Allergies to Fingernail Polish & Headaches

A manicure can beautify your nails, but it can quickly turn into a nightmare if you are allergic to any ingredients in your nail polish. An allergy to fingernail polish is classified as contact dermatitis because it results from direct contact with the substance you're allergic to 134. Fingernail polish contains a number of chemical substances that can cause an allergic reaction. Once you develop an allergy to chemicals in nail polish, you'll be allergic to them from then on. Consult your physician immediately if your symptoms of fingernail polish allergy include headache, because this can be a sign of a serious reaction called anaphylaxis.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Contact Allergy

Contact dermatitis is also called a delayed hypersensitivity reaction because it generally takes several exposures to the offending substance, or allergen, before it produces a full-blown allergic reaction 14. At first contact, the allergen is absorbed into your skin and immune cells called T-lymphocytes generate memory cells to recognize the allergen as harmful at subsequent exposures. An allergy to nail polish is often attributed to eye makeup or skin care products because the initial symptoms are typically expressed around your eyelids, face, ears and neck.

Offending Substances

Fingernail polish contains several chemicals that can trigger an allergic reaction. You can be allergic to substances in nail polish, base coat, top coat or nail hardener. Chemicals often found to produce allergies include toluene sulfonamide formaldehyde resin, or TSFR; formaldehyde resin; thermoplastic resin; and nickel mixing beads. If you have an allergy to any of the chemicals in fingernail polish, before you buy, you need to read the product label carefully to check the ingredient list for allergens. Toluene sulfonamide formaldehyde resin is one of the most common allergens in nail polish, according to a 2007 article published in "Dermotologic Therapy," so use TSFR-free polish if you are allergic to this chemical.

Allergy Symptoms Including Headache

Once you are sensitized to one or more of the chemical allergens in fingernail polish, symptoms usually appear around your eyes and eyelids. The nail polish fragrance wafts up toward your eyes and face, especially if you do your own nails, contacting the skin around your eyes. Touching your eyes or face before your nails are completely dry can also produce symptoms. Symptoms of a mild to moderate contact allergy include:

  • redness
  • itching
  • hives
  • swelling
  • blistering
  • pain

Get medical help immediately if you develop a headache along with other allergy symptoms. A severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires that your call 911. Anaphylaxis symptoms also include difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, vomiting, confusion and loss of consciousness.


If you experience an allergic reaction to fingernail polish, remove the polish from your nails immediately. Wash your nails thoroughly with a mild soap and warm water to clear away all traces of offending chemical substances. If you suffer a mild reaction, there are over-the-counter treatments such as hydrocortisone cream, that can help, but consult your physician about a treatment plan best suited to your needs.