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  • Rajani Katta MD

The Monday morning beauty hangover: allergic reactions to manicures, shellac nails, and hair dye

Updated: Jan 23

I call it the Monday morning beauty hangover. And it's the last thing you'd expect.

You head into the beauty salon on Saturday for a highly anticipated treatment. And then, Monday morning, you wake up looking....not so good. Because of an allergic reaction.

Allergic reactions may be the last thing you expect when you head to the beauty salon, but I see many patients who develop reactions to common beauty treatments.

Whether it's that pretty shade of nail polish, those shiny shellac nails, or that gorgeous hair color, beauty treatments can trigger allergic reactions. Here's a rundown of a few potential culprits: 1. Nail polish. Surprisingly, rashes on the eyelids are often triggered by substances that aren't directly used on the eyelids. One common example is a chemical used in nail polish. This chemical, tosylamide formaldehyde resin, may trigger allergic rashes that appear on the eyelids, face, neck, or chest.

Chemicals in nail polish can trigger allergic reactions on the eyelids, face, and neck

This type of allergic reaction is called allergic contact dermatitis. And what makes it so hard to identify the culprit is that this is a delayed allergy. These allergic reactions don't start right away. It usually takes 2 to 3 days following exposure to a trigger before the rash gets started. The rash may take the form of raised red patches or red, flaky patches. Sometimes the rash may even blister.

While many of the drugstore brands have taken this chemical out of their nail polishes, I still see it used in some of the nail polish brands that are used in nail salons. Nail polishes that are labeled "five free" usually don't contain this particular chemical.

2. Hair dye. There's definitely been a cultural shift over the last few decades. Both men and women are covering their gray at an earlier age, and they're continuing to use hair dye well into their older years. And I'm seeing many allergic reactions to hair dye.

Which brings me to a common misconception about allergic reactions. Many of my patients tell me that they've been using a product for years, and therefore it's not the cause of their allergic reactions.

That's simply not true. You can develop an allergic reaction at any point in time.

A new product can certainly trigger an allergic reaction. So can a product that you've been using for years without any problems. That's what I often see with hair dye allergy. I've had patients who've been coloring their hair for-- literally--decades. And then, suddenly, they develop an allergic reaction.

Many patients with allergy to hair dye do not develop rashes on the scalp, but rather on areas such as the forehead, temples, and neck When people develop an allergic reaction to their hair dye, it usually (surprisingly) does not affect the scalp itself. Most of the patients I've seen have developed reactions on the eyelids, ear, forehead, or neck. The usual culprit is a chemical called p-phenylenediamine. For more on hair dye allergy, and how to prevent it, see this post.

3. Artificial nails.

I've noticed a definite rise in the number of women who regularly get artificial nails.

When I say artificial nails, most people think of acrylic nails. I definitely see allergic reactions to acrylic nails, but I also see many reactions to "gel" or "shellac" nails.

Gel and shellac nails can trigger the same type of allergic reactions as acrylic nails. That's because the same chemicals – acrylates – are used in many types of gel and shellac nails. As a basic rule of thumb, if you're placing your nails under a UV light, your treatment has likely included acrylate chemicals. (acrylate chemicals require "curing "under a UV light to become solid) These acrylate chemicals can trigger allergic reactions. And again, surprisingly, the reactions are often seen in areas away from the fingernails. Specifically, I often see allergy to acrylate chemicals show up on the eyelids, face, and neck. This can be a very difficult allergy. Once you become allergic to these chemicals, your allergies are typically lifelong. Since acrylate chemicals are often used in dentistry, patients will need to inform their dentist of this allergy. Acrylate chemicals are often used in fillings, crowns, and dental adhesives, which can make them difficult to avoid.

To learn more about allergic rashes from gel, acrylic, and shellac nails, check out this post.

4. Eyelash extensions. I've definitely seen many more friends using eyelash extensions ("fake eyelashes") in the last few years. These are applied to the skin of the eyelids with adhesives. Some of these adhesives, such as cyanoacrylate, can trigger allergic reactions.

The adhesives used for eyelash extensions can trigger allergic reactions

The bottom line: Beauty treatments can seem like such a safe indulgence, but you still have to take precautions. It's definitely important to choose salons that maintain strict standards of cleanliness, and that handle their chemicals carefully and safely. In a nail salon, for example, you want to make sure that acrylate chemicals are handled with respect, and that the technician makes sure that no acrylate powder, liquid, or gel spills onto the counter or onto your skin.

Even in the best of situations, though, allergic reactions can sometimes occur. And keep in mind that in the case of allergic contact dermatitis, you likely won't see a reaction until 2 to 3 days later. That's why I call these types of reactions the Monday morning beauty hangover.

Just because these chemicals are used in beauty treatments, it doesn't mean that they can't trigger serious allergic reactions. Be aware, and be careful.

*If you'd like future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.

Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.

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