There is no official guidance about the possible health effects of a manicure during pregnancy, and most medical professionals do not advise against it. People might take steps to limit their exposure to certain chemicals.

Very limited research on the health effects of nail treatments — such as gel nails — during pregnancy. This means that people must make a decision with incomplete information.

The main concern is that a small amount of the chemicals involved may make their way into the body. But at “normal” levels of exposure, it is unlikely that the chemicals enter the bloodstream or affect the developing fetus.

The one exception is the chemical methyl methacrylate. This may be present in some bonding solutions for fake nails, and it is not safe for anyone.

Anyone concerned about the potential effects of manicure chemicals might wear a mask and opt for traditional, rather than gel, polish.

Below, learn about manicure safety techniques, the possible risks, and more.

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Some organizations, such as the National Childbirth Trust, say that manicures are safe during pregnancy.

They explain that:

  • The exposure to potentially harmful chemicals is minimal and brief.
  • If the skin does absorb harmful chemicals, any amount that might reach the fetus would likely be very small.
  • There is no conclusive data suggesting that manicures, or the chemicals in them, are harmful at normal doses.

“Normal doses” refers to exposure to chemicals for a person who gets an occasional manicure. People who work in nail salons have much higher levels of exposure to these chemicals.

A 2021 study of the health of children born to nail technicians found a higher rate of congenital heart defects and neural tube defects. The first is a difference in the structure of a main artery of the heart. The second is a difference in fetal formation that can affect brain development.

However, this study was small, so it may have overestimated the increased risk for nail technicians, compared with people who have other jobs.

It is worth noting that many factors can contribute to congenital abnormalities, such as low levels of folic acid before pregnancy.

Acrylic nails sometimes have methyl methacrylate as a bonding agent. This chemical can be dangerous to anyone. It can cause drowsiness and lightheadedness, and prolonged exposure may cause skin irritation.

There may be only a small amount in the bonding agent, with little left behind. Even so, researchers have not thoroughly tested the effects in pregnant people.

Because scientists have established that it poses some health risks generally, it is safer to avoid it.

If a person wants acrylic nails during pregnancy, they should ask the nail technician to use a bonding agent that does not contain methyl methacrylate.

There are no proven risks associated with getting occasional nail treatments during pregnancy. A manicure or pedicure might be a self-care strategy or part of a wellness routine.

However, prolonged, frequent exposure to certain manicure chemicals could be harmful. The previously mentioned 2021 study found a correlation between working as a nail technician and having a baby with specific developmental abnormalities.

In the study, 61 participants were nail technicians, and 39 also worked as hairdressers. The full-time nail technicians were more likely to have infants born with heart or neural tube defects. People who worked in both roles were more likely to have infants with cleft lip or cleft palate.

However, the study was small, and it only showed an association between nail salon work and developmental differences. It did not prove that the work caused the abnormalities.

Moreover, the participants had long-term exposure to the chemicals. A person who gets the occasional manicure or pedicure has lower levels of exposure.

Nail products may also exacerbate common pregnancy symptoms. A 2020 study found that using nail hardeners correlated with a higher risk of headache, nausea, skin allergy, and skin irritation.

No conclusive data show that manicures during pregnancy are safe or dangerous. Some strategies a person might use to reduce any risk include:

  • washing the hands thoroughly after a manicure or remove any remaining chemicals and avoid accidentally ingesting them
  • bringing less toxic nail polish and nail care supplies to the salon
  • considering home manicures instead of salon manicures
  • wearing a mask to reduce exposure to fumes
  • reviewing product ingredient lists for chemicals
  • avoiding powder, gel, and acrylic nails

Most beauty treatments are safe during pregnancy, but a person might keep certain considerations in mind. For example:

  • Hair color is likely safe, but the scalp may be more sensitive.
  • Self-tanner is probably safe, but research has not confirmed the safety of spray tanner.
  • Waxing and hair removal creams are safe, but the skin may be more sensitive.

A small number of beauty creams and treatments may contain a form of tretinoin, an acne treatment, and a pregnant person may wish to avoid this ingredient.

Isotretinoin (Accutane) is an oral treatment for severe acne, and it is not safe at any time during pregnancy. Some doctors warn against using any type of retinoid medication during pregnancy.

A doctor or dermatologist can recommend pregnancy-safe skin care. There are usually effective substitutes for products with harmful ingredients, so a person does not need to stop their personal wellness routine.

During pregnancy, getting a manicure or pedicure might be a relaxing, indulgent act of self-care.

No research has conclusively found nail treatments to be harmful. Anyone concerned about potential risks might wash their hands thoroughly after the treatment, wear a mask during it, and bring or ask for products without certain chemicals.

If a person has any questions or concerns about their safety during pregnancy, they should contact a healthcare professional.