These Horror Stories Are Why You Shouldn’t Scrimp On Nail Treatments

Photo by Sophia Wilson.
Despite learning to DIY our nails during lockdown and keeping up with countless #nailhacks on TikTok, nail services were among the first beauty treatments many of us wanted to book in for when salons reopened. A professional manicure is hard to beat, after all.
Unsurprisingly the nail industry is booming again. According to the NPD Group, the total nail market from April to June 2021 rose by 54%, and we've seen a resurgence of buzzy nail movements in particular, with a sea of pastel tips, cut-out manis and neon hues filling our social media feeds. But while professional nail art continues to boom, and booking in for a fortnightly manicure is more popular than ever, it’s giving way to a worrying and extremely dangerous trend.

A manicure might seem a pretty risk-free and painless beauty procedure but a lot can go wrong: extreme pain, bacterial infection, allergies and even hospitalisation in severe circumstances.

The pandemic has given rise to unqualified nail technicians

In 2021 the beauty industry remains largely unregulated. As it stands, anyone can perform beauty treatments – from fillers to Botox – without proper training. During the pandemic, vast numbers of people have used the extra time afforded to them by lockdown to train themselves online or to take crash courses in all kinds of beauty treatments – including nail services, such as acrylics and gels.
"During the pandemic there was a huge rise in online courses," confirms Metta Francis, award-winning nail professional and founder of Nails by Mets. "While most of these were legitimate courses offered by well-established brands or educators, there were a shocking number of low cost, one-day or fast-track online nail technician courses covering everything from gel polish manicures to acrylic nail extensions," she says. "Targeted ads were popping up on social media and websites such as Groupon daily," adds Metta. "The cost was minimal, making it an easy and cheap investment for anyone who had even a small amount of interest in learning how to do nails."
Financial difficulties caused by the pandemic have meant that lots of people are looking for ways to save money on their beauty treatments. As a result, cheap offers and services led by unqualified, so-called nail techs are more in demand than ever before — but the dangers can't be ignored. A manicure might seem like a pretty risk-free beauty procedure but a lot can go wrong. Extreme pain, bacterial infection, allergies and even hospitalisation in severe circumstances are just a few of the dangers.

A client's fingertips were swelling so much and starting to separate from the skin. It took over an hour and a half to remove the acrylics and the client was in pain. 

In the wrong hands, the risks of getting your nails done are endless

"Visiting a manicurist who doesn't have the right training behind them could lead to an unsuitable nail coating applied, poor service and treatment and adverse reactions, allergies or dangerous practices," Metta says. Roxanne Campbell, multi-award-winning manicurist, nail expert and founder of new at-home service Revarnish London, adds: "There are potential risks like damaging and weakening the nail plate if someone has not been trained correctly, which can actually cause a lot of pain in some cases. There are also dangers that could cause you serious harm, for example, if a person isn't using the tools and equipment properly or potentially not being able to prevent or spot an allergic reaction," which could culminate in itchy, flaky, red skin. "They could even cause infection if they don’t keep on top of their sanitation," adds Roxanne. She cites a client who came into a salon where she was working with an allergic reaction from a previous acrylic nail application. "Her fingertips were swelling so much and starting to separate from the skin," said Roxanne. She added that it took over an hour and a half to remove the acrylics, and all the while the client was in pain.
Worse yet, last year it was reported that a woman lost her fingernails because she was in so much discomfort after botched acrylic nails that she had to rip off the acrylics herself. The woman believed that her nail technician had used methyl methacrylate (MMA), a bonding agent used in acrylic nail extensions which is so strong that it can cause major reactions and nail damage, as seen in the above post by south London nail technician @beautybyprxncesa on Instagram. There have been wince-inducing reports of MMA being applied very close to the nail bed and cuticle, which may result in surgery to remove it later down the line.
On TikTok, videos which show MMA eating through natural nails are not for the fainthearted. MMA is now banned in some parts of the US after coming under review by the Food and Drug Administration, however laws to prevent its use in Australia are yet to be put in place. Plenty of properly qualified nail technicians are averse to the use of MMA but it's relatively cheap, which may sway those looking to save money on materials when training up or starting out in the industry.

Once someone experiences itchy, peeling skin as a result of overexposure to nail materials, an allergy has already developed. It cannot be reversed.

