Saturday, December 10, 2011

Is Gel Better Than Acrylic?

Well, I've been working on this post for over a month now. My intention was to assure everyone out there that acrylic is just as "safe" as gel for your nails and that neither product is "healthier" for your nails than the other...

Mostly what I've discovered as I've been writing is that I'm starting to realize why so many consumers (and, sadly, many nail techs) have come to this conclusion.
It has little to do with the actual products and their actual chemistry. The product chemistry is very similar in many respects and neither is better or healthier on the natural nail than the other.

What each concern ulitmately comes down to is proper application, maintenance, and removal of the products. Which is where both consumers and many salons go so so so miserably wrong with nail enhancements products.

People think they should be able to go 5 weeks between fills. People think they don't need to get a fill until the product is already lifting and breaking off of their nails.

  It's like an oil change in you car: it's maintenance.
 A fill is supposed to prevent your nails from breaking and lifting,
 just like an oil change is supposed to prevent your engine from being damaged or destroyed.
 If you wait till you see damage, it's too late.

People also take their nails off by ripping, prying, or chewing them off. They just shove another nail under that acrylic and "pop" it off. If it doesn't leave a big  hole in the nail all the way down to the flesh underneath, they figure it ain't no th'ang. Who cares about all that ripped up nail? And they'll do this repeatedly, month after month, until their nails are so thin and damaged that they hurt... then they go around saying they don't want acrylic again because the acrylic "ruined" their nails-- acrylic didn't ruin your nails, you did.

But how can I blame you for thinking that's the way to do it when you go to some shoddy salon of questionable training and they just grab a pair of nippers, or a piece of dental floss, or a plastic nail tip, and pry off the old product?

I mean, there you are, at a salon, right? It's a salon, they have licenses (maybe,) they know how to do it, right?

Eegads! If I only had the time in my life to personally slap every crappy, incompetent nail tech accross the face with a rubber chicken.

Believe me, not everyone working in a salon has a freakin clue-- it's up to you to find one who does. But I'll give you a hint, if they're prying product off of your natural nails, you haven't found it yet.

Lots of people have also developed chemical sensitivities to acrylic from having it applied sloppy-- by people who flood the cuticle with primer (primers should never touch the skin! And it is does, it should be washed off immediately!) and then slap the acrylic on with brushes as big as spatulas that get the entire finger wet with monomer.

No wonder you end up with an allgery to acrylic!

Then, those people who can't wear acrylic any more because of this overexposure, end up discovering that they can wear gel with no problem, but that's not because gel is "better" it's because it's easier to avoid getting gel on the skin.

Gel isn't better than acrylic, acrylic just requires a more meticulous technique.

It's no wonder people get the impression that gel is some sort of wonder product that's "good" for you and that acrylic has become villified as the big chemical bad guy.


Alas. The problem isn't the chemicals themselves (remind me, I must write about chemophobia sometime,) the problem is that there is such rampant incompetence out there with thousands and thousands of so-called "nail techs" not giving a rat's ass about product knowledge or understanding why they ought to. They just slap on product willy-nilly, take your money, and move on to their next victim.

At this point in our industry's history, this level of incompetence and amibivalence is so common that it's what most consumers experience as the "norm."

Naturally, this is heartbreaking to those of us who truly love doing nails and take it seriously.

So to answer the original question: Simply put, no. Gel isn't "better" than acrylic. Or vice verse. Each technician and every consumer will have their own personal preferences, and one product might work better for you, but that's entirely personal.

Neither product is "healthier" than the other, when applied, maintained, and removed appropriately.

And, it turns out, those requirements are very difficult to control.

  • Don't worry about the smell of acrylic (unless it's MMA:) Under most circumstances-- ie, a room with good ventilation--  the smell of acrylic is just a smell. It doesn't not mean there's something terribly unhealthy in your breathing zone and it won't rot your brain or give you cancer. (In fact, MMA won't give you cancer either-- a small comfort considering all the other health risks it poses.)

  • Gel is dusty too. People try to sell gel all the time as being "dust-free." That's a crock. As soon as you file on it, you'll be covered in dust. I actually get coverd in more dust when filing gel than acrylic. The good news with BOTH is that it's very heavy dust-- that's why you see it all over your fingers and the table-- it falls down. It does not stay airborn, floating around in your breathing space. 
  • Acrylics don't have to be thick, lumpy, or off-color. Acrylics can be sculpted thin and sleek and can be crystal clear and the same token, gels can be super thick, lumpy, discolored and altogether disgusting looking. It's all about the skill of the artist. So do your due diligence, research first, and choose wisely.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Brief Analogy Regarding Rockstar Nails

Acrylic Rockstar nails with one color.
  Even several years after the coining of the term "Rockstar Nails," I continue to find myself trying to explain the meaning of the term and dispelling myths and pervasive misunderstanding of what they really are.

So, while I was taking about Rockstar nails with one client this afternoon, I came up with a pretty good analogy to help with at least one of the misunderstandings.

Acrylic Rockstar nails with one glitter color.
 The client I was working on this afternoon wears short nails with a gel overlay and UV polish and usually a touch of nail art on the ring fingers.

The subject of "Rockstar nails" came up and she said that several of the girls in her office wear "rockstar" but she doesn't really care for them herself.

