care Gel nails: how harmful are they?

Gel nails: how harmful are they?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 314 views

Anyone who suffers from brittle or brittle fingernails or wants to lengthen them likes to use artificial nails . Among the most popular are gel nails. But what looks beautiful and is practical also has its downsides. Read here about the health risks associated with gel nails and whether this also applies to acrylic nails or Shellac.

That is why gel nails are harmful

The nail polish does not splinter or smear: gel nails look well-groomed for several weeks and are a practical alternative for anyone who suffers from brittle and brittle fingernails. But there are also some things to consider.

Risk of skin cancer from UV light

Gel nails consist of several layers that come on the nail one by one. To harden or polish them, nail salons often use UV lamps. A scientific study from Georgia found that this light promotes skin cancer. In addition, the skin ages prematurely due to UV rays. A good alternative is an LED lamp.

Only UV light is used in your nail salon , wear gloves that leave your fingertips exposed. Or cream your hands with a sufficiently high sunscreen.

Gel damages the natural nail

Because of the thick layer of gel in the artificial nails, oxygen often does not reach the natural nail, and the horny layer often deteriorates. This makes the nails soft, thin and brittle. This also increases the risk of infection.

In addition: In order to prepare the natural nails for the artificial ones, their surface is roughened. In this case, too, the horny layer suffers, making the natural nail more susceptible to infections.

Danger of nail fungus

Artificial nails provide the optimal conditions for nail fungus. Even during the modeling, gaps sometimes form between the natural and gel nails, in which yeast, mold or filamentous fungi settle. You feel comfortable in the warm and low-oxygen environment.

Since it is difficult to thoroughly clean the areas under the gel nails, viruses and bacteria often stubbornly persist. The Robert Koch Institute has therefore issued a requirement that staff in clinics, medical practices, nursing homes and other medical work areas may only wear natural and short-cut fingernails.

Problems removing

Note that not only applying but also removing the gel nails involves effort. Because: They cannot be removed with conventional nail polish remover. In most cases, the artificial nail has to be ground down from the real nail – ideally this should be done in a nail salon.

But there are also variants, the so-called soak-off gels, which can be removed with an acetone bath despite the UV hardening. However, this is a great stress for the nail bed. The harsh chemical degreases nails and cuticles . The result: the nail loses strength. Nail fungus and infections settle more easily. In total, it takes up to five months for a natural nail to recover from this procedure.

Read more about removing gel nails here .

Acrylic and gel nails or shellac: which is more harmful?

Besides gel nails, acrylic nails and shellac are popular ways to beautify fingers. But what about them, how harmful are they?

Acrylic nail

The biggest difference between gel and acrylic nails is the look. Acrylic nails are thicker and less flexible than gel nails. For acrylic nails, a mass of acrylic powder and modeling liquid is made. It dries by itself. Apart from this modeling compound, no other tools are required for acrylic nails.

If a nail salon smells strongly of chemicals, there is a high probability that methyl methacrylate (MMA) is used there. Behind this is a chemical that is often used to model acrylic nails. Nail salons use them to keep material costs low.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) warns of this. In some cases, MMA triggers contact and cross-allergies, which can lead to serious complications in later medical and dental treatments. MMA is already banned in the US and Canada.

Possible allergic reactions to MMA occur not only on the fingers, but also on the face or other areas of the body that are frequently touched. Typical symptoms are blisters, reddened areas and itching.

There are now also UV-curing liquids for acrylic nails that do not cause an unpleasant odor. But wear gloves under the UV lamp as with the gel nails or apply the sun protection cream beforehand.


Shellac is a resin-like substance. It is obtained from the excretions of the paint scale insect, which uses it to protect its offspring from environmental influences immediately after hatching. As a purely natural product, Shellac is not harmful to health.

You can’t lengthen your nails with Shellac. Rather, it is a permanent nail polish that you must remove with acetone. In this case, too, the nails and cuticles are noticeably dried out. Therefore, give your nails a longer break after a Shellac manicure and care for them intensively with special nail oils during this time. Avoid removing Shellac with a nail file. That puts too much strain on the nails.

Learn more about Shellac here .

Are gel nails possible during pregnancy?

There are no scientific studies that indicate that gel nails are harmful during pregnancy . However, inflammation or fungal infections affect the health of the expectant mother. If you want acrylic nails, you should also be aware that methyl methacrylate causes allergies. Experts therefore generally recommend gel nails.

The following applies to removing artificial nails with nail polish remover: Find out in the nail salon whether nail polish removers that are gentle on the skin and nails and contain fewer solvents such as acetone, phenol or trichlorethylene are also an option.

Also make sure that you use the nail polish remover in a large, well-ventilated room or with an open window – so that you inhale as little of the harmful substances as possible.

Is a complete renunciation of artificial nails necessary?

It is not necessary to give up artificial nails completely. But pay attention to the following things:

  • Find out in the nail salon which methods and materials are used. Fiberglass nails are now available. This is a plastic made of glass fibers, which is considered extremely hard and therefore resistant. It’s also odorless and air dries, eliminating the need for a UV lamp. The disadvantage: Artificial nails made of fiberglass are significantly more expensive.
  • Treat yourself to regular breaks so that your natural nails can recover.
  • Allergy sufferers should ask for acrylic-free gels in the nail studio.

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