Repeated skin contact with certain nail materials may also pose a risk. "It's not uncommon for people to develop overexposure to certain nail products such as gel or acrylic-based products," says Metta. "This is an allergy that develops over time and can occur when the product constantly touches clients' skin," which she says is highly likely to occur in untrained hands, and if the manicurist doesn't follow manufacturers’ guidelines. "Examples include using a range of different branded gel products together (top, colour, base) where they have been untested or unintended for use together, not to mention using the incorrect UV/LED lamp for the system."
TikTokers and nail experts are taking to the app in large numbers to show the results of allergic reactions. Take this video posted by @didyoucallforkeke, which shows a severe case of dermatitis caused by MMA nails. Metta says that fully trained manicurists will understand the importance of sticking to one system and using the correct equipment and products together to prevent reactions like this. Unfortunately, some clients may not realise they're allergic until it’s too late. "Once someone experiences itchy, peeling skin, the allergy has already developed," says Metta. She goes on to warn that allergies can't be reversed.
Another major issue with a cheaper manicure is that the nail technician (trained or untrained) is likely to cut corners to save on costs, which can lead to infection. Using cheap tools, in particular, can permanently damage the nail plate. Even something as simple as filing the wrong way could cause extreme pain, as well as using electric drills on natural nails, which may expose flesh. Nails and cuticles are meant to keep bacteria from entering your body and Metta says that infections will occur if the client receives any cuts, open wounds or simply if the nail folds or seals are removed and disrupted, as this provides entry points for bacteria.
I sent out a quick WhatsApp to friends, asking if they had any of their own horror stories. Within minutes, I had a ton of responses, all with one thing in common: cheap, unqualified or inexperienced nail technicians. One friend told me: "I was on the way back from somewhere recently and had an hour to kill before dinner so I dropped into a salon for a quick pedicure. The tech literally shaved down my nails so short until they hurt and bled," she recalled. "She basically dug out my nail beds and kept going." Another friend had a similar issue: "I went for Shellac somewhere new and they shaved down my nails to such an extent that they became weak and sore. They also cut down my cuticles so far, they started bleeding. It was so bad that I couldn’t have Shellac for a year afterwards."

How to stay safe when you’re getting your nails done 

Unless you ask to see qualifications, it's hard to tell whether or not someone is adequately trained in nails. "Being a manicurist is a very highly skilled profession," says Juanita Huber-Millet, Townhouse founder and creative director. "It takes years of training and practice to reach the top of your game." It's not just about the look, either, she says. "It's also about the safety of your nails — anyone who has lost a nail will know just how sensitive they are!"
Fully qualified manicurists will have undertaken in-depth training and education, learning about nail anatomy, contraindications (something that will cause harm to a client), ingredients, formulas and much more, says Metta. "They will be knowledgeable in all types of nail products, skin and nail conditions, making them much better at recommending and carrying out the best and most suitable service for each client," she adds. Nail qualifications go far beyond product application and learning the different services. They cover topics like physiology in order to learn about nail growth, how the hands move and even the muscles in the hands, says Roxanne. "A qualified manicurist will have studied so many other important elements, like hygiene and sanitation to make sure you’re in a safe environment," she continues. Accreditation proves that the technician knows exactly what they’re doing to ensure your safety and the efficacy of the treatment, says Roxanne, so don't be afraid to ask about it.  

My nails were shaved down to such an extent that they became weak and sore. They also cut down my cuticles so far, they started bleeding. I couldn’t have Shellac for a year afterwards.

Research is important, too. "The first place you want to head is to their bio, often on their social media page or website, as this is the quickest way to find their qualifications," says Roxanne. She suggests learning about a nail technician's background in the nail industry and having a browse through their portfolio, too. "See if you can find any reviews from verified customers and look out for red flags like bad customer service, using products and equipment incorrectly and missing out on important steps when it comes to nail treatment," such as sanitising and ignoring any worrying nail symptoms that you might have, like sensitivity or ridges. As well as this, if a treatment is super cheap, it's probably too good to be true. Good materials cost money, which will be reflected in the price of your manicure. An experienced technician will also always take their time in tending to your nails.
Making sure the nail tech you choose is fully insured and has been specifically trained in the services offered is fundamental, concludes Metta. She urges clients not to be afraid to ask questions, especially if you are trying out a nail service for the first time. "Any excellent nail technician will take the time to consult and discuss what is best to make you feel comfortable," she says, "so chat to them beforehand to get an idea of how they work." Finally, it's about knowing how to look after your nails beyond the salon, says Juanita. Not everyone can come into a salon every week, so asking your nail technician what's best to use at home (DIY polish, tools, cuticle oils and hand creams) is recommended to avoid reactions, infection and disappointing aesthetic results. All in all, manicures are a treat to be enjoyed without putting your nails, or yourself, in danger. 

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