I thought that sounded a little odd, seeing as how it's not uncommon for us to add a touch of glitter to her tips, so I just had to inquire...

And sure enough, as I'd suspected, her concept of  "Rockstar nails" wasn't exactly accurate, which isn't too uncommon in these parts.

Acrylic Rockstar nails with 2 glitter colors
and impressions filled with colored acrylic.

 Locally, the styles of "Rockstar nails" that get the most attention tend very elaborate: long, with as much bling as will fit!

The girls love the glitter! As well as the Mylar, the confetti, the tinsel, the Fimo cane slices, the decals... and lately, 3D objects such as small buttons and such are finding their way into nails all over town.

(Yeah, I tend to prefer 3D designs that are sculpted out of acrylic, directly onto the nail-- but not everyone can do that I guess, and not everyone wants to pay for the work it requires.)

I suppose it's no wonder that the more conservative ladies
Acrylic rockstar nails with foil, 1 color glitter, and tinsel.
in the area are under the impression that "Rockstar nails" aren't their style!

But this is SO not true!

The term "ROCKSTAR NAILS" refers to the technique of embedding the bling into the product used for the enhancement.

You can have Rockstar nails that are made with traditional acrylic products, and you can Rockstar nails that are made with gel.

Your gel Rockstars can be simple overlays on either your pinkies or your piggies! Or they can be beautiful extensions done with "hard" sculpting gel-- just like traditional acrylics. 
acrylic rockstar nails with 2 custom-blended glitter colors
faded together, confetti and mylar, and star impressions in white.

They can be French style-- with the bling only at the tips-- this is popular with acrylic because its easier to change out the colors and designs in a simple backfill service without having to completely remove the nails and start over.

Or they can embed the bling in the entire nail--more common with gels because gels are easier to file, so changing out colors goes much faster... this is also the most popular method for doing "rockstar toes" but you can totally do it on fingernails too!

Rockstar can be just one glitter color, or it can be several. It can be custom blended, it can be faded, or sculpted in designs.
Acrylic rockstar nails with one
color glitter and 3D acrylic flowers.

And "Rockstar" does NOT mean a particular color, or a particular size or type of glitter. (Yes, the nail product company Young Nails does sell a glitter that they have named "rockstar" but don't confuse that with the technique of doing "rockstar nails.")

Rockstar nails can be short or long. They can be round, oval, square, flare, or stiletto. They can be a simple glittery white or they can be lime green!

Aside from the awesome artistic and design possibilities that the Rockstar technique offers, the thing that has made it so universally popular is that,
since the bling is INSIDE the nail product, the nail can still be sealed with a gel sealant/topcoat.

Gel Rockstar nails with chunky glitter.

This means NO DRY TIME! You get all the advantage of all that glitz and glamour and you don't have to sit around waiting for your nails to dry.

And, if you remember glitter polish, you know that stuff takes forever!

Another myth I hear all the time, is that people are being told by other nail techs that you can't do nail art over Rockstar nails!

Balderdash! I do it all the time.

Here's the catch though: The gel topcoat that we use to seal the nails with doesn't really like to stick to paint. The paint has to be completely dry, and it helps if it has a coat of a protein-style bonder over it to make it sticky for the gel top coat to adhere to.

So, in cases of extravagant, or large nail art design, putting a gel topcoat over artwork runs a higher risk of chipping off. That can be heart breaking to the artist who worked hard on the design, as well as to the client who payed for the work and wants her nails to last till her next appointment.

So, I can see why some techs prefer not to attempt it. But that's not the same thing as "it's not possible" now, is it?

Acrylic Rockstar Nails with 4 glitters in sculpted pattern.

Also-- Rockstar nails can be done with ANY brand of product! 

The term "rockstar" was originally coined by a local tech (right here in Tulare County) who uses products by Young Nails. And so it's not unusual for people-- clients and professionals alike-- to be under the impression that Rockstar nails can only be done with Young Nails products.

Acrylic Rockstar nails with 1 color glitter and Fimo canes embedded.

But since "rockstar" is a technique and not a product, you can do them with any brand of product. (I mostly use Tammy Taylor.) Of course, Young Nails makes some awesome stuff, and the company is top notch! But every nail tech has their personal preferences.

So, now that you know just about everything you could possibly hope to know about Rockstar nails (oh, and not everyone calls them "rockstar;" other common names for this technique are "sparkle nails," "bling nails," and "glitter nails,") What's this "brief analogy" I was talking about?

Well... the thing is that Rockstar nails can be simple or elaborate, just like nail art.

Acrylic Rockstar nails with sculpted design (stripes) and
embedded star confetti.
  Most people are already familiar with nail art. They know that nail art can be painted or airbrushed. It can be as simple as a single stripe or flower, or it can be an complicated, ornate mural.

Nail art can be hand painted, airbrushed, or stamped. It can be painted with acrylic paint, nail polish, drawn on with Sharpie markers.

Heck, Rockstar is just another style of nail art!

But, ultimately, my point was to clarify that Rockstar nails are just like nail art: they offer a wide variety of options to suit your personal tastes.

Simple Nail art on French manicure polish using acrylic paint.

