Wearing acrylic nails can cause nail fungal infections. Worse still, the risk is greater than many people think. A recent PubMed study shows that among 68 women reporting nail concerns after removing acrylic nails, 67% were fungal infections.
For this reason, every acrylic nail user must take precautions to prevent fungal infection. This guide explores acrylic nail fungus causes, signs, treatment, and prevention methods, so you’re better prepared.
How to treat fingernail fungus from acrylic nails
Tea tree oil and white cider vinegar are the best home remedies for nail fungus. You can also use antifungal nail polish, such as Penlac nail polish.
Medical doctors prescribe oral antifungal medications, topical ointments like terbinafine gel, and alternative therapies. Full recovery takes months or even a full year.
Can Acrylic Nail Cause Fungal Nail Infection?
Unfortunately, yes. Acrylic nails can trigger fungal nail infections. It’s a long process that takes months to develop.
But, eventually, moisture trapped under the skin invites bacteria and other microorganisms, causing fungal infections.
Yellow spots are the first sign of infection. After that, the patient may develop brittle, crumbled, and rugged nails.
Can Acrylic on Toes Cause Fungus?
Unfortunately, yes. Acrylic on toes can cause nail fungus. It begins with moisture trapped under the nail that causes dampness.
Then the damp conditions invite fungi and bacteria. Unfortunately, catching nail fungi in the early stages is almost impossible, as the signs often show up when the damage is done. Fortunately, you can take measures to prevent the problem.
Types of Fungi Under Acrylic Nails
There are more than half a dozen types of nail fungi. The following are the main types commonly found under acrylic nails;
Distal or Lateral Subungual Onychomycosis (Brown Spots Under Acrylic Nail)
Distal subungual onychomycosis is the most common type of fungal nail infection. It is caused by dermatophytes, fungi that can grow on keratin, a protein found in hair, skin, and nails.
The infection usually starts in the nail bed, where the fungus can grow and cause the nail plate to become thickened, discolored, and brittle.
The symptoms of distal subungual onychomycosis typically include yellowish or brownish discoloration of the nail and thickening and distortion of the nail plate.
The infection can also cause the nail to separate from the nail bed, which may result in pain or discomfort. Sometimes, the nail may become so thick that it can be difficult to cut or trim.
White Superficial Onychomycosis (Mild Acrylic Nail Fungus)
White superficial onychomycosis is a less common fungus that only affects the nail surface.
It mainly affects the toenails, especially the first, second, and middle nails, and is primarily characterized by white, opaque, scaly plaques with distinct edges on the nail plate.
The good news is that the condition only causes minimal penetration and is, therefore, easy to file away.
Proximal Subungual Onychomycosis (Whitish Mold Under the Nails)
This is the rarest form of nail fungus in healthy persons. It happens when the infecting microorganism invades the nail system via the proximal nail fold. The fungus then penetrates the nail plate and migrates laterally.
It affects fingers and toenails equally and is a common sign of a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Nonetheless, it also occurs in healthy people, especially due to trauma, such as nail damage during acrylic removal.
Green Nail Syndrome (Green Fungus Under Acrylic Nails)
Green nail syndrome is primarily a bacterial infection. However, fungal syndromes have been reported. A green-black discoloration of the nail bed characterizes an infection.
The fungi mostly invade nails previously damaged by infection or trauma and mainly affect the fingernails. It’s especially common in patients who frequently immerse their hands in water or sweat around the nails.
What Causes Fungus to Grow Under Acrylic Nails?
Nail fungi thrive in moist, warm, and dark environments. Thus spaces or cracks between or under artificial nails provide the perfect conditions for fungal growth.
But where do they come from? Unfortunately, it’s a difficult question. First, some fungi live in our bodies, in the guts, and on the skin. Some also live in soil, on plants, and pets. So, they’re all around you.
The good news is that a healthy body doesn’t provide the ideal conditions for full-blown attacks. This is especially true if you maintain proper health and hygiene.
But visiting nail salons and wearing acrylic nails predisposes us to fungal attacks for a few reasons;
- Contaminated equipment: Nail salons attend to dozens of people in a day and hundreds per month. So, there’s a good chance a few visitors have nail fungi or other fungi. Yet, the salons use the same equipment for everyone! Fungi spread this way easily.
- Nail damage: Nail damage is a more serious issue and the most common cause of nail fungi. For instance, acrylic nail application and the removal process involve aggressive filing, which can damage the nail plate and bed, leaving tiny cracks and gaps. Then the artificial nail goes over the real nail, trapping moisture and debris in the said gaps. This provides the perfect breeding ground for nail fungi.
