Nail techs: how to prevent a contact allergy

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) recently raised concerns after a study – Epidemic of (Meth)acrylate Allergy in the UK Requires Routine Patch Testing – found that 2.4% of people tested had an allergy to at least one type of (meth)acrylate chemical – a key ingredient in acrylic, gel and gel-polish. 

But it’s not just clients who are at risk – just under two thirds (60%) developed their allergy through what was termed “recreational exposure”, in all cases due to the use of nail enhancements or to nail and/or eyelash glue. In 33% of cases occupational sensitisation was the issue, with a large number of these people having worked or currently working as nail techs. 

PB’s Nail Professional of the Year 2018, Katie Barnes, shares her advice for best practice when working with products containing methacrylate, to keep both yourself and your clients safe. 

How should techs prevent product from coming into contact with clients’ skin? 

“Take your time when working and work with smaller, more controlled beads at the correct mix ratio. Ensure that you wait until the bead is pearly before working to prevent monomer running into the skin. It is important not to choose a brush that is excessively large; it will become overloaded with monomer, making it almost impossible to avoid skin contact. When working near the skin, your brush should always be at a 45-degree angle, and you must work towards yourself rather than the client to prevent touching the skin.” 

We know that methacrylate can pass through many types of gloves. How can techs protect themselves? 

“A minimum glove thickness of 8 mil (thousandths of an inch) = 0.19mm is recommended, which should conform to the EU Chemical Resistance specification EN 374-3 or higher. Gloves with an EN 374-3 rating mean the chemical resistance was met for 60 minutes or more. Gloves should be replaced after each client and you should ‘double up’ on gloves if an allergy or sensitivity is present. Nitrile gloves are recommended because latex contains a protein that can cause allergic reactions, and don’t provide nearly as good protection as nitrile. 

“The tissue on which you wipe your brush and excess monomer should be positioned at the side of you, away from both tech and client. Too many techs place the tissue directly in front of them and rest their hand or arm in it as they work, constantly overexposing themselves.” 

Do you think patch tests should be introduced for nail treatments, as the British Association of Dermatologists is calling for? 

“Nail products and ingredients are not designed to be used on the skin, so in my opinion patch testing wouldn’t be a good idea. An allergy builds up over time from overexposure of repetitive skin contact with an allergen, starting off as irritation and redness and developing into an allergy. Patch tests could then make this worse.” 

Katie BarnesKatie Barnes is owner of Katie Barnes Training Academy in Warwickshire. She was crowned Nail Professional of the Year at the Professional Beauty Awards 2018 after placing as a finalist several times previously. 

Read her piece on what to tell clients about DIY gel-polish kits here