No one would ever look at the tiny flowers on this French manicure and say "that's not nail art" and no one would every look at the detailed competition nail art entry below and insist that all nail has to be that elaborate!

And Rockstar isn't any different! So go get some Rockstar nails!

There's a glitter for EVERYONE!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I am a Trained Professional-- Please do not try this at home

I had a hard time finding ugly pictures,
so here's my dog wearing socks.
I rarely bother checking Internet goings-on on my weekends. Mostly, I keep pretty busy on my days off, trying to keep the BF and the dogs "de-squeaked" (one dog gets particularly squeaky when he's bored or anxious and the BF has determined that he does too.) But this has been a mellow sort of weekend and so, last night, I admit to checking on my Twitter feed. Which is where I found a link to what you might think is a simple enough question: "Are acrylic nails difficult to do by yourself?"

Specifically, the questioner is asking about sculpting traditional liquid & powder acrylic product over forms.

But what prompted me cackle and start screaming was the "answer" that includes the information, "It takes probably about 6 times to really get good at it, and that would be if you were using really good products."


SIX?! SIX times? Seriously? Six full sets and you've got it down? Six full sets and you'll be able to turn out a set of nails that looks anywhere near decent? Six?!

(breathe, Maggie, breathe)OK. Let's start with the notion that this "six sets to perfection" idea is dependent on the quality of the product you are using...

Bullh!t. Quality products are, of course, essential in creating a quality set of nails. But the quality of the product is not the major contributor to the final appearance of the set. For a great looking set of nails, you'll need quality of skills, aka talent, baby, talent. And although there are some people out there who just have an inherent knack for doing nails, most people will end up with nothing but a thick, globby, mess on their hands-- literally-- the first several times they pick up a sculpting brush.

Acrylic is a hard substance. And it is not the best of ideas to use an electric file (drill) on your own nails-- trust me, I know-- not to mention that quality drills are pricey and very few DIYers are willing to put down $400 or so for their own professional e-file. Which means that you either end up filing through all that thick, globby mess by hand-- or you go out and spend $30 on a cheap POS drill. Which means you will end up with one of two sorts of drills: A knock-off brand Dremel-type drill that WAS NOT MANUFACTURED FOR USE ON PEOPLE! These things are made for wood working. They run rough, with lots of vibration. I'm not of the camp of pros who insist that Dremels and their ilk should never be used on nails, but they are NOT the ideal tool for the job! Or-- the other choice in inexpensive electric nail files-- you'll get a Nail Genie, or similar product.

These are, laughably enough, made for use on nails. And, if an untrained DIYer is going to own their own nail drill to use on their own nails, I'd recommend going the Nail Genie route. But you'll hate it. Because they are reknown for their low torque.

Torque-- without getting into a technical description-- is what makes the bit keep spinning when you put pressure against it. Nail Genies have low torque-- this makes them the safest option for using on yourself, because you are far less likely to end up drilling holes through your nails, or worse, your fingers. When you press the bit against the thick, globby mess on your nails, mostly likely, the bit will bog down and even stop in sheer protest of what you are asking of it.

Just don't try using a drill on yourself. In fact, don't try using a drill on ANYONE unless you have undergone some professional training for it AND HAVE INSURANCE UP THE BUTT! Because, if you drill a hole through someone's nail or fingers, it is highly likely that they will SUE YOU!

So, there you are, left with a thick, globby mess on your fingers and now you have to turn it into a set of decent-looking nails.

Prepare to start filing...and filing...and filing.

Yes. You probably can and will end up with a decent-- even nice-- looking set of acrylics. But it will take hours. And more than 6 tries before you figure out how to not end up with a thick, globby mess that requires hours of filing.

But, even if you find yourself impressed with your own skills at turning out a decent-looking set of acrylics, you'll probably want them to stick to your nails for more than a few hours, huh? I mean, the ones you get at the salon last for at least 2 weeks, right? So you're probably expecting similar results from the DIY method.

So, when they start to lift around the edges within 24 hours, you are most likely going to blame the product you used.

And, if you got your hands on a "quality" professional product, then there's a good chance you will decide that that product isn't so great afterall... even if it's best freakin stuff on the planet... because very few people bother to take into account that THEY DON'T HAVE ANY PROFESSIONAL TRAINING. You think that just because you read the directions and/or watched a YouTube video, that you totally know how to do this.

Oh wait. That's right. Even those who have completed a training course, undergone testing, and acquired a legitimate license rarely experience optimal results at that point.

You know why? Because beauty school doesn't teach you skills and state regulating agencies don't care about how well you do nails-- only that you know the "rules" of the state-- which usually revolve around making sure you disinfect your implements. The state doesn't care if you do pretty nails, which is why there are so many crap-tacular "professionals" in the biz making you think that you can do your own nails just as well as they can.

The thing is, even consumer product kits are of fair quality. There are some little tweaks here and there that make professional products "better" but usually only professionals can tell the differences. Pro products have better color stabilization so they don't get dingy and turn yellow in the sun as fast, pro products might cure (set up) faster-- or slower, they might have better shelf life-- or worse, since they are intended to be used up faster, they come in more colors and shades... but mostly, what makes a professional product better, is the professional who is using it.

