Pregnancy and Nail Salons

Pregnancy Nail Salons

If you enjoy getting a professional manicure or pedicure, you may wonder whether this beauty routine is safe while you’re pregnant. An occasional visit to the nail salon can be a wonderful way to pamper yourself, but there are a few things to consider.

  1. Pregnancy changes your nails. Rising estrogen levels associated with pregnancy can result in visible and usually positive changes to nail health. For most women pregnancy mean longer, stronger nails, but for a few the hormonal fluctuation results in nails that split more easily. If your nails become brittle during pregnancy, keep hands and cuticles well moisturized. Keep nails short and rounded to help prevent breakage.
  2. It is possible to get an infection while getting a manicure or pedicure, but taking preventive measures can minimize your risk. First, choose a salon that prioritizes cleanliness. Notice whether the salon’s equipment is adequately sterilized. After every use, metal nail care tools, such as clippers, should be sterilized to remove any bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Buffers and other non-metal equipment cannot be sterilized this way and should not be re-used. You can sterilize your own equipment at home and bring it to the salon. Pedicure baths should also be scrubbed out and sterilized between customers.
  3. Exercise caution when cutting cuticles.  Some beauty experts advise against cutting cuticles, since they form a natural seal that protects living skin from bacteria and fungus. Because it can be difficult to differentiate between the cuticle, which is dead skin, and the eponychium, which is the living skin, cutting too far can lead to an infection. Never cut the eponychium. Gently pushing the cuticle back can help you see what’s safe to cut, but don’t forcefully push the skin or it may rip, leaving you prone to infection. You can ask your nail care professional not to cut your cuticles.
  4. Shop smart to minimize chemical exposure. Nail polish does contain a mix of chemicals, notably toluene, dibutyl phthalate,  and formaldehyde, which can be harmful if you are regularly exposed to them. Such chemicals have been detected in the urine of pregnant women and in breast milk, although only for a short period of time. One way to limit such chemical exposure is to choose a nail polish created without these chemicals and to bring that polish to the salon. Several nail polish brands now offer this option.
  5. Avoid nail salons in the first trimester. If you do go, make sure your salon is well ventilated. Pregnancy hormones can heighten the sense of smell, and salon fumes may prompt nausea, especially during the first trimester.
  6. Save gel manicures for special occasions. Gel manicures—which use polish that hardens when exposed to UV light—are increasingly popular, since they are more durable than regular manicures. Two potential health risks associated with gel manicures are the lengthy exposure to the acetone required to remove the gel and the UV light that is used to harden the gel.  To remove gel, nails are wrapped in acetone soaked cotton balls for up to 20 minutes. That’s a lot longer than it takes to remove regular nail polish. So far, there is no data to determine specific risks, but it’s best to avoid any unnecessary chemical exposure during pregnancy. Although the time you are exposed to UV light during a gel manicure is short, over time it can add up to skin damage, such as hyperpigmentation and wrinkles. You can opt to have the technician dry your nails with a fan with the UV light turned off. You can also apply sunscreen to your hands before getting a gel manicure.
  7. There’s not enough data to determine whether acrylics —a protective layer that’s created over and may extend the length of your nails—are dangerous during pregnancy. While there have been no controlled studies looking at the safety of acrylics in pregnant women, chemicals and compounds are involved in applying and removing acrylic nails. Since the fumes may be the main risk, be sure the salon is well ventilated.
  8. Wear protective gear if nail care is your profession. If you work in a nail salon while pregnant, it’s wise to discuss your workplace risks and any health concerns with your doctor. Nail salon employees can absorb chemicals through their skin and through vapors. If you work in a nail salon, protect yourself against exposure. Wear gloves and a face mask.

Be sure to discuss these and any other beauty routine health concerns with your doctor. While having  an occasional mani-pedi probably poses no health risk to a pregnant woman or her developing baby, the safest option is to let your nails go au naturel for most of your pregnancy. Odds are, with a little care, your nails will look better than ever.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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