Remembering our High School chemistry classes, we
understand that everything we come in contact with is a chemical, except
for light and electricity. We are exposed to chemicals when we
bathe, shampoo our hair, use cleaning solutions, laundry detergent, nail
products and a host of other items we use every day. (A newborn
baby's skin is 100% chemical.) These
chemicals are in no way harmful as long as we follow the safe directions
and instructions for use and read and understand the warning labels.
Learning how to identify and prevent overexposure to
nail chemicals for our clients and ourselves should be a top
priority. Overexposure that results in allergic reaction can be
prevented. It all starts with paying specific attention to our
preparation, application and finishing techniques, knowing our products
and using ventilation in the salon.
Nail technicians and their clients are exposed to a
wide variety of potential allergens in the salon. We wipe our
monomer soaked brushes on the table towel and then rest our arms in the
same spot. We use our fingers or our wet brush to clean off any
product that has over-run the clients cuticle or sidewall lines. We
allow nail dust to collect on the skin of our hands and arms, while our
arms rest on a wet, dusty table towel. We use drills at higher
than recommended speeds which can throw the nail dust in our
faces and into our breathing zone. If we wear masks to protect
ourselves from vapors or dusts, we rarely change them, or we wear the
wrong type mask. These
practices, among others, can cause overexposure to potentially harmful
chemicals which will result in sensitivity and allergic reaction.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis develops in stages
-- it does not happen overnight. There is a period during which an
individual may be continually in contact with an allergen without
developing any skin reaction, which can last a lifetime or only a few
days. The allergenic action of a substance depends on its ability
to change some properties of the outer layer of the skin. This
layer acts as a protective barrier against toxic substances. Some
substances, such as primer, can remove fats and oils. Other
substances, such as prep, polish remover and other solvents, can
remove moisture from the skin. These substances diminish the protective
action of the skin and make it easier for substances to penetrate the
The skin allergy really begins with a process called sensitization.
It starts with the penetration of allergenic substances into the outer
layer of the skin. The process lasts from four days to three
weeks; during this period there are no signs of skin damage. Once
penetrated, the allergenic substance combines with the natural skin
proteins which is then carried throughout the body by white blood cells
Lymphocytes are part of the immune system which
guards the body against germ or alien substances. The immune
system has a 'memory' to recognize and neutralize germs or substances
encountered more than once. When sensitized persons are
re-exposed, lymphocytes recognize the allergen and react with it.
They also release tissue-damaging chemicals called lymphokines
which cause itching, pain, redness, swelling, and the formation of small
wheals or blisters on the skin. This inflammation is usually
confined to the site of contact, but in severe cases it may spread to
cover large areas of the body. The reaction usually starts within
twelve hours of exposure and is at its worst after three to four days,
and slowly improves in about seven days. The allergic
sensitization may remain with the individual through life, although if
there is no further contact with the allergen, the level of sensitivity
may gradually decline.
Irritant Contact Dermatitis can develop after
a short, heavy exposure or a repeated or prolonged low exposure to a
substance. The appearance of irritant contact dermatitis varies
considerably according to the conditions of exposure. For example,
an accidental contact with a strong irritant causes immediate
blisters. Contact with a mild irritant may only produce redness of
the skin. However, if the irritation continues, small lesions or
sores appear on the reddened area; afterward, crusts and scales
form. The skin damage usually heals a few weeks after exposure
ends if no complications have arisen (no infections occurred).
To produce the damage, the irritant substance must
infiltrate the outer layer of skin where it will come into contact with
cells and tissues. The substance also reacts with certain
chemicals naturally present (endogenous) in cells and
tissues. These reactions produce skin damage. The body's
first reaction to the damage is localized acute inflammation. The
cells and tissues try to repair the damage and set up a defensive
response to remove the invading material causing the damage.
During the body's defensive response phase, a person may experience
pain, warmth, redness and swelling in the irritated area. Minimal
skin damage, as in thickening of the inner layer of the skin, will not
be visible. However, when the damage is severe, the skin shows
signs of chapping, scaling, and blistering and some skin cells also
die. Typically, an irritant reaction develops within a few hours
from exposure and is at its worst after approximately 24 hours.
photograph is of a client that has experienced a severe allergic
reaction to acrylics. Note the dry, red, peeling skin
around the cuticle and sidewall lines. The lifted nail
plate will grow forward as new cells replace the old.
Factors contributing to irritation include
The chemical properties of the substance (for
example, is it an acid, an alkali, or a salt).
The amount and concentration of chemical coming
into contact with the skin.
The length and frequency of the exposure.
It is this type of allergic reaction that is most
evident in nail technicians and their clients.
The Above Information Contributed
by: Canadian Centre for Occupational
Health & Safety.
What can we do to prevent overexposure and
Never touch the brush hairs with your fingers, or
allow the brush to touch the clients skin.
Never apply product too wet or allow the wet
brush to touch the prepared nail plate.
Use disposable towels when wiping your brush, and
discard them after use and before filing.
Leave a tiny margin all around the cuticle and
sidewall lines free of product. This will prevent overexposure
and allow for air-tight retention of product to the nail plate.
Wear a long-sleeved smock to prevent dusts from
settling on your skin.
Wear a mask specifically designed for dusts when
filing, and change it often.
Install a local exhaust ventilation system to rid
your salon of potentially harmful vapors.
Use dispenser bottles that have small openings
only large enough for the brush to enter.
Monomer soaked pads should be placed in a sealed
bag before being placed in the trashcan.
Monomer soaked or dust laden towels should be
removed from the table top and laundered separately from other salon
Trashcan liners should be changed daily.
Never pour more liquid into your dappen dish than
is needed for the type of application you are performing.
Wear protective glasses to prevent dusts or
flying debris from entering and damaging your eyes.
Never smoke, eat or drink at the nail
table. Vapors and dust can settle on your food or in your
drink, and the 'flick of a Bic' can cause a spark that can ignite
flammable airborne vapors.
Never let dust accumulate.
Always keep MSDS on all products used in your
Read and follow the product manufacturers
application instructions and the warning labels on your products.
Store nail chemicals in a cool, dark place and
away from sources of heat or flame. Store nail chemicals in a
separate location from hair chemicals - the vapors of some of these
products are not compatible with each other, and can often
create a undesirable and potentially hazardous chemical reaction.
For a more detailed explanation of overexposure
and allergic reactions to nail chemicals, please read: Nail
Anatomy and Product Chemistry by Douglas D. Schoon available through