The professional who didn't stop her training at passing her state board exam. The professional who faithfully reads every page of the professional trade magazines every month, month after month, year after year. The professional who attends professional tradeshows on a regular basis and does more than just shop at those shows. The professional who attends continuing education classes, even when they aren't required for her license. The professional who attends networking events and participates in online networking and mentoring forums. The professional who was not/is not content with "good enough" and insists on going above and beyond in order to find answers to questions and help with technique.

The professional who drives her friends and family insane because she simply cannot not think about nails.

What you don't know about doing your own nails, after you have managed to make them look nice, is how to care for your brush so that it doesn't harden with caked-in product, or contaminate your remaining product. You don't know that you can (and probably did) contaminate your product to the point where it just won't matter if it was "quality" to begin with-- you've ruined it. You don't know how to properly store product to preserve its quality. You don't know that buying "professional" products at the flea market is THE WORST IDEA EVER! ...and you don't know why.

And you don't know how much work goes into properly preparing the natural nail for the application of the product. In fact, that is the number one culprit in service break down, and it is the number one thing that new techs fail to grasp upon licensure and it is the number one thing you absolutely must learn in order to create a truly decent set of nails.

And it is the absolutely least interesting thing to learn. Which is why so many people-- DIYers and pros alike-- waste so much time and money switching from one product to another, looking for a magic potion that will solve their application and wear issues.

Most DIYers will end up jacking up their natural nails; applying more product and then ripping it off, overfiling both their natural nails and the mess they've created from the acrylic, thinking that "roughing up the natural nail" or applying too much primer is the answer to their lifting problems.

Most of the "professionals" entering the industry will find jobs with benefits and steady paychecks within 2 years of getting their licenses and then sit around and say things like, "There's no money in doing nails," "The economy is so bad, no one can afford to get their nails done anymore," "The Asians have ruined the industry and no one can compete with them," and "There's just too much competition." And any number of other excuses I've heard people come up with for why they weren't successful in the salon.
second place "french twist" sculptured nails by Moi 2009

The answer ultimately comes down to, "That all depends on what you mean by 'easy?'"

Yeah, it's pretty easy to get your hands on an acrylic kit and apply it to your nails. It's even relatively easy to manage an aesthetic result that you might be ok with. But it's not easy to do a set of nails that will last for several weeks. It's not easy to avoid contaminating your products. It's not easy to maintain the health and integrity of your natural nails. It's not easy to be sure that your product is safe, in good condition, or isn't counterfeit.

And it's almost never cheaper. Believe me, how do you think I ended up here? I used to be a DIYer too, I've done the math.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The UV Polish Revolution

There are so many gel products in the nail industry now that it can be downright confusing for us professionals to keep them sorted out, let alone you consumers!

Unfortunately, there is no way I can realistically expect to create a single post to end the confusion. But I'm going to try to address some of the biggest problems I'm seeing that people are having:

I think I've mentioned in the past that there are several different types of gels now. We have traditional builder gels that are designed to create artificial extensions and overlays. These gels have been around for about ever, but have seen some major improvements over the last 10 years or so and people are really loving them. But these gels cure to a non-porous finish and are solvent-resistant, so they have to be filed off when you're ready to take the product off your nails. They can't be soaked off.

More recently, some new gels have hit the market that are porous (some people call them "soft gels") and can be soaked off in acetone like acrylics. Some of these gels are created in thick formulas that still offer the resilience to create a strong extension. Many people-- professional nail techs as well as clients-- prefer these "soft" gel formulas for doing extensions and overlays because they prefer a product that can be soaked off rather than filed off. But others find that these products aren't as strong and don't adhere as reliably to the natural nail to provide the same wearability of traditional gels.

If you're looking for a gel product that will lengthen and strengthen your nails, you'll be looking for one of these gel types. Most likely, you'll just have to try out whatever your nail technician uses. If it works for you, then stick with it! There's really no reason to try to memorize all the different brands and lines and which is which.

But now we also have UV Polish... and this is causing me-- your friendly neighborhood nail professional-- a lot of headaches.

For DECADES I beat my head against the wall wondering why the bow-tied/lab-coated clan in Research and Development for all the nail product companies in the world couldn't seem to manage to come up with an answer to old-fashioned nail polish.

Year after year I saw acrylic and gel products improve in their flexibility and adhesion. We have enhancement products that are safer, better, and more beautiful than ever before. But old-fashioned nail polish still lasted on natural nails for about 6 minutes, right?

I've seen acrylics introduced with pigments in them. Gels with pigments. All good ideas, as long as you're the type of person who never wants to change your nail color. Because these were still enhancement products that are designed to be filled every two weeks, not replaced.

Soak off gels came to the market, but they still took half an hour or more to soak off. Not a feasible solution, and still didn't qualify in most peoples' minds as a "manicure."

Then... about two years ago, a breakthrough! Gelish (by Hand & Nail Harmony) was released to the professional nail industry and began an avalanche of product and service revolution!

But revolutions are long and messy and come with a lot of chaos. Nobody really mentions that, do they?

One of the biggest problems that I, personally, am faced with is that the average consumer still isn't aware that there are dozens of different brands of these polishes now available. In fact, thanks to some great marketing, the brand that most consumers have heard about is "Shellac."

