Signs of product allergies show up in stages: first, the cuticles become red and swollen. These symptoms go away quickly, and the client may not associate the redness with her nail appointment. So she returns. In the second stage, tiny, fluid-filled bumps appear around the cuticles. This doesn’t go away as quickly and may even cause intense itching. Still, the client may not mention it. Finally, the skin begins to crack. At this point, either the client becomes so uncomfortable, she will tell you ... or you’ll notice the problem yourself.

When this happens, do not apply nail product on the client. Instead, tell the client you’re going to wait for the reaction to clear completely before troubleshooting to find a long-term solution.

Here’s how that conversation might go down:

 Client: A couple days after my last appointment, my cuticles itched so bad! I saw little blisters around my nails!

You: Oh! How long have you noticed this happening?

Client: Well, actually, my cuticles seemed red after my last few appointments, but this is the first time it’s really itched.

You: It sounds like you’re having an allergic reaction, and it’s getting progressively worse.

Client: No. That can’t be. I’ve been getting my nails done for five years. I’m not allergic to the product.

You: Actually, a person can develop a sensitivity to a product at any time — even if they’ve never had a reaction to it before. Since we don’t know what you’re reacting to, I’m going to give you a natural nail manicure instead of a fill (or gel-polish). I’m going to use polish that is free of DBP, formaldehyde, and toluene. I recommend you see a dermatologist. She may be able to determine which ingredient you are allergic to.

Client: I want you to fill my nails anyway. The itching goes away after a few days!

You: No, I can’t. If we keep applying product, it will only get worse, ­because we’ll be exposing your skin to allergens. If your skin is completely clear with no reactions for one month, we’ll begin to test different products to see if there’s one that works. If I test those products on you now, you may develop an allergic reaction to the new product since your immune system is so sensitive. Don’t worry. Your nails will still look beautiful.

Client: Thank you, wise sage.


Minimize the Risk of Product Allergy

> Be sure to fill out a client information sheet at the client’s first appointment. You want to know if she has any pre-existing allergies to any essential oils, fragrances, preservatives, nail hardeners, nail polishes, or artificial nail coatings/enhancements. She may have had allergies to these products before, but wants to try your products. As long as the skin is healthy, go for it, but watch for early signs of a reaction.

> Use a protein bonder instead of an acid primer.

> FYI: Gel products have smaller molecules, so they are more likely to penetrate the skin and cause a reaction.

> Be precise about powder-and-liquid ratios. If the ratio is off, the product will take longer to harden, which exposes clients to the allergen for an extended period of time.

> Avoid touching the cuticles with product.