Inside My Head - Beautiful manicure, but your health is looking ugly

Who doesn’t love a crisp coat of colour adorning their nails before heading out the door? It’s often one of those things that complete an outfit, much like the right pair of shoes. For decades, women have enjoyed the edge it brings to their style. Unfortunately, the colour never seems to last long enough.

In the last few years, gel nails have become the answer to this problem. Softer than acrylic, these artificial nail enhancements blanket the nail so as to not damage the nail bed. Artists have let their creativity loose, using 3D effects and jewelry pieces to amp up the effect. Though colour and charms can be beautiful, what happens underneath is an ugly truth.

It’s always important to understand what something is before getting it, judging it, or manipulating it. The gel used for gel nails is made up of semi-solid monomers (single molecules of acrylic liquid) and oligomers (a specific number of acrylic liquid molecules). These will harden together under UV light to form a polymer. Pigments are added for the desired colour. Chemicals known as “stabilizers” are mixed in to prevent discolouration of the pigments. Next are elements called “inhibitors” that prevent the mixture from hardening too early while sitting in the original container. Finally, curable resins are mixed in to bond everything together, thicken the mixture and produce shine.

Interestingly enough, gel nails were introduced in the U.S. during the 1980’s. Due to a lack of understanding light wavelengths, nail techs would either use intense light on their clients, or light that wasn’t sufficient enough. This would cause burning, itching and aging skin.

According to NAILS magazine, an industry resource, this lack of knowledge and negative turnout is what encouraged companies to pull the product from the market. Within several years, research was conducted to search for the appropriate UV wavelength to safely harden gel. Gel nails re-appeared on the scene in the late nineties, and have only grown in popularity since then. In the past year, 8.5 billion dollars were spent on nail services, with 33% of clients aged 36-45.

With so much demand, nail technicians find themselves becoming artists in order to stay on top. Gel nails have incorporated bits of bling and craft items to add texture and drama. Women have become walking billboards for nail techs across the country.

The average gel nail manicure is anywhere from $35-$50 for the first fill. Maintenance costs hover around the $25 mark. Half an hour is all it takes to put on the first set, and an extra 15 minutes for return visits. The affordability and time efficiency of gel nails allows more women the chance to have them.

How many women do you know that refrain from certain tasks because they’re “afraid to wreck a nail?” Sure, regular gel nails stand up to normal dents and chipping, but if there are extras on top, forget that task.

Suddenly, the vain become even lazier since they have to protect their money’s worth. These excessive nails then become the sole target when identifying high maintenance and lazy women. A bold statement, but almost always true. This is not to say to ditch your regular manicure and pick up your stereotypical gender role. Just calm down with the extras; you’re a woman, not a decoration.

Furthermore, people fail to realize the health effects of nail enhancements. Chemicals are lying on your nails, after all. Routine trips to the salon, or to the lady across town, take a toll on your fingertips. Dehydration and thinning of the nail plate are few concerns. This leads to breaking or tearing, which offers the chance for bacteria to wreak havoc. Your nails are a small window to your health. The thickness, colour and durability of your regular nail present immediate health insight.

When the colour of a gel nail manicure begins to lift, many women find themselves initiating the picking process. Not only are you lifting or tearing a layer of your natural nail with the colour, your allow water to seep in. This harbours bacteria, which can lead to an infection.

Finally, “The Toxic Trio” are ingredients to always look out for. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), known to cause lifelong reproductive impairments, Toluene, a by-product of petroleum or coal tar known to cause liver and kidney damage and Formaldehyde, a well known carcinogen. This trio is often used in pigments and polishes for their shine and preservation qualities. Though they may sit on top of the nail, small amounts are still absorbed. Combine that with repeated use, and you could experience unpleasant symptoms.

Keep this mind: Before your serve your vanity, consider your health. Be beautiful, but be aware.

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