I had a new client come in with a nasty looking greenie (pseudomonas). I took off her old acrylic nail and found that her nail plate was cracked and the greenie was underneath her nail bed. I did not replace the enhancement and told her to see a doctor. Did I overreact? What should I have done?

Doug Schoon: If the infection has spread beneath the nail plate to the nail bed, it is best to refer the client to a doctor for treatment. Infections of this type can lead to more serious problems if left untreated. In my opinion, every nail tech should make contact with a local physician and make sure that they are referring their clients to a medical professional who understands artificial nails. Most physicians do not, therefore it is wise to take the time to locate and educate a local doctor to assist you with these types of issues.

Dyer: It’s always best to err on the side of caution. However, in addition to recommending professional medical evaluation, you can also offer some other alternatives that are effective and less costly such as using a broad spectrum antimicrobial solution, which can be effective in killing susceptible germs like bacteria, fungus, and viruses. A study published in the March 1999, Journal of the American Podiatric Association, demonstrated the effectiveness of a surfactant, allantion, and benzalkoniam chloride antimicrobial solution in improving a variety of infections from various microbes. Another option is soaking the affected nail in a 50/50 solution of apple cider vinegar and water. These alternatives address the infection locally without having to take oral medications that circulate through your entire body.

Is there a chemical in nail glue or acrylic powder or liquid that can give a person daily headaches?

David Dyer: The nail professional deals with any number of volatiles (chemicals that help maintain liquid solutions) which, when the nail product dries, evaporate into the air you are breathing. Most volatiles can cause headaches, though some (such as ethyl acetate and butyl acetate) are more likely to cause headaches than others. Certain volatiles have been banned from use in nail products (formaldehyde, in certain forms and amounts, for example). You can find out about the ingredients by checking the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) that comes with the products.

Doug Schoon: Headaches can be a early warning sign of overexposure to thousands of different substances, including quickly evaporating (volatile) substances such as paints, solvents, nail polish, hair sprays, as well as all types of enhancement products. Powders and filings are much less likely to cause these symptoms. Early warning signs of overexposure are the body’s way of telling you to work more safely. Fortunately, these early warning signs are usually temporary and will go away as soon as the overexposure stops. Typically, these symptoms are caused by improper ventilation. The best type of system to prevent overexposure is one that captures and removes vapors or dust from the salon. Ventilation systems that claim to “clean the air” are ineffective in the salon environment. Also, ozone-generating air cleaners should be avoided. Even trace amounts of ozone can cause headaches, coughing, and other asthma-like symptoms. In short, the best way to ventilate the salon is to pull out the contaminated air and bring in fresh air.

Which is healthier for the nails – paper wraps or silk?

Doug Schoon: One of the greatest myths of our industry is that one type of nail enhancement is “healthier” for natural nails than another type. This is totally untrue! The vast majority of damage to the nail plate is caused by either improper nail preparation or improper product removal. Overfiling the natural nail and nipping to remove products are the biggest culprits when it comes to nail damage. This is why it is so important to never rough up the nail with a drill or coarse abrasive. This technique strips away many of the layers of natural nail, leaving it thin and weak. It can also cause friction burns to the nail bed leading to partially detached nail plates (onycholysis).

Also, never remove nail enhancements unless it is necessary. Frequent or improper enhancement removal is often responsible for serious nail damage. If for some reason the enhancements must be removed, soaking in product remover is the most gentle procedure. If all nail techs avoided overfilling and improper removal, natural nails would rarely become damaged from salon services. This is why I believe that the mark of a good nail tech is one whose clients have undamaged natural nails.

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