But "Shellac" is only one brand of UV polish that is manufactured by a company called "CND." There's also "Gelish," "Gelacquer," "Geleration," "Gelavish," "Gelaxy," "Polish Pro," "Mani-q color," "Luxio," "Eco," and OPI's new offering which I'm not even sure of the name of.  And that's just off the top of my head, there are plenty of others. And, as you can see, many many companies have opted to use some form of the word "gel" in their brand name, making it even harder to keep the different brands sorted out!

No wonder people have embraced the "Shellac" name. Not only has CND done some great marketing to get their product name in front of the masses, but it's easy to remember.

Here's where it gets hard on me: CND has some very specific directions for their product. The company is very persnickety about touching the natural nail with any sort of file. They are very finicky about the way they want their product applied and removed.

And, for the most part, that's just fine. I mean, it's their product. They developed it, they get to write the directions for use.

But, since so many people now associate "Shellac" with all uv polish brands (it's called "branding"-- kinda like when you want a "Kleenex" you probably want a tissue and don't care if it's actual Kleenex, or "Q-tip," or "Band-Aid"... right?) they come to the salon with certain expectations of what the service will entail and what the product actually is.... and let me tell you, there are a lot of people out there who are confused.

First off: Shellac IS a "gel polish." CND has marketed Shellac as a "hybrid" product. They use the term "hybrid" specifically. It is a complex formula that combines gel technology with solvent-based technology-- in exceedingly simple terms: it's like mixing regular nail polish with gel. (Notice I said "exceedingly simple terms?" That's because, undoubtedly, a CND rep will comment on this to say that that's not at all what it is, and that I shouldn't be misleading people by telling them that. You watch.)

But, whether they use the word "hybrid" or not, most of the uv/gel polishes out there use this type of formula. I mean-- every company has its own recipe, no two products are exactly alike. But many products offer the advantages of gel technology; the layers are cured under ultra violet light. You get the flexibility and superior adhesion of gel, with the added advantage of color that is instantly "dry" at the end of the service. Plus, with the solvents, you get a nice thin polish-like consistency and a product that is easily removed with acetone in less than 10 minutes. Which means you can reasonably do a full manicure in about an hour.

The thing is, every brand of uv polish out there offers different advantages and disadvantages-- products are still being tweaked in the lab and improvements are showing up with every new batch of every product.

It seems-- after trying out several different brands now-- that companies have had to choose between products that wear for a long time without peeling, chipping, etc, and products that come off super easy. In the beginning, we were hearing a lot of companies bragging about how their product soaked off in "10 minutes," or "5 minutes." But the ones that soak off fastest also seem to not wear as well.

I settled on Gelish as my initial primary line. It was available in the most colors (24 initially and 84 currently,) wears for at least 2 weeks on almost everyone, and soaks off in 10 minutes. I'm not saying that it's the perfect product, but it's offered the best compromise of qualities so far.

I love soaking off Shellac. Seriously, this stuff comes off like butter. You don't have to file or buff on the topcoat at all and, in less than 10 minutes, every layer just fluffs up and slides right off.

But, Shellac encountered some availability issues shortly after it was released that really cinched my decision to go with another line. It was also introduced with only 12 colors-- and nearly 2 years later, I think they're up to 18 (yeah yeah... they might have 24 now, I'm not looking it up.) And, most importantly, when I did invest in a small sampling of the product, the majority of my clients have reported that of the 6 lines I've tried out, Shellac is their least favorite. So I haven't exactly run out to invest in the rest of the colors (I have 4.)

(BTW: NSI's "Polish Pro" is my clients' favorite line and the one I will continue to build my collection of.)

The confusion I'm seeing in clients coming into the salon is that they seem to be getting the idea that Shellac isn't a gel polish. That "gel polish" has to be filed off.

This isn't the case. That's the whole point-- yeah, you've been reading all this time so that I can tell you that Shellac IS a gel polish and that gel polish doesn't have to be filed off.

And, btw, filing a product off doesn't have to jack up your nails. But it has to be done very carefully to avoid damaging the natural nail.

With this new technology hitting the industry so fast, the professionals out here in the Real World have had to scramble to fill in the blanks that R&D often leaves out when new products are introduced. R&D can work and rework the chemistry until their bow ties unravel, but they can't predict every variable that their products will have to adjust to under real world conditions.

So if you don't have a regular nail technician but visit a variety of different salons and/or techs, it's very likely that you are going to encounter a variety of different techniques for applying and removing gel polish.

  • Most of the products require a light buffing of the topcoat to "break the seal" and allow the acetone to penetrate the product so that it will soak off in a reasonable amount of time. So don't freak out if there's a little bit of filing done at the beginning before soaking.

  • Some techs have found that they prefer to use an initial base layer of traditional gel before applying the color coat. Traditional gels are usually thicker than gel polishes and have better adhesion properties. This is a great technique for damaged natural nails or just because that particular technician prefers this technique.

  • All gel polishes cure under UV light.

