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Contact dermatitis is becoming more prevalent in the nail industry, which is why knowing how to prevent an allergic reaction from happening is now of the utmost importance Although contact allergies can occur on nail techs and clients as a result of not following correct protocols when carrying out a treatment, there’s another reason why symptoms are on the rise – Covid-19.

“One of the reasons there have been so many allergies going around is due to the coronavirus lockdowns. Consumers have been buying gel-polish and acrylic kits off the internet and blaming these products for creating allergies, but the issue has occurred because they don’t know how to use the systems, or even understand the risks of using them when not trained,” explains Georgie Smedley, Managing Director of the Georgie Smedley Group.

What are the most common signs of a contact allergy?

Contact allergies happen as a result of making repeated contact with a chemical or substance that’s not designed for the skin. “Unfortunately, if you’re presented with a contact allergy then it means your body has become overexposed and that’s something that can’t be undone. Once you’re allergic, you will always be allergic,” explains Smedley.

Itchy skin around the nails is the most common sign, “and this could be under the free edge, around the cuticle or somewhere on the body that’s completely unrelated to the nails,” says Smedley. “It can even cause blisters under the nails and/or cause the skin to split and peel. Eventually, this could even lead to nail separation.” However, a reaction doesn’t necessarily have to be on the skin, with difficulty breathing and headaches other well-known side effects.

Smedley stresses that it’s not your fault if your client becomes allergic to something, as long as you’ve been extremely careful in treatment and explained from the start that a contact allergy could occur.

“Tell your client that they can have a reaction to a nail product immediately or over time, and that you will do X, Y and Z to keep them safe, but stress that they need to inform you if they have any signs of an allergy,” she says. “However, it is your fault if you’re not working to your health and safety protocols.”

How do chemicals from nail products get into the body?

Smedley explains that there are three routes of entry into the body techs need to be aware of – inhalation, ingestion and skin absorption. “Think about what’s in the air that you can inhale. For example, the dust that occurs when you’re filing a client’s nails or the vapours from a liquid-andpowder system that evaporate into the air,” says Smedley.

“Vapours are liquids that are volatile, and if something is volatile then it means it evaporates very quickly. The heavier particles will settle on your desk while the lighter particles that you can’t see will get into your nose.”

The solution is to invest in proper ventilation – installed beneath nose level – so the system pulls the dust away from your face. “It is also worth contacting your health and safety officer as they can tell you the allowed amount of vapour you can have in your business per square foot. They calculate how big your area is, how many windows you should have open, if you need to buy a ventilation system, and so on,” she says.

Ingestion is another route to be aware of as something as simple as not washing your hands properly after treatment and then eating lunch can lead to an issue. But, the most common way chemicals enter the body is via skin absorption.

“I’ve watched so many tutorial videos where the nails have been painted beautifully but the tech accidentally gets a little bit of gel-polish on the client’s skin. Not only has that polish gone onto the skin but the tech has then used her thumbnail to wipe it off,” says Smedley. “We’re all temped to do it – we get into bad habits – but this is why you need to review your working habits regularly to make sure you’re staying on top of things.”

What can I do to prevent contact allergies?

Good housekeeping and correct disposal of products will prevent contact allergies from occurring. This ranges from keeping lids on products and throwing away desk towels that you are wiping your brushes on, to controlled product application and “cleaning your desk surface between every stage of the nail treatment, not just between each clients,” adds Smedley.

Smedley says you need to follow the below checklist to work safely:

• Make sure liquid products aren’t running down the handle of your brush

• Decant only the amount of liquid you require

• Ensure the correct curing equipment is used

• Avoid touching your face during treatments

• Always use a metal bin with a lid to dispose of chemicals on towels and use an inner bag

• Wear gloves even if no allergy is present

• Use ventilation where possible

• Clean away any product from skin using a tool, not your fingernails.

Georgie Smedley is Managing Director of the Georgie Smedley Group, which distributes nail brand Gelish and manufactures All That Jazz.