The number of nail salons has grown tremendously over the past decade. The New York Times reported that there are approximately 17,000 nail salons in the United States  in 2015, more than 2000 of which were located in New York City, the manicure mecca of the world.1

Once considered a luxury for the well-off and well-heeled, manicures were largely offered in full service salons. Today, the artful application of artificial nails at nail-only salons, spas, and full-service salons has become a grooming mainstay for women (and some men) from all socioeconomic backgrounds. The work for nail technicians is plentiful, steady, and surprisingly grueling, with many working 10 hours or longer in the presence of toxic chemicals.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors but does not regulate the use of nail products containing potentially harmful ingredients that are considered safe when used as directed. As far back as the 1970s, however, the FDA became aware of complaints among customers of injury associated with the use of artificial nails containing methyl methacrylate monomer.2 Among these injuries were reports of fingernail damage and deformity, as well as contact dermatitis. In nail technicians working with this product, atopic dermatitis is a common problem.

While the respiratory effects of nail products are well documented, the dermatologic consequences are often not considered. Dermatology Advisor asked John G. Zampella, MD, a practicing dermatologist at New York University (NYU) Langone Health in New York City, for his insights on this commonly overlooked problem. Dr. Zampella has a unique understanding of the dermatologic challenges facing nail technicians, as both his mother and sister work in the field.

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Dermatology Advisor: Do you often see nail technicians in your practice with contact dermatitis from particular chemicals used in the application of artificial nails?

John Zampella, MD: Methacrylates, specifically methyl methacrylate, is a compound used by nail technicians, surgeons, and dentists alike as a “cement.” The problem with methyl methacrylate is that it can cause an allergy. In fact, acrylates were the 2012 allergic contact allergen of the year. Like any allergy, this can develop with time after repeated exposure. So, people who work in an industry with constant exposure to these chemicals may be at risk for developing an allergy. In the past, most people who had methacrylate allergies worked in manufacturing, but this has shifted over the past decade, with most of the people with methacrylate allergies coming from jobs related to acrylic nails.