  • All gel polishes are removed by soaking in acetone: CND (Shellac) specifically requests its technicians to use their pads for soaking off Shellac, or to use the "foil wrap" method where each nail is covered in an acetone-soaked cotton pad and then individually wrapped in foil.  This method reduces the exposure of the skin to the acetone-- it works faster and is less drying to the skin.
The foil wrap method is the preferred method in professional salons, but there are still some places that will soak your fingers in a bowl of acetone. This isn't necessarily the worst way to do it, and it's the easiest way to do it yourself, which reminds me of one more point:

  1. You can remove gel polish at home, yourself: Check out my post on removing fake nails. I had one client who seemed to be under the impression that she would be able to take off Shellac at home like taking off traditional polish. She kept telling me that she didn't want "gel polish" because you have to come back to the salon to have it taken off. This was when I started realizing how much misunderstanding there is out there about these products. But you can remove any of these gel polishes yourself.
  2. With Shellac, you won't have to worry about anything but the soaking process, with the other brands, you'll have to use a buffer or file to remove the shine from the topcoat so the acetone can penetrate the product. If you have someone who can help you out, soak a cotton ball in acetone, place it directly on the nail and then wrap your fingertip with foil to keep the acetone from evaporating (and from getting on stuff)-- or dunk your fingertips in a bowl of acetone-- after about 10 to 15 minutes you should be able to slide the product right off your finger tips with an orange wood stick. Some people's nail really cling to the color and you might have to gently buff off a few patches of color, especially in the corners.
  3. Just make sure you rehydrate your nails and skin after your remove the polish. Olive oil is my favorite recommendation because it's usually already in your kitchen. It'll penetrate your skin and nails quickly, so it really puts the moisture back into the tissue fast. Lotions and cream usually feel better, but they stay on top of the skin instead of penetrating to rehydrate. Baby oil is not recommended-- it's even less likely to penetrate the tissue to rehydrate than lotion is and there is some debate that suggests that it actually pulls moisture out of your skin!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why Your Nail-lady Won't Do Flare Nails

Nails by Allison Nicole
  First off, let me start by pointing out that I DID NOT DO the nails in these photos. Both photos are captioned with the names of the artists-- I believe Allison works in Atwater CA, but I'm not 100% certain about that.

Also, both of these artists are awesome. And they both do some wicked-ass nails and have built a reputation for rockin a look that many self-respecting nail techs simply refuse to offer...


Why would a nail tech absolutely put their foot down and flat out refuse to do something? I mean, other than something that's unsafe or illegal?

Nails by Jamie Rena Melchor; Oakhurst, CA

Well, my friends, welcome to the "duck foot" flare nail trend.

We hate these things.

Obviously, not all of us hate them, for instance, the two fine artists featured in the photos have obviously chosen to downright embrace this style, and have developed quite a following for it too.

But the thing is, you ought to understand, is that most of us worked our butts off to learn how to NOT do nails like this!

Ok... the "duck foot" nail is an extreme style. It's kinda obvious that someone went out of their way to make these nails flare... but we've all seen nails that flare that you're just not sure if it's on purpose or not, right?

That is what we learned not to do. Most of us who learned to sculpt nails on forms spent hours, days, weeks, years, learning to sculpt a nail with perfectly parallel sidewalls to gently tapered.

Believe it or not, there actually is a standard for what is considered "technically perfect" structure. It's a large part of the judging criteria in sculptured nail competitions. And letting those free edges flare out is the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do!

So, when you spend so much time learning not to do something, it can be downright maddening when your client walks in and asks you do that thing on purpose!

OMG! It makes your head spin! Here we've spent decades associating flared-out tips with crappy workmanship and you WANT your nails to look  like that?

And so there are a LOT of nail techs who just flat out refuse. They have drawn a line and said, "hell no."

And that's fine.

On the other hand, there are plenty of techs out there who have decided to rock the flare.

And why not? Fashion trends come and go, and nails are just a part of that process. Believe me, in 10 years you'll be looking at those duck feet nails in your photos and laughing at yourself for ever thinking they were "cool." And five years after that, they'll be back in again.

I have to admit. I have a hard time loving the flare. For lots of reasons, most notably that they are inherently structurally unstable. They are out of balance, with more weight off the nailbed than on it, and with that weight spread out over so much space, flared nails are a disaster waiting to happen. Too much free edge to get caught on things, leading to more lifting and breaking.

But women have always loved bad science when it comes to their nails. I'm not likely to change your mind with all my technical info.

So don't be surprised when you walk into the nail salon and your nail tech tells you that you've lost your mind when you request this look.

On the other hand, if you're a nail tech who refuses to take the opportunity to prove that the flare can be pulled off with exceptional technique and style-- don't be surprised when your clients tell you that you've lost you're mind for refusing to keep up with the times.

Either way... I've decided to go with it. Life is short and fashion should be fun... and there is nothing like the feeling I get when a client truly loves the nails I've done for her. So if she loves flares, then all I can do is rock those flares!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Removing Fake Nails

Ok folks-- most of us in the nail biz cringe at the words "fake nails." I'm not entirely sure why, other than it's a term that doesn't exactly denote a very sincere appreciation for the effort that goes into creating a good set of them.

Nevertheless, this post's title is exactly the term I often see in my tracking services of what people are searching the Internet for, which tells me that a lot of people want to know how to get the product off their nails. So that's what I'm going to discuss:

First off, you need to understand that there are a LOT of different products out there, and on top of that, there are a lot of different formulas of each product, getting stuff off your nails is not a one-size-fits-all process.

