That constant level of pain was an everyday battle Jane Ubell-Meyer had to face for months after a botched gel manicure, reports Elizabeth Leamy for ABC's Good Morning America.
"Anything that touched my thumb caused an electric shock, whether it was air or water. I would get an electric charge that went up my thumb, through my elbow, up to my arm," says Ubell-Meyer, her hand and thumb so thickly wrapped in protective material, that it looks like a cast.
After desperately seeking out the help of a host of doctors that included a orthopedist, dermatologist and chiropractor with no success, it was finally neurologist and Consumer Reports medical adviser Dr. Orly Avitzur who discovered the culprit: a fake gel manicure gone wrong.
In the traditional gel treatment, nails are electrically filed and a coating of gel applied, which is hardened by UV light dryers. In newer versions, the electronic filing stage is skipped, though a thin coat of colored gel is still applied to nails and put through a UV light treatment cycle to set the gel.
But even though Ubell-Meyer paid for and thought she had received a gel manicure, she had not.
When the manicurist was filing her nails, the machine slipped and abraded her skin. The manicurist then continued on and dipped the finger in a powder to set it, which Dr. Avitzur says allowed the unknown white powdery chemical to penetrate the skin, migrate, and cause excruciating nerve damage.
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With hundreds of thousands of women in the United States receiving safe gel manicures without problems, celebrity nail technician Patricia Yankee says that it's the technician you have to watch out for.
"Nine times out of ten, the unskilled, uneducated technician is the one causing the issue," says Yankee.
So how do you know if you're getting the real thing, or exposing yourself to the risk of a dangerous fake gel mani?
There are several signs to look for.
There should be no mixing of glue or polish -- the technician should only be using a paint-on gel and UV dryer to set the manicure. Your fingers should not be dipped into anything loose that can migrate into skin, and make sure containers that the manicurist is working from are branded and marked.
Strong, sickly smells emitted from containers are another danger sign that products have been mixed into a potentially hazardous blend.
Skin cuts and abrasions and pain felt in the nails or hands during services are all signs that your technician is poorly skilled and could seriously hurt you.
True gel manicures are ultra shiny and clear once completed, while fake versions will look too cloudy to see through to the nail.
And there's another industry where cheaper and dangerous versions of the 'real thing' are lurking: bargain boobs and botox.