- Nail polish moisture: Nail polish contains plenty of water. Under ideal conditions, the water evaporates during curing, leaving behind a hard, durable surface. Unfortunately, not all the moisture evaporates. Instead, some water is trapped between the hard acrylic coat and the natural nail. This can invite fungi and bacteria.
Anyone with acrylic nails can get nail fungi. However, the following predisposing factors make you a bigger risk;
- Diminished blood circulation around the nails
- Humid and moist environments (at work or home)
- Slow-growing natural nails (perhaps due to trauma)
- Wearing artificial nails for a long time
- A family history of fungal attacks
- Previous injury or infection
- Diabetes, HIV, AIDS, or a weakened immune system
Signs of Fingernail Fungal Infection
Unfortunately, fingernail fungal infections don’t show any symptoms at first. This is the biggest stumbling block to addressing the problem.
It takes weeks or months to see early symptoms. So, it’s already an established problem when you begin treatment.
Nonetheless, it helps to watch for telltale symptoms to catch the problem before it’s a full-blown infection. Common signs include;
- Nail discoloration: Discolored nails are an early-stage symptom, often visible within several weeks of infection. The nails may turn yellow, white, black, or green, depending on the type of fungus.
- Thickening and distortion of the nail: This is another first-stage sign. Fungal nails are characteristically thicker than healthy nails. They are also of an unusual shape, typically rugged and distorted.
- The nails lift from the nail bed: If your nails begin lifting from the beds without any injuries, you likely have nail fungi. This can affect the whole nail or part of it, leaving a visible space between the nail plate and the bed.
- Pain and discomfort: Fungal nails aren’t painful, especially in the early stages. However, you may later experience slight pain and discomfort as the nail weakens.
- Weak, crumbly nails: Fungal infections weaken the nails and make them prone to crumbling. For instance, pieces of the nail may break off without significant pressure.
Besides the above signs, watch the surrounding skin. For example, fingernail fungus from acrylic nails sometimes causes the surrounding skin, including the cuticles, to become scaly and cracked. The surrounding skin may also swell and redden.
How to Prevent Fungal Infection from Artificial Nails
Prevention is better than cure. So, we strongly recommend avoiding nail fungus first so you don’t have to deal with the ugly consequences.
The first step is to minimize the risk factors. Yes, you cannot completely avoid some risk factors. For instance, a genetic history of nail fungus puts you in a difficult spot.
However, you can limit or even eliminate some of the risks. The following are a few considerations;
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle protects you from many health conditions. For instance, a healthy lifestyle ensures proper blood circulation around the body and to the nails, reducing the risk of fungus.
It also ensures a strong immune system and optimal nail growth rate, minimizing the risk of infections.
Avoid Humid and Moist Environments
Fungi thrive in damp, humid, or moist environments. Make it a little darker, and they’ll send you a thank you note. Therefore, one way to minimize the risk is to keep your skin, and nails dry most of the time.
For instance, wipe your hands dry after the shower and avoid soaking them in water or other liquids for too long. If you sweat excessively, get treatment.
Address Injuries and Infections Promptly
Injuries are inevitable, and they damage the nails in various ways. For instance, nail injuries can result in cracked or broken nail plates. You may also experience bleeding in the nail bed or the surrounding skin.
Treating the wound properly and promptly keeps bacteria and fungi at bay. It also prevents dampness under the nail plate.
Avoid Artificial Nails
This is a drastic measure but extremely valuable when contending with other problems like HIV, poor blood circulation, and nail injuries.
For instance, applying acrylic nails over a broken toenail worsens the problem. It prolongs healing time and creates the perfect conditions for fungus growth.
Additionally, fake nails damage real nails during installation and removal. Therefore, you’re safer from nail fungi if you keep your natural nails.
Consider Professional Nail Installations
If you feel in good shape and desire artificial nails, we strongly recommend visiting a nail salon and getting your nails done by a professional nail tech.
This helps in two ways. First, techs easily spot signs of nail damage or infection and will advise you appropriately. For instance, they may ask you to let the wound heal before getting a mani-pedi.
Secondly, they are less likely to damage your nails during acrylic installation or removal.
Ensure Proper Nail Care and Maintenance
If you install contemporary nail manicures, you must be prepared to take good care of them for maximum appeal and to prevent adverse side effects. For instance, clean, trim and shape the nails regularly to eliminate debris and dirt.