  • Obviously, removing traditional polish is easy enough. You use polish remover. But it may be of interest to you to know that you do NOT have to use "non-acetone" remover, even if you have acrylics on. In fact, straight acetone is my #1 choice for polish remover. It works. It doesn't smear. And it evaporates fast enough that unless you soak your nails in it, it won't harm your extension/overlay products.

There's also much information that attests that acetone is actually the safest of the solvents used in polish removers.

How-To Soak Off (most) Nail Products: 

  • If you are going to soak off your acrylic at home, the easiest way is to start your favorite movie, sit down, pour some 100% pure acetone (found at the hardware store-- or the beauty supply) into a ceramic, metal, or glass bowl (not plastic, acetone will melt plastic-- just like it's gonna melt your acrylic nails,) slather some Vaseline on your fingers-- this will protect your skin, acetone is extremely drying to skin-- and then put your fingers in the acetone in the bowl, and then put a towel over your hands in the bowl. The towel will slow down the evaporation process of the acetone, and also keep the smell down-- it's not the most pleasant smell.

  • DO NOT take your fingers out of the acetone! As soon as you do, the acetone will evaporate off your nails and the acrylic will start to re-harden. Just leave them in there until it's all melted off. If you can't completely wipe your nail clean after an hour in the acetone-- start thinking MMA, or ask yourself if you remembered to file off the gel sealer.

  • When the acrylic slides off (it should get "fluffy" and flake or slide off easily) then you'll need to wash your hands, slather them in olive oil, gently buff the nail plate to make sure all the product is off and the nails are smooth, file, slather on more olive oil, then lotion. Acetone dries out your skin and it's going to feel icky-- olive oil is great for rehydrating your skin, be prepared to go through a lot of lotion too.

  • Your newly naked nails are going to feel weird too. They're going to be brittle from dehydration so hydrating with good oil (olive, not baby!) is important. With luck, the person/people who've been doing your nails haven't over-filed them and the only thing wrong with them will be the dehydration and the fact that you aren't used to how easily natural nails break. Most people report about 2 days for nails to feel "normal" again.

  • With traditional acrylics you want to soak them in straight acetone. Depending on the product used and the thickness of it, it can take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour to completely remove a set.

There are a lot of techs in the industry who swear that it only take 20 minutes to remove acrylics. I have personally soaked off a LOT of acrylics, sets done by myself as well as sets done by other techs at other salons-- I have never managed to get a set off in 20 minutes without still having to do some filing. I'm not saying that some techs don't do nails that soak off in less than half an hour, I'm saying I've never come across one.

Silk or Fiberglass Wraps and "Dip" type products can also be soaked off in acetone--
the resin used in these nails breaks down much faster than acrylic, so it won't take as long!

Things That Can Slow You Down:
  • The MMA dilemma:

Some techs use acrylic monomer (the liquid) that is made with Methyl Methacrylate, MMA is not safe for use in nail products! Nail techs use it for a variety of reasons: it's hella cheap-- like, $20-$30 for a gallon sometimes (compared to $180-$250/gallon for high quality, professional, cosmetic grade monomer.)

It sticks to your nail better than you nail sticks to your finger; clients don't care about things like physics, they just don't want their acrylics to lift. So using MMA keeps you from hearing complaints... you know, until the natural nail gets ripped off the nail bed.

Not every nail tech knows jack-*#&@! about their product chemistry-- this is largely a problem with our technical training in beauty schools-- please write your state congress or assembly person and tell them that this is unacceptable. But it means that sometimes nail techs use crappy products because they are cheap and they have no idea that the stuff should only be used to glue tile to cement floors.

     What does MMA mean to you if you're trying to get it off your nails? Mostly it means that it can take 2 or 3 hours to soak it off with straight acetone. And it's a gummy mess that has to be soaked, filed, soaked, filed, soaked, filed... etc. And don't expect your nails to be in good shape when you finally do get the stuff off-- because MMA sticks best to a jacked up nail, so most people who use it rely on aggressive "prep" by over-filing that natural nail.

  •  Gel Topcoat obstacles: 

If you have regular acrylic nails but they're sealed with a gel topcoat, it's VERY IMPORTANT to file off the gel topcoat before you soak your nails! Many gel topcoats are solvent-resistant and if you don't file it off first, your nails will look exactly like they did before you put them in the acetone, even an hour later!

  • Removing Gel Nails:

There are a lot of different gel formulas out there these days, so removing gel gets complicated.

Traditional gels are solvent-resistant. They can't be soaked off-- at least, not in anything that is safe to soak your nails in! So you have to file them off.

There's nothing wrong with filing product off your nails, but it's important that it be done carefully. You (or the person doing it) have to be careful to STOP at the product and not file into the natural nail. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do with gels.

Gels are much softer than acrylic and filing through them takes relatively little time and effort.

Soak-off Gels, kinda obviously, can be soaked off in acetone like acrylics. Soakable gels usually don't take as long as acrylic to soak off either...but some "soakable" gels are quite stubborn and it can be easier to just file them off.

Gel Polish. This stuff is awesome! And it's super easy to soak off. Not quite as easy as removing traditional polish; you'll still have to soak it, but only for a few minutes. Most formulas slide off easily after 5-10 minutes.

