Since acrylic nails are so small, their environmental impact might never cross your mind or seem negligible.
However, acrylic nails are typically single-use and made from non-renewable ingredients, so they’re bad for the environment.
Here’s everything you need to know about acrylic nails and their sustainability.
1. What Are Acrylic Nails Made Of?
Acrylic nails are made of acrylic, which is a type of plastic.
Acrylic nails are made when ethyl methacrylate monomer (EMA) or other acrylic monomers and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or other acrylic polymers are mixed to create a malleable substance to shape the nails.
2. How Do Acrylic Nails Affect the Environment?
Short Life Span
Acrylic nails have a short life span.
They last six to eight weeks and, during this time, require a top-up every two weeks to account for nail growth.
So, there is always a demand for these nails since they need to be replaced in a matter of weeks.
Generally, acrylic nails are not made from renewable resources since plastic is non-renewable.
However, there has been research into developing renewable methyl methacrylate.
Acrylic nails are neither biodegradable nor compostable.
So, given how popular they are and how often they need to be replaced, this waste can build up over time.
Glitter Is a Microplastic
Acrylic nails are often decorated with glitter.
However, glitter is detrimental to the environment.
The glitter from your nails can easily make its way into water supplies when you wash your hands and shower, which is concerning as glitter is essentially a microplastic.
Regular glitter is usually made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) coated with aluminum.
These substances are not renewable or biodegradable.
When glitter enters waterways, marine life, such as seagulls, fish, plankton, and shellfish, can mistake it for food.
This is detrimental to their health as they can potentially ingest harmful compounds and starve to death if their stomach is full of items they cannot digest.
While glitter is small, microplastics can quickly accumulate, especially in smaller creatures like plankton and shellfish.
Glitter can even have sharp edges and cut these animals’ stomachs.
Biodegradable glitter is also not much greener in this regard, as it can still impact the ecosystem and harm marine life.
3. Are Acrylic Nails Toxic?
The components of acrylic nails can be toxic.
Although, when used in acrylic nails correctly, ethyl methacrylate is considered safe, it is still a toxic compound.
It can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
Research on rats who consumed this compound found they had breathing problems, motor weakness, emphysema, and other issues.
Out of the ten rats, six died after exposure.
Polymethyl methacrylate is considered to be of low toxicity.
However, research also found that fish exposed to polymethyl methacrylate had a weakened immune response, and it could interfere with metabolic function.
Although you might think that these nails are not going to be exposed to the environment, they are prone to chipping or breaking.
So, these acrylic chips can easily be consumed by wildlife who mistake them for food or end up in waterways.
You might not think twice about filing your nails in the bathroom, but doing so over a sink or dumping the dust into the toilet means the acrylic ends up in waterways.
4. Are Acrylic Nails Biodegradable?
Acrylic nails are not biodegradable.
There has been research into the biodegradability of acrylic using certain microorganisms.
However, for the foreseeable future, acrylic nails are not biodegradable.
There are many different types of acrylic plastic, many of which are mixed with other materials that may be more difficult or impossible for the microorganisms to break down.
5. Are Acrylic Nails Recyclable?
Acrylic nails are not recyclable.
While PMMA is recyclable, it is difficult to do so.
Many curbside recycling programs do not accept PMMA as they don’t have the means to process it.
Plus, the equipment in these recycling facilities would not be suitable for processing small acrylic nails.
It would also be difficult to separate the PMMA from the EMA, and anything else added to the nails.
6. Are Acrylic Nails Reusable?
Press-on nails are reusable, but most acrylic nails you get in the salon are not.
These nails are essentially fused onto your own nails.
The removal process often involves clipping the nails.
They are then soaked in acetone to soften them until they can be scraped off.
So, in the end, they are too damaged to reuse.
7. Are There Eco-Friendly Acrylic Nails?
So far, there is no such thing as eco-friendly acrylic nails.
As mentioned earlier, they are toxic, non-renewable, non-recyclable, and non-biodegradable.
With that said, there has been research into creating sustainable artificial nails – but these do not contain any acrylic.
Remember, artificial nails are not the same as acrylic nails.
Acrylic nails are essentially fused to the natural nail, whereas press-on nails are generally plastic nails pressed onto the natural nail with adhesive.
This is why press-on nails are reusable since you can scrape off the adhesive and use them again.
These new artificial nails are free from petroleum.
Instead, they are made from biodegradable resin, PLA, starch, and cellulose.
The components have been sourced from biomass waste like rice powder, wood, bamboo, and more sources.
However, these more eco-friendly fake nails do not appear to be commercially available, so for the time being, fake nails are not sustainable.
8. What Are Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Acrylic Nails?
As mentioned earlier, press-on nails are easier to reuse than acrylic nails.
Although these nails are also non-renewable and non-recyclable, they generate less waste as they have a longer lifespan if treated with care.
Plus, since you remove and reapply them when your natural nails grow, you are less likely to file or cut them, meaning there is less room for pollution.
Non-toxic Nail Polish
Standard nail polish is not necessarily greener than acrylic nails since it contains toxic compounds such as formaldehyde resin, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and camphor, but non-toxic nail polish may be a step in the right direction.
These ingredients can cause allergic contact dermatitis, while formaldehyde resin may increase the risk of cancer.
Plus, when disposed of, the nail polish can enter the water and soil, harming wildlife.
Non-toxic nail polish brands usually label their products as 3-free, 5-free, or 7-free, which means they use fewer toxic ingredients than regular nail polish.