April 24, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty

Are Acrylic Nails Bad for Your Nails and Skin?

Before your next manicure, weigh the reward against the risk of infection, irritated skin and damaged nails

Acrylic nails being filed by manicurist

Having long, strong nails can make you feel beautiful and put together. That’s why so many people use nail care products. But if your natural nails aren’t getting the job done, you may be considering acrylics.


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“Acrylic nails have been around much longer than some of the gels and dips that are growing in popularity,” says dermatologist Amy Kassouf, MD. “But they do have some risk.”

While acrylic nails give the impression of strong, healthy nails, they may damage your skin, nails and general health. The substance in acrylic nails can make your natural nails thinner and weaker. Plus, the chemicals used to apply and remove the nails can irritate your skin.

Dr. Kassouf shares what you need to know about wearing acrylic nails.

What are acrylic nails?

Acrylics are a type of fake nail formed from a chemical paste made from powder and liquid materials. The mixture attaches to your existing nail and can be molded to your desired shape. Once air exposure hardens the acrylic nail, it can be filed and polished.

“Your natural nail consists of a top plate and a bottom plate that stick to the skin below it (nail bed),” Dr. Kassouf explains. “Roughing up the top plate allows the acrylic coating to bond. Once the coating hardens, it makes your nails very stiff and strong.”

An acrylic nail set can last up to eight weeks. But they aren’t maintenance-free. As your natural nail grows and your acrylic coating moves away from your cuticle, you’ll need a touch-up or “fill” every two to three weeks. A nail technician adds acrylic to the gap between the acrylic and cuticle.

Getting fills regularly can:

  • Expand the life of your acrylics.
  • Keep acrylic nails from separating from your natural nails.

Are acrylic nails bad for your health?

Acrylic nails can have unhealthy side effects. But not everyone who wears them will have issues.

Know the risks associated with acrylics so you can identify health issues quickly. Acrylic nails may:

1. Trigger allergic contact dermatitis

More than 70 million Americans live with allergic contact dermatitis (ACD), a reaction or sensitivity to certain substances touching their skin. Acrylates, the ingredient that helps acrylic nails harden, is commonly associated with ACD.

Acrylic monomers, the small molecules in the acrylic coating, can cause reactions to the skin around your nails, including:

  • Cracking or peeling.
  • Dryness.
  • Itching.
  • Redness.

But Dr. Kassouf says your eyelids may be the first place you notice signs of ACD.

“Your eyelids are the thinnest skin on your body, so you’re more likely to get an initial reaction on your eyelids than you are on the thicker skin around your nails,” she notes.

2. Lead to brittle and weakened nails

The process of applying and removing acrylics can be just as harmful, if not more harmful, than the acrylics themselves.


Nail damage happens because of:

  • Roughing up the nail. This step helps acrylics attach, but thins and weakens the top nail plate.
  • Soaking nails to remove acrylics. Placing nails in acetone for the recommended 15 minutes can leave nails dry and brittle.
  • Removing residue. After removing acrylics, any remaining acrylic residue gets filed off the nail’s surface.

“Taking acrylics off can damage or even remove the top plate of your nail,” Dr. Kassouf says. “You can end up with very weak or brittle nails for about six months before the healthy nail grows enough to replace it.”

3. Cause onycholysis (separation between nail and nail bed)

The bond between an acrylic nail and your nail plate is stronger than the bond between your nail plate and nail bed. As a result, people with acrylic nails are more likely to experience onycholysis, when their nail plate separates from their nail bed.

“Natural nails are flexible, but acrylic nails aren’t,” Dr. Kassouf says. “Everyday activities such as typing and cooking cause trauma to acrylic nails. These movements stress the area where the nail adheres to the nail bed.”

That stress can cause the nail to pull away from the skin underneath it.

Onycholysis is rarely painful, and a new nail can grow and attach to the nail bed successfully. But the condition does carry a risk of infection.

4. Increase the risk of infection

Acrylic nails can raise your risk for infection in several ways:

  • Contaminated objects can introduce bacteria to the damaged or cracked skin around your nails.
  • Cuticle abrasion can occur when cuticles are cut or too dry.
  • Nail separation can trap moisture and create an ideal space for fungi and bacteria to grow.


Fungal infections (onychomycosis) are the most common infections associated with acrylic nails, but bacterial infections can also occur.

“After removing your acrylic nails, you may see a gap underneath,” Dr. Kassouf says. “If fungus grows in that space, the area may look green, brown or yellowish and be crumbly. Bacterial infections tend to be inflamed and sore.”

Alternatives to acrylic nails

The safest nail treatment is nontoxic polish, says Dr. Kassouf. But if you’re looking to add length or strength to your nails, try a manicure option that causes less trauma than acrylics:

  • Press-on nails. Adhesive nails stick to your nails and add length without the danger of nail separation. If you’re sensitive to the adhesive, you may still experience contact dermatitis.
  • Soak-off gel polish. Gel polish is strong, lasts longer than traditional polish and is less abrasive than acrylics. But gel polish contains acrylate and may eventually make nails brittle or weak if used continuously. To reduce damage to your skin, avoid traditional UV lamps and opt for an LED lamp for curing.
  • Dip powder manicure. Dip powder is an acrylic powder glued to natural or fake nails. It’s strong like acrylic nails but doesn’t use as much of the chemical mixture. Your nails will be slightly more flexible than acrylics, reducing the risk of nail trauma and separation.

Tips to avoid acrylic nail damage

If you get acrylic nails, take steps to reduce the damage to your nails, skin and general health:

  • Skip cuticle trimming, as cuticles protect your nails and skin from infection.
  • Use sanitary tools and consider bringing your own to the salon.
  • Get fills regularly so bacteria and fungus can’t grow.
  • Moisturize your hands and cuticles to keep skin from drying out and cracking.
  • Avoid household chemicals and products that can dry skin and make it more susceptible to damage.
  • Let your nails recover, taking a break from acrylic nails between sets.
  • Don’t remove acrylics yourself — have a professional remove them.

“Once you remove your acrylic nails, you have to commit to letting your natural nails grow out,” Dr. Kassouf states. “Keep your nails relatively short, use a strengthening polish and moisturize a lot — anything to keep the skin and nail area flexible and healthy.”


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