The preferred method of soaking off product in the salon? The "foil wrap" method: Each nail is covered with a cotton pad that has been thoroughly dowsed in acetone, then the fingers are individually wrapped with foil. Most of us then like to place the hands in plastic liner bags and wrap with warm mitts or towels.

This method works faster, saves acetone, and is far less drying to your skin!
 But it's difficult to manage on yourself, which is why I gave instructions for the bowl method.

  • Removing Rockstar Toenails:
Most rockstar toes are done with traditional gel products-- you'll have to file them off.

Naturally, I recommend you have any product removed professionally, in a salon, by a nail technician who knows what they're doing and cares about preserving the health and integrity of your nails.

If you have your product removed in a salon and the so-called "professional" rips, clips, or pries the product off your nails, or files past the product into your natural nail-- get up and RUN out the door! If you want your nails jacked up, you could bite them off at home yourself! 


 As you can imagine, I have more than a few clients who are ga-ga for the Twilight series... and with the new movie premiering next week, it was inevitable that I'd have to turn out some killer nails for the event!

These are custom-made decals that I embedded into the nail itself. The decals are placed over the white rockstar acrylic with a layer of clear acrylic over them and sealed with gel so the images will last through several fills without damage.

The decals ROCK! I'm absolutely THRILLED with the way they turned out! And I feel pretty confident in my abilities to fill any custom-decal order for nail art at this point! (And I know Dale Jr is going to be first on the request list!)

These photos came out a little disappointing though: in real life, the decal images are much clearer and you don't see the file marks in the acrylic like you see in the photos.

The other tiny thing you might notice in some of the photos is that the gel sealer was put on a little too thickly and it had a chance to pool at the corners of the nails a tad.

Other than that, this is an existing set, we did a complete re-tip (cut off the old free edges and re-sculpted new ones on forms) with white rockstar acrylic and added a couple confetti circles on the nails that don't have decals. The nail bed acrylic is also rockstar with some chunky opalescent glitter in it.

This shape isn't quite wide enough to qualify as "duck feet" but it's a pretty wide flare nail with a high, straight "smile line" (the point where the pink and white meet... but if this flat line is going to keep being popular we're going to have to find a new name for it, since it definitely doesn't "smile.")

Yeah... I can do "Team Jacob" too.

Oh yeah, and for the Team Edwarders; CND's Scentsations lotion in Vanilla Shimmer has just enough shimmer in it to give you a great "sparkle in the sun" effect.

If you just gotta have any of this, text or call Maggie at (559) 300-8063 and I'll do my best to fit you in before the premier! (or after, if you're not that picky.)

Include them with a full set like this for $85 (hey! those long flares take a lot of time and product!)
On a rockstar set of standard length (about half of those pictured) for $65...
or with a regular fill on your existing nails for $40.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Yelp Review for Yelp is not a big hit here in the South Valley... at least not yet. But then, it's only been in the last few years that my fellow Visalians seem to have come to fully embrace the Internet at all.

I discovered Yelp accidentally several years back while Googling myself... Yes. I know it sounds dirty. I think Google did that on purpose when they chose their name.

Nevertheless, as a small business owner, I realized that the Internet was the future of customer referral for my type of business long ago. I've been working hard to maintain a strong web-presence for as long as I, myself, have had Internet access. It actually drove me nuts for many years that my customers seemed so non-plussed about the Internet at all. But-- THANK YOU STEVE JOBS!-- as soon as the iPhone hit the market, I saw a distinct change in attitude toward Internet use among the people I see and talk to IRL every day.

So, occasionally, when I have a little extra time, I Google myself-- just to make sure I'm findable.

And so it was that a few years ago I discovered And that's how it all began:

When I stumbled across Yelp, I had already closed my Court & Walnut location and gone back to a booth rental set up at Attitudes Salon. When I did this, I forwarded the land line phone # to my cell phone for a month and made sure to point this out in my outgoing voicemail message so that callers would take note to change their contact # for me. Then I cancelled my account with the phone company and have used my cell # as my primary business contact number since 2007.

Unfortunately, this meant that I was initially unable to claim my own business with Yelp!

There are a lot of "peer review" style sites out there in cyberspace and many of them simply add listings from the local telephone records-- I assume that's how Yelp had a listing for The Art of Nailz to begin with. But since the number on file was the land line number, I had no way of claiming my business listing because they were unable to verify my claim by calling me.

I looked through Yelp's site and sent off an email to their contact info-- to no avail-- so I simply wrote a review for the business.

Oh yeah. I know. I'm not supposed to do that! Oh NO! Ok... well, I've read through Yelp's TOS several times now and it doesn't really say "YOU CANNOT DO THIS" so much as they repeatedly use the term "we discourage this..." at any rate, I wanted to let anyone who came across the listing to at least know what happened to the business.

Then I added the salon where I was working at the time, wrote a review for the hair stylists, and happily nodded every time one of my co-workers said they'd gotten a new client from Yelp.

Then I moved to my current location. I created a business profile on Yelp, still had that lost-in-space listing from my old location, and-- since I have a new land line (for the credit card machine)-- Yelp created a new listing for the "new" business.

So I had, essentially, 3 listings. Stupid. But I was totally unable