The Science of Nails

Do Hormones Cause Artificial Nails to Lift?

Though doctors cite a lack of scientific evidence that hormones influence product lifting, some nail technicians say their clients’ experiences provide all the proof they need.

Doerrlamm also questioned clients as to their nail care habits and on-the-job actions involving their nails and came up empty. Then she examined her technique and couldn’t pinpoint service breakdowns.

Other nail technicians also report having clients who either can’t keep nails on at all because of hormone treatments or those who experience lifting when they stop. Either way, say nail technicians, it is a change in the client’s body chemistry that affects product performance.

“I believe that everything we eat, drink, or take is reflected in the condition of our hair and nails,” Laki says. “When women take hormones, it must cause some sort of unknown chemical reaction that changes the nail plate’s makeup so that it rejects the acrylic when it tries to bond.”

While no documentation exists to prove or disprove Laki’s theory, doctors readily admit that hormones affect changes in the natural nails. “Estrogen and menopause are a big unknown. I personally believe that in some women, hormones play a big role in the texture, brittleness, and fragility of nails,” says Phoebe Rich, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Oregon Health Sciences University. “It is not universal, however, because some women notice no changes in their nails while taking hormones or during menopause.”

Therefore, it may not be that big of a stretch to find some relationship between the medication and acrylic nails.

Other medical sources, including Dr. Scher, are warm to the possibility that this type of lifting could be caused by the illness being treated (rather than the medications being used to treat it) or even the client’s age, which tends to affect the way the nails grow.


And the Scientists Say ...

If you saw the movie Contact with Jodie Foster, you may remember a scene where Foster’s character introduces a scientific theory to Matthew McConaughay’s character on the White House balcony. Foster states that it is usually the simplest explanation for something that tends to be the right one.

Bearing this in mind, says Doug Schoon, director of research and development for Creative Nail Design (Vista, Calif.), the most likely explanation for lifting is nail technician error during nail prep or application. This is because any changes in the nails or adhesion as the result of medications would not be visible overnight or even in two or three weeks.

“Nails only grow 1/10-inch per month, so any chemical changes in the body would take time to manifest themselves,” he says. “If hormones affect the new, growing nail, then those changes will not be visible until the nail grows past the eponychium.

“Hormones control everything in the body — they are the chemical messengers,” explains Schoon. “Everything is affected by them, both quickly and slowly. For instance, mood swings can come and go quickly, but changes to hair and nails happen over time. There is no conceivable or plausible explanation for any type of medication making the lifting occur right away. If the nail is adhered to the nail plate and it is properly and tightly sealed, no substance that we know of will change that seal immediately. Only a change in the chemical makeup of the nail plate itself could affect the seal, and that just doesn’t happen overnight.”

Schoon also points out that perception clouds our view. “People have selective memories and therefore it may seem like only the clients taking hormones are lifting, when really the problem might be more common with other clients as well,” he says.

To back this point up, he relates a classic example: “It is commonly accepted myth that during a full moon more accidents happen, more murders, and more stabbings occur. Researchers did a poll of emergency room doctors and nurses and asked them if they agreed that during a full moon there are more patient admissions. The overwhelming majority said yes, they thought so. However, a review of admissions records proved that admissions were no higher than other busy periods. When it was busy during a full moon, everyone commented on that and remembered that. They didn’t make those comments during other busy times, so they didn’t remember them as much,” says Schoon.

The same phenomenon can be related to nail technicians. “They remember the three clients they know are taking birth control pills and the fact that they are having problems with adhesion, but forget about other clients who aren’t taking birth control pills and have the same problems,” he says.

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