ISSA TRAP: Black Women's Manicures Are Deadly

Using gels and acrylics for your manicure? It could be killing you.

ISSA TRAP: Black Women's Manicures Are Deadly

See how nail beauty standards with gels and acrylics are killing us.

Published March 9, 2018

“Hair done, nails done, everything did” is more than a Drake lyric, it’s a weekly ritual many of us swear by. Plus, nothing spells out M-E time than an indulgent manicure. Right?

In the past, certain nail salons have come under fire for glaring sanitary issues or fare wages for employees. But beyond that, we should truly be asking ourselves what are the health implications we face due to our addiction to gel and acrylic manicures. Are they doing more harm than good to our health? 

First off, let’s talk chemicals. According to, resins and formaldehyde have been shown to cause cancer. Exposure to these chemicals through your nails over a long period of time can result in complete nail loss by destruction of the nail matrix. Not to mention, allergic reactions have also been reported with acrylic nails, resulting in serious inflammation and thinning of the beds. Yuck! also reports that toluene (a toxic chemical found in some nail polishes and acrylic nail glue) has been shown to cause respiratory issues, irritated skin, headaches and dizziness. Prolonged or repeated exposure to toluene may also pose more severe health problems, including damage to internal organs, such as the liver or kidneys. While, acetonitrile (found in artificial nail removers) can cause breathing difficulties and skin irritation. What the....

(Photo: Getty)

“Acrylic nails can be harmful when MMA (methyl methacrylate) liquid monomers are being used,” explains manicurist Sarah Chue, who has worked with celebs like Uzo Aduba and Samira Wiley.

“This ingredient was used early in the nail industry, complaints included severe nail damage, soreness, nail infections, and respiratory problems from inhaling. Because of this, the FDA banned the use of MMA in numerous states. Unfortunately, it is still being illegally used because it is cheap," she adds. Hence, why a traditionally pricey mani's cost could be slashed in half. 

Another problem? The bond between artificial and natural nails is must stronger than a “real” nail bed. Meaning if the nail rips or lifts up, that gap provides a rich, moist, warm environment for bacteria and fungi (e.g., an infection) to grow. Prolonged time on the nail allows infections to worsen. With acrylics, the opposite – drying out of natural oils – can occur, which can cause damage and splitting.

“You need to be careful with the salon you’re choosing to make sure they’re taking care of the nails in the most gentle way,” cautions Smith & Cult Beauty ambassador and celebrity nail artist Sarah Bland. 

“When you have soft gels on your nails, nobody should ever use a dremel to remove the gel. It should only be removed with a hand file and soaked with acetone, it should never be drilled off.”


(Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Warner Music Group)

Chue offers a few alternatives for those who simply can’t give up their weekly nail appointment. “Dip powder nails such as the SNS brand or Kiara Sky are great alternatives. [The result] is somewhere in between gels and acrylic. Almost no odors, no UV light and can last up to 14 days.”

Even if you skip out on acrylics and gels, an unskilled technician can eff up your nail nails. “You can have permanent damage from even a bad manicure,” explains Bland. “Someone could permanently damage your nail bed by pushing your cuticles back a certain way if they’re too rough. So, I wouldn’t necessarily blame it on the product more so than the nail tech/technique," she warns. 

The good news? It is possible to reverse the damage. “The quickest way would be to go natural for a little while — not even regular polish,” Chue explains. “You'd want your damaged nail to completely grow out, which could take up to six months to completely renew itself.” 

Now that you are armed with a bit of new information, will you still be rocking gel and acrylic nails? Let us know.

Written by Janell M. Hickman

(Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Warner Music Group)


Latest in style