Why Am I Allergic To Gel Nails? 4 Probable Culprits To Gel Nail Allergies

Nail product allergies have become quite common, and in a world where the manufacturing of nail products is constantly being upgraded, it just doesn’t make sense that while the quality of products is growing, the level of allergic reactions is increasingly growing too. So what really are the culprits that lead to an allergic reaction. Is it just ingredients? 

When you develop a gel nail allergy, you should immediately discontinue use of the product. It is then in your best interest to seek an allergy specialist that can help you determine what exactly is the ingredient that you are allergic to. In my experience it is the monomer of the nail product. But I do believe that there are events, 3 (bad) habits in particular leading up to an allergy.

Today I want to key-in on the 4 most probable causes that may lead to an allergic reaction, so that you can take the necessary precautions for you and your clients to avoid them!

Today’s topic is purely educational, and should not be treated as medical advice.

Cause #1 Overexposure principle

In summary, the overexposure principle, when it comes to allergies, means the constant exposure of unprotected skin to chemicals that have not been developed for topical use. Doing so may lead to an allergy. 

It’s almost too easy nowadays to buy and try many different brands of gels without any knowledge on their use, this has made overexposure a common thread in the “nail DIY” space. Especially when you use a dehydrator on the skin which removes the protective oils on your skin, making it even easier for irritation and allergy to occur.

This is why education is so important and my courses like MGN have helped many DIYers learn the correct way of applying gels. 

Something important to remember is that an allergy can occur on the very first instance, or develop over time, even years. However, if you are in contact with the allergen repeatedly, this will of course raise the chances of irritation. Nobody wants that to happen when you love your job/hobby. 

The solution to this may seem obvious, limit your exposure to gel touching your skin, but with viral videos showing  uncured gel being played without any gloves on, it can encourage others to do the same when they don’t know any better. Practicing and working with these products come with risks, that is why companies will provide an SDS (Safety Data Sheet) with a list of allergenic ingredients at your request. Don’t cut short your career or hobby; wear gloves and avoid skin contact with all uncured nail products, as well as washing your after handling them. 

Cause #2 Under curing

This is subtle, but undercuring is the easiest way to become allergic because it allows uncured gel to sit on the nailplate.

It’s essential to use a high quality curing nail lamp from a reputable company. This means a brand that has an established history in the industry, with an emphasis on manufacturing the best possible formulas and providing education on how to use their product. Some examples of our niche are Kokoist, Leafgel and Vetro. 

When a gel polish/soft gel/hard gel etc are in their uncured state, they are at their most allergenic. In order to transform these products into the solid state that we need, we use a UV curing unit. However, if we use a lamp that does not match the specific requirements each brand needs in order to cure, we can risk wearing uncured product. Gels are made up of monomers, which polymerize  (simply put, join together)  under a specific UV wavelength to become a solid. However, if there are an excess of monomers still in the hardened gel, it can leach intro the surrounding skin and nailbed below. Remember, a gel can look and feel cured at only 50% cure, but we need it at 90% in order for it to be completely cured and at its least allergenic state.  Scratching yourself and filing off the enhancement expose you to those uncured chemicals and risking the development of an allergy. 

Cause #3 Excessive unnecessary skin removal around the cuticle area

Leave the cutting and detailed exfoliation with an efile to a trained professional. The popular “Russian Manicure” should not be performed without extensive training, this means just watching just one YouTube video on the subject is not enough.

This part of the nail unit is actually called the proximal nail fold (sometimes abbreviated to PNF) 

It is important we learn and use the correct term so as to avoid confusion. The cutlce is actually the translucent dead keratin stuck to the nail plate. 

Whilst it may look good in a picture, cutting away too much at this area could leave you vulnerable to developing an allergy because it removes the outer layers of your epidermis exposing the less resilient skin cells beneath. When this method is done by untrained hands, it creates a perfect storm for allergies to occur should uncured gel touch this vulnerable skin. 

Gently pushing back and exfoliating the keratinized part of the proximal nail fold is all that’s needed for a clean and professional look. Removing this seal also encourages it to grow back thicker because your skin believes it is being attacked, so will regrow calloused to protect the matrix of your nail unit, which is where your natural nail is made. 

If you are just starting out, don’t jump on an efile until you have had the training to use this machine safely. I have a course on how to efile specifically for soft gel specialists, I’ll put that link below for you. 

Cause #4 Ingredients

Pay attention, not only to ingredients but especially the concentration of monomer in your gel nail products, as these tend to be the ones causing the allergy (not exclusively).

“HEMA free” does not mean allergen free. Scientists within the nail industry say that HEMA is typically safe under 35% when used as intended within a product. This is why an SDS is vital in understanding the gels we use. The poison is in the dose, as they say, and this is certainly true for nail ingredients too. High quality Japanese gel brands will have significantly lower concentrations of monomers that could trigger an irritation because they value quality and don’t rely on pumping their products full of filler like most cheap gels you would find on ebay, Amazon and AliExpress 

Allergies were hardly heard of a few years ago, but with the influx of cheap and low quality gels available online, it has become a dermatological epidemic. Now you see DIYers developing allergies all the time, and looking for new products that will not trigger this inflammatory response in their body. 

I will link below a very helpful video on gateway allergens by a chemist who specialises in nail products. 

When it pertains to Japanese gels, it is easy to find the SDS on websites like Kokoist, which you will find

All these 4 together end with a perfect recipe for developing allergies. Whether it can happen the first time you have your nails done or the hundredth time.

Let’s recap, here are the 4 potential culprits to your gel nail allergy:

1.  Overexposure – Keep gel off the skin!

2.  Under Curing – Use the appropriate lamp and cure for the time the manufacturer recommends. Pro Tip –  Always work in thin layers and double cure very pigmented colors. 

3.  Excessive skin removal – Removing the protective barrier makes you more vulnerable to allergies.

4.  Ingredients – High quality oligomers over cheap monomers – Look at the concentration of monomers and expect to get what you pay for.

Just six years ago when I was getting started in nails at the salon, gel nail allergies were barely ever a thing. It is my opinion that with the increase of over-zealous but under-trained DIYers and the excessive procedure of what is commonly referred to as a “Russian Manicure” both by pros and DIYers, allergies have increased. Remember, when you have an allergy, this is for life, do your part using the information above to avoid it.

Thanks for joining me today, what are your thoughts on this analysis? Let me know in the comments below.

Content written by Paola and Marta

Loved this blog? Then I think you’ll love learning more about my journey as a specialized gel nail solopreneur in the nail industry. Click here to get instant access to my free masterclass. These blogs are copyrighted material, and any use of this blog is not permitted without written concern first. Some of these blogs contain affiliate links that give us a small commission when qualifying purchases are made. Thank you for being so supportive, which helps us to continue creating valuable resources and content like this.

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