The Ugly Secrets Behind Having Beautiful Nails

Getting my nails done professionally is my guilty pleasure. On the one hand, there’s something about having clean, pretty, long-lasting nail polish that I’ve always appreciated. On the other hand, I know getting my nails done in a salon poses threats to my health. I decided to look deeper into those threats this week to see just what I’m up against every time I step into the nail salon. After researching my two biggest concerns, I also looked for some ways to improve nail health.



  1. UV light

UV lamps are used to speed-dry regular nail polish and are necessary to set gel nail polish. While some lamps say they are LED emitting, the bottom line is that all lamps emit UV rays. These lamps primarily produce UVA rays, which are linked to premature skin aging and skin cancer. While exposure to UV light in nail salons doesn’t present as high a risk as tanning beds, repeated exposure to them can cause damage to build up. To combat the effects of UV light at the salon, it’s suggested to wear sunscreen on your hands or wear fingerless gloves.

  1. Harmful Chemicals


Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid used in many types of nail glue and nail polish. It is naturally occurring in crude oil and inhaling low to moderate levels can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, hearing loss and color vision loss. Breathing in high amounts of toluene can cause n a short time may cause light-headedness, nausea or sleepiness, unconsciousness, and, if inhaled when pregnant, birth defects.


Formaldehyde is often used in nail hardener and nail polish. In addition to the eyes, skin and throat, it is labeled a “known human carcinogen” after studies indicated it can cause cancer. Salon workers are advised to wear special masks to protect them from inhaling this substance because it can cause headaches, asthma-like attacks and short-term memory difficulty. For most people, the effects of formaldehyde are temporary and reversible, with the most common effect being fatigue.

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)

This substance is often used to make plastics softer and more flexible, and small amounts are used in nail polish and polish hardener. Short-term effects include nausea and irritation in the respiratory tract and eyes. While the state of California classifies DBP as a reproductive and developmental toxicant in humans, we know it causes severe issues in animals. Mice exposed to this chemical showed low birth weight, less viable litters and birth defects.

Methacrylate Compounds

Ethyl methacrylate (EMA) is the main component in artificial nails. The substance is known to cause allergies, asthma and dermatitis. It is recommended that nail technicians wear safety glasses, masks and long sleeves to protect themselves against the dust created by acrylic nail creation and removal. EMA can also cause respiratory and eye irritation and is highly flammable.


What can I do to improve nail health?

In the end, it’s healthier (and way cheaper) to find a nail polish that excludes these harmful chemicals and paint your nails yourself, without the use of UV lamps. If, like me, you think your nails are too thin, too breakable, too short or any other concern that causes you to have them professionally done, here are the two best bets I’ve come across for healthy nails.


  1. Chlorella

Chlorella is a superfood full of vitamins B2, B3 and biotin. It supports our detoxifying organs that fight daily to rid us of heavy metals and toxins. In addition to detoxifying, it is known to balance gut bacteria, both of these processes produce clear skin and stronger, healthier hair and nails.

  1. Biotin

Biotin is a B-complex vitamin that helps the body convert food into energy. Getting an adequate amount of biotin can regulate blood sugar, promote healthy hair, skin and nails, and help pregnant moms have healthier babies. Foods that contain biotin include almonds, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, spinach and mushrooms. Getting biotin from foods would be preferred over taking a biotin supplement.


Picture courtesy of Pixabay

Other sources: Healthline, OrganicBurst, Skin Cancer Foundation

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