FDA Statement On Artificial Nails

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Feds Finger Nails As Health Risk

January 15, 2001 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is pointing the finger at the latest threat to public health -- artificial fingernails. Turns out they carry a risk of everything from fungal infection to allergies and even burns due to their increased flammability.

Writing in the November issue of Contemporary Pediatrics, Dr. Anne T. Nucci, a pediatrician at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York ticked off a list of complications that commonly result.

They included the expected -- infection, dermatitis, disrupted nail growth -- and the unexpected, such as a teenager who suffered second-degree burns when her acrylic nails melted down and caught fire as she removed a pot from a gas stove.

"I have bigger battles to fight, such as smoking and protection against sexually transmitted diseases," Nucci admitted in a Newsday interview. "But if you're picking your battles, it's worth a mention."

Problems aren't limited to teenagers. Dermatologists say that infection among middle-aged women who use the acrylic nails is extremely common, especially among those who keep the nails on for a long period of time.

The problem sometimes isn't the nails themselves but the glues and glue removers, which often contain toxic substances. Infections can also be caused by manicuring instruments that are not properly sterilized.

The nails represent a particular hazard among doctors, nurses and other health care workers. A study last year found that artificial nails were more likely to harbor fungi and bacteria that could be transmitted to patients.

Commentary by The American Journal Of Infection Control:

Artificial Nails Cause Infections

A New York hospital has banned the use of artificial nails and nail enhancements by healthcare workers who have direct contact with patients, citing the increased risk of transmitting disease-causing microbes to patients.

Previous studies have shown that healthcare workers with long fingernails may be more likely than those with shorter nails to harbor bacteria that can lead to patient infections, and that these bacteria are not easily eliminated by hand-washing.

According to the new rules at New York Presbyterian Hospital, hospital staffers must keep fingernails manicured, and no longer than 1/8-inch past the finger tip. Healthcare workers with patient contact are also no longer allowed to apply artificial enhancements to their nails, such as tips, wraps, appliques, or anything other than polish.

Artificial nail products can damage natural nails and increase the risk of fungal and bacterial infections.

In addition, healthcare workers cannot sport nail polish that is chipped, which can also increase the risk of transmitting infections to patients.

In an accompanying fact sheet that was distributed with paychecks, healthcare workers were provided with further information about infection risks with artificial nails. They were told that chipped nail polish can harbor more bacteria than unchipped polish, and that gloves can develop germ-spreading holes, and therefore do not offer complete protection from artificial nails.

American Journal of Infection Control June 2002;30:252-254

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