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In fungal infections, invasive fungi grow in or on your body. Many types of fungi occur naturally in your body in small amounts. Some infections occur when these fungi grow out of control while other infections are caused by types of fungi not normally present in your body.

Fungal infections are a relatively common complication of getting acrylic nails, which are plastic nails that are glued atop your real fingernails. In most cases, these infections aren’t serious and clear up with home remedies or with antifungal medications.

Let’s look at why acrylic nails sometimes cause fingernail fungal infections, how you can treat these infections, and how to prevent them.

Fungal infections make up more than 50 percent of all nail disorders and are particularly common in people with acrylic nails. One study found that out of a group of 68 women who developed nail concerns after removing acrylic nails, 67 of them had fungal infections.

Acrylic nails are attached to your real nails with an adhesive. If they become loose or aren’t put on properly, moisture can get trapped between them and your fingernails. Fungi thrive in moist environments and may start to grow around the trapped water.

A group of fungi called dermatophytes are most commonly responsible for nail fungal infections, particularly the fungus Trichophyton rubrum.

Nail polish and contaminated equipment

A 2018 study found evidence that fungi may be able to live and multiply in some nail polishes. It may be a good idea to avoid sharing nail polish.

Contaminated equipment at a nail salon can also expose you to types of fungi that may lead to an infection.

Your fungal infection may not cause any symptoms in the beginning, until it progresses.

As the infection gets worse, you may experience:

Fingernail infections often clear up on their own or with home remedies. Antifungal medications are used for more serious infections.

Acrylic nail fungus home remedies

The first step after noticing an infection is to have the acrylic nail removed and to wash your fingernail with soap and water. Avoid putting on a new nail until the infection clears.

Anecdotally, some people claim the following home remedies have helped them clear their infection:

  • Vinegar. Vinegar contains acid that can inhibit the growth of fungi and bacteria. Try soaking your finger in a 2:1 ratio of warm water to vinegar.
  • Vicks VapoRub. An older 2011 study found Vicks VapoRub seemed to have a positive clinical effect on killing toenail fungi. You can try applying a small amount to your finger once a day.
  • Tea tree oil. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, one small study found evidence that tea tree oil may help treat nail fungus, but more research is needed. Try applying oil to your nail twice per day.
  • Oregano oil. The chemical thymol found in oregano oil may have antifungal properties. Try applying oregano oil to your nail twice per day with a cotton swab.
  • Listerine mouthwash. Listerine contains ingredients that have antifungal properties. Some people claim soaking your finger in original Listerine for 30 minutes a day may help clear the infection.

Medical treatment

Medical treatment usually isn’t needed for a nail fungal infection unless it becomes severe. Severe fungal infections are most common in people with suppressed immune systems, such as people undergoing chemotherapy or living with HIV.

The gold standard treatment is the oral antifungal medication terbinafine. Terbinafine is only available with a prescription. You may need to use it for up to several months.

A doctor may also prescribe other antifungal medications, such as:

Most nail fungal infections will clear up on their own or in combination with home remedies. But it’s a good idea to visit a doctor for an antifungal prescription if home remedies aren’t effective or if it’s causing you serious discomfort.

People who are immunosuppressed may also want to visit their doctor for treatment to avoid developing a more serious infection.

Here are some ways you can prevent fungal infections with acrylic nails:

  • Get your nails put on at a reputable salon that follows good hygiene habits.
  • Dry your nails well after bathing or swimming.
  • Keep your hands dry as much as possible.
  • If you’re prone to fungal infection, consider using an antifungal spray or powder on your nails.
  • Avoid putting sharp objects under your nails.

Other potential risks of acrylic nails include the following:

Bacterial infection

Bacterial infections aren’t as common as fungal infections, but people with artificial fingernails tend to be more prone to developing bacterial nail infections than people without fake nails.

Staphylococcus aureus and streptococci bacteria are two of the most common causes of bacterial nail infections.

Allergic reaction

It’s possible to have an allergic reaction to acylates or the adhesive used to bind your nails. Allergic reactions are usually contained to the area around the nail and may cause symptoms like:

  • dry or flaky skin around the nail
  • redness
  • itchiness
  • swelling

Weakened nails

For acrylic nails to stick, your real nails need to be filed down. This filing thins your nail and can make it more brittle.

Acetone is often used to remove acrylic nails, which can contribute to nail brittleness or dryness.

Fungal infections are a common complication of acrylic nails. They are usually caused by moisture trapped under your nails that leads to excessive fungi growth.

Most fungal infections aren’t serious and can be treated at home. More serious infections usually clear up with prescription antifungal medications.