Similarly, apply cuticle oil regularly to prevent cracking and nail breaking. Finally, consider antifungal nail polish to protect against bacterial or fungal infections.
How to Treat Nail Fungus
In the unfortunate event that you get nail fungi, you should begin treatment immediately. Otherwise, you may lose the entire nail.
Or worse, the fungi can penetrate the skin, affect your organs, and cause life-threatening systemic infections.
The following are several steps to help you treat nail fungus.
Step 1: Remove Artificial Nails
The first thing to do if you have nail fungus is to remove your artificial nails. This is important for three reasons.
- It disrupts the fungi’s living conditions: We’ve seen that fungi love damp, dark conditions. Removing fake nails denies them some of these benefits, interrupting their lifestyles.
- It disrupts their lifecycle: Fungi have a definite life cycle from the spores stage to germ, hypha, and finally, mature mycelium. Removing your artificial nails disrupts the life cycle, curtailing the spread.
- It sets the stage for proper treatment: You cannot properly treat nail fungus while wearing artificial nails. They make it impossible to get to the root of the problem, increasing the risk of recurrence.
Step 2: Home Remedies
After removing the artificial nails, continue the treatment and rehabilitation process with home remedies. Our nail experts recommend the following natural remedies;
- Vinegar: Vinegar is accessible, inexpensive, and highly effective against microbes, including bacteria and fungi. It slows down the growth of some types of fungi and kills others. Soak the infected nail in a solution of one part vinegar and two parts water and wait for 20 minutes. Do this daily until you notice a meaningful color change.
- Fresh garlic: Garlic contains a sulfur-bearing compound known as di-allyl thiosulfate (allicin). This compound is active in the inhibition of the growth of bacteria and fungi. Crash a clove of garlic and apply it over the affected area for 20-30 minutes daily until you notice changes. Alternatively, mix the crushed garlic with warm water and soak the affected nail in the solution.
- Baking soda: Sodium bicarbonate has antimicrobial and antifungal properties at high concentrations. For instance, a research report on ResearchGate shows it’s effective against Candidiasis. Mix baking soda with water to form a thick paste. Then apply to the affected nail for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times daily, until you notice changes.
- Vicks Vaporub: The cure-all VicksVapoRub is as effective as most over-the-counter antifungal medication. For instance, a 2011 clinical study found that it treats toenail fungus. Apply a small Vaporub to the affected area once daily until the problem disappears.
- Oregano oil: Oregano essential oil contains high amounts of thymol, an effective antifungal agent. A 2015 study shows that thymol is effective in treating common candida infections. Apply liberal amounts of the oil to the affected nail twice a day using a cotton swab until the problem eases.
- Ozonized oils: Ozone oils, such as ozonated sunflower and olive oil, are highly effective against nail fungus. They contain an antioxidant known as hydroxytyrosol that kills mold, yeasts, and dermatophytes in the toes and fingers. Use a cotton ball to gently massage the oil into the affected area once daily until the problem eases.
- Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is an essential oil with antibacterial and antifungal properties. Early research shows that it clears fungal infections when used topically. For instance, it reduces the growth of Trichophyton rubrum in nail infections within a few weeks.
- Others: Other remedies to consider for at-home nail fungus management are Listerine mouthwash, vitamins for nail fungus, and antifungal nail polish, such as Penlac nail polish. Avoid regular nail polish for the time being, as it irritates and dries the nail.
When to See a Doctor
Home remedies are often effective for mild nail fungus infections, even though it takes many months for the problem to resolve. Nonetheless, you must see a doctor if the issue persists.
We recommend seeking medical attention if you experience the following;
- Unrelenting pain: Fungal infections are typically not painful. See a doctor if the affected area is painful.
- Swelling and redness: Swelling and inflammation are common signs of a bacterial infection. See a doctor for a diagnosis.
- The problem spreads to other nails: Nail fungus doesn’t easily spread to adjacent fingers or toes. If it does, seek medical attention.
The doctor begins with a medical examination to determine the underlying cause. This often involves performing a nail biopsy, fungal culture, and a blood test.
After the tests, your doctor will prescribe oral antifungal medications, such as Fluconazole or Terbinafine.
In addition, they may prescribe a topical antifungal, which can be a cream, gel, or ointment. Follow the usage directions to the latter to avoid recurrence.
Up to 50% of artificial nail customers get a fungal infection, with filthy equipment and poor techniques being the most common causes. So, be careful where you get your mani-pedis and the products you wear on your nails.
If you get an infection, consider home remedies like white vinegar and tea tree oil before seeing a doctor.