Nail & Skin Disorders

The Lab Reports Panel Answers Your Technical Questions

First question is: Is it okay to clean your brush in acetone instead of monomer, or soak it in acetone if build-up is present?

Q: Is it okay to clean your brush in acetone instead of monomer, or soak it in acetone if build-up is present?

Doug Schoon: Oils and conditioners found in any salon solvents (including lower-grade acetone and some brush cleaners) will remain in the hairs of the brush and can lead to product contamination. Often, the result is unexplained product lifting. High-purity acetone will evaporate fairly quickly and will not leave behind oily residue, but it is very expensive. Many salon and hardware store grades of acetone can contaminate the brush with oily residues that cause lifting. Also, repeated use of any salon solvent, acetone or non-acetone, can dry out the hairs in a brush and cause them to shed small fragments into the acrylic product. These microscopic pieces of brush hair can act as “seeds” for cracking and breaking acrylic. Nothing is as good as monomer for keeping your brush clean and properly conditioned, and preventing contamination.

Q: What causes yellowing in fingernails and toenails. Can vinegar be used to get the yellow out of nails?

Dr. Rich: Yellow discoloration of the nails can be caused by several different conditions. The most common cause is fungal infection in the nail. Yellow discoloration can also be caused by nail enamel. Many types of nail polish contain pigments that stain the nail yellow. In my office, I will often test this hypothesis by gently scraping the surface of the nail to see if the yellow color comes off. If it scrapes away I know that the yellow color is superficial and probably due to nail enamel. Using a base coat under polish will often help with this problem.

Yellow nails can also be caused by a medical condition called “yellow nail syndrome” which is characterized by thick, yellow nails that grow slowly and have no lunula or cuticle. This nail problem is caused by an underlying medical condition, usually of the lungs; and should be referred to a physician for appropriate medical diagnosis.

Dr. Mix: The term “chromonychia” indicates an abnormality in the color of the entire nail plate, the surface of the nail plate, or the tissues under the nail plate. Nails may range in color from black to white, red, green, or bluish. The challenge, no matter what the color, is in determining the cause.

If all 20 of the nails are involved, the cause may be congenital or from a generalized disease process. If only a few nails are involved, the problem is probably localized or of an external origin. Only when you have made a complete evaluation of all the nails, and done a thorough client history to determine occupation, what medications are being taken, as well as what illnesses the client may have, can you then arrive at a probable cause of the color changes.

One of the classic causes of yellowing of the nails is the aging process. This usually af­fects the entire nail plate of all the nails. Fungal infection if causes yellowing as does yellow nail syndrome, which affects all of the nails. Some AIDS patients will exhibit a yellow discoloration. Liver conditions resulting in jaundice will cause the underlying s tissues of the nail unit to take s on a yellow discoloration. Certain diets that encourage large intakes of carrots may: cause yellowing of the soft tissues under the nails as well as the skin in general. Drugs such as tetracycline can make the lunula appear yellowish in color. Some topical antifungal preparations may turn the surface of the nail plate yellowish in color.

Henna used in hair colors and temporary tattoos may give a yellow-brown hue to the surface of the nail plate. Cigarette smoke will turn the nail a yellow brown, as well. I have seen the dye from some shoes leach out onto the toenails and turn them a yellow-brown color.

Using vinegar to reduce yellowing may help in some cases if the yellow is on the surface of the nail, but as a general rule, I would have to answer no.

Q: My client’s nails have become paper thin and are splitting in the center from the free edge down into the nail bed. There is no sign of fungus. What’s wrong?

Rich: Your client probably has brittle nails. Brittle nails affect at least 20% of the population. The most common signs are thin, peeling nails that occasionally split and break. This occurs more commonly in older people and in those who have to wash their hands frequently or have wet-work jobs. The underlying mechanism is dehydration of the nails. Exposure to chemicals and solvents such as nail polish remover is very dehydrating to the nails. Moisturizing with a heavy moisturizer helps. Rarely, iron deficiency anemia and thyroid dysfunction can lead to brittle nails. Some people develop longitudinal ridges and grooves in their nails as a normal part of the aging process. These grooves sometimes split and may also explain your client’s problem.

Q: Why do well-respected professional nail product lines include both toluene or formaldehyde as active ingredients in the nail lacquers? I thought these two ingredients were carcinogens.

Sunil Sirdesai: Toluene has not been found to be unsafe. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) established by the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA) is an industry group that reviews and assesses the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics in an unbiased and expert manner. The conclusions of the CIR on toluene as reported in the 1997 CIR compendium are as follows: “On the basis of the available data presented, the CIR Expert Panel concludes that toluene is safe as a cosmetic ingredient m the present practices of use and concentration.”

As far as I know, no well- respected professional nail lines have formaldehyde in their nail lacquers. They may contain resin tosylamide-formaldehyde resin, which is a totally inert ingredient. There is only a trace amount of residual formaldehyde present in this resin, well below the FDA-mandated threshold limit of 4.5%.

Q: Are some people more susceptible I to nail fungus than others? I’ve had a few clients who have one every few months, while others never get it (even clients with severe lifting problems).

Mix: Yes, some people are more susceptible to fungus than others. We humans seem to be born with a natural immunity to fungal infections. This immunity decreases as we grow—by puberty most of us seem to be susceptible to various forms of fungal infections. Some of us then seem to regain the immunity and are not bothered with fungal infections throughout our lives. I see this often in my practice where a couple has lived together for many years. One of them may have thick fungal nails and large areas of “athlete’s foot” fungal infections, while the spouse has never had a fungal infection. This individual must have a resistance to the fungi which most certainly is present in their home.

People who have their hands in water or gloves for long periods of time will become susceptible to fungi. Organ transplant patients and individuals with debilitating diseases such as AIDS, diabetes, or cancer are also more prone to fungal infections.

Schoon: While studies indicate that some people are more prone to true fungal infections, most nail infections are not caused by fungus. The vast majority of fingernail infections are caused by bacteria, not fungus. True fungal infections of the fingernail are relatively rare in salons. Probably more than 95% of fingernail infections seen in the salon are caused by bacteria. Most of these infections are completely preventable by using proper nail preparations before applying the products and then correctly maintaining the enhancements.


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