Is it possible to be allergic to gel polish and those manicures that you’ve grown to love? In short, yes. It is possible. It’s possible to be allergic or develop an allergy to nearly anything.
For those new here, or maybe this is the first post you’re reading, Hello! I’m Naomi Denu. I’m a nail technician of 13 years who has done a ton of research into nails, nail structure, and nail products! I am not an allergist, nor am I a doctor. This post is all simply information I’ve learned from various nail professionals, chemists, and industry leaders about the products we all love to use.
So let’s dive into why and how gel polish allergies develop, how to avoid them, and how to spot if you’re developing an allergy. We’ll also discuss what to look for on the ingredient label when researching brands of gel polish.
My goal in this article is to enlighten you, not frighten you. I want you to be armed with the knowledge to have the best manicure experience possible!
First, let’s talk about ingredients.
All gel polish products contain some form of acrylate ingredients. More specifically, HEMA is a common ingredient in gel polish products. HEMA (HydroxyEthyl MethAcrylate) is added to gel polish products to aid in bonding and adhesion. It is a monofunctional (small molecule) monomer, and is considered ‘loose’ or ‘free’ when not bonded to another ingredient. HEMA can cause allergies when it comes into contact with the skin, because it is such a small molecule. There is more of a risk if that skin is dry, and has no oil barrier to help keep products from absorbing.
Di-HEMA or Bis-HEMA is bonded HEMA. This means that the HEMA has been molecularly bound to other ingredients to form a larger molecule that cannot enter or absorb into the skin as easily as HEMA alone. This is generally considered safe/safer than gel polishes with HEMA alone.
Hydroxypropyl Methacrylate is another bonding aid that is even less allergenic than HEMA – and when combined with HEMA it lowers the allergy potential even further.
Why do these ingredients matter? Because when researching a brand of gel polish to use for your DIY manicures, you’ll want to find one that contains Di-HEMA or Bis-HEMA versus HEMA. And be sure that the ingredients are ON the bottle. If a brand has a bottle without ingredients and isn’t able to provide an MSDS sheet and ingredient list – steer clear! Many products available for very little money on websites like Amazon and eBay use large amounts of the cheapest raw ingredients, therefore posing a higher risk of allergic reactions to their polish formulas.
GelMoment Gel Polish is considered a Hypoallergenic Polish. Hypoallergenic means a product is less likely to cause an allergy – not that it cannot. GelMoment uses Di-HEMA (which is the safest HEMA product) combined with Hydroxypropyl Methacrylate, which even further lowers the allergen risk.
Does this mean that I won’t develop an allergy to GelMoment? Not exactly. Let’s take a look at how an allergy to gel polish develops.
How Gel Polish Allergies Develop
An allergy to gel polish and it’s ingredients can only develop if there is repeated skin contact with UN-cured or UNDER-cured gel polish product. This includes getting polish on the skin while painting your nails, cleaning up around your nail with another fingernail after painting, applying polish in coats that are too think to cure properly, etc. When a product is used and removed correctly, the risk of an allergy developing is incredibly low.
If you think you’re following the application and removal instructions for your product, it may be small things you’re doing that you may not realize are adding to a risk of allergy. So let’s talk about how to avoid developing an allergy.
How to avoid becoming allergic to gel polish
Avoid Skin Contact with gel polish.
Apply your gel polish to the nail plate only, and avoid contact with the surrounding skin. This does take a bit of practice, and the method shown in the graphic below is the best way to polish the nail plate to avoid excess gel getting on the skin. This method also avoids flooding the cuticle area with polish.
To start, your brush should be nearly dry, just a small amount of polish on it. Place it in the center of the nail plate and push the polish back towards the cuticle, and then pull forward to the tip. Then swipe up one side, and then the other. It’s better to have to go back and add polish to the nail than to have too much to begin with. Also, be sure to leave a gap between the edge of the polish and your skin.
Clean up skin contact properly
When you do accidentally get a little polish on your skin, it can be very tempting to swipe it away with your finger. Unfortunately, doing this repeatedly over time leaves you at risk of developing an allergy.
Instead of using your finger, wrap a GelMoment Cleansing Wipe around the pointed end of your GelMoment Cuticle Pusher and use that to gently wipe around the nail plate and remove polish from the skin. If the wipe has a lot of polish on it, adjust to a clean spot on the wipe or grab a new one before moving to the next nail to limit skin contact with the polish.
Apply polish in THIN coats.
All gel polishes contain photoinitiators that react with UV-A light to cure. In order for the light to penetrate the polish and provide a full/proper cure, the polish has to be applied in thin coats. When polish is applied too thickly, the light cannot fully penetrate the polish. The surface will appear cured, but the polish underneath that has contact with the nail plate will be UNcured or UNDERcured. Over time, this can lead to an allergy developing, and it’s one of the easiest things to avoid.
Colors that are highly pigmented like dark blues, reds, and black will need to be applied in super thin coats – so keep that in mind!
Check out the graphic below to see the correct thickness of each coat of polish, and how much polish is appropriate to have on the brush.
In this graphic, you can see examples of polish that was applied in too thick of a coat – the polish on top cured but the underside did not. This results in bubbles, peeling, and a mushy type of feeling under the polish.
Use proper placement in the lamp
You may not realize the importance of making sure your nails are flat, level, and even inside the lamp when curing. If the entire nail is not exposed, it leaves areas of the nail open to being uncured or undercured. This graphic shows how your nails should be placed in the lamp. Always cure your thumbs separately. Depending on which GelMoment Lamp you are using, cure two or four fingers at a time for each coat of polish until you reach desired opacity. Then, polish your thumbs and cure them side by side and flat in the lamp for each coat of polish.
Use the correct lamp for your gel polish brand
Another thing I see often as both a nail technician and a GelMoment distributor is the mixing and matching of gel polish brands and UV Curing lamps. It is important to use the lamp that was formulated and tested to work specifically with the brand of polish you are using. Their chemists have determined that their lamp is curing their product fully. If you are using a lamp that was not designed to work with the polish brand you are using, you are leaving yourself at risk of repeatedly wearing polish that is not fully cured.
Don’t change your polish too often
Since we know that sometimes accidental skin contact while polishing is unavoidable, we can reduce our risk by polishing our nails less frequently. What I mean by this, is that since gel polishes are formulated to last 10-14 days on average, you shouldn’t be changing your manicure more frequently than twice per month or so.
Changing your polish too often not only increases your risk of skin contact with uncured polish, but it increases your exposure to the removal ingredients as well (usually acetone based) which are very drying to the nail plate and surrounding tissue. Which brings me to my next point.
Oil your nails daily
Your nails and surrounding tissue should be oiled liberally at minimum 1-2 times a day with a quality nail oil. You can learn more about Why Cuticle Oil is Important, but remember above where we discussed the molecule size of the ingredients in gel polish? Skin that is dry has no oil barrier present to help prevent the absorption of those molecules. Well oiled nails and surrounding tissue will do a much better job of protecting you from the accidental exposure to uncured polish. Not only that, but a well oiled nail plate will also lead to a longer lasting and more durable manicure. Plus our hands and fingers look so much nicer when they are hydrated!
How do I know if I’m developing an allergy?
So now that we know all about HOW to avoid allergies developing, how do we know if are developing an allergy?
If the skin around your nails becomes swollen, red, itchy, cracked, or gets little tiny blisters – these are all signs that you’re having a reaction to the polish. If your nails start to lift away from the nail bed at the tip, or the skin underneath your nail begins to thicken – these are signs you’re having a reaction to the polish.
Take a look at the graphic below to see some examples of allergy reactions.
I think I developed an allergy to gel polish. Now what?
If you suspect you are allergic to gel polish, the first step is to remove the product from your nails. Once it’s been removed, clip your nails down short. Especially if you’re experiencing onycholysis where the nail plate is separating from the nail bed. You want to make sure they are not long enough to accidentally snag on anything and potentially make the lifting worse. Then, oil your nails well. You can read more about repairing damaged nails.
If you suspect an allergy, you’ll need to see your doctor and then most likely have a referral to a dermatologist to do a patch test. Do not continue to use the product until you’ve had this done. In order to continue to be able to enjoy beautiful manicures, you’ll need to narrow down what ingredient it is in the polish that you’re reacting to. From there, you’ll have the knowledge of what to avoid when purchasing nail products in the future.
The best way to treat an allergy to gel polish is to prevent it.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, this information is NOT meant to frighten you. On the contrary, my hopes with this information is to enlighten you on how to properly use and enjoy your at home gel polish system with the lowest amount of risk of becoming allergic. I hope this article has done that, so you can move forward with having beautiful nails!
If you have any additional questions, please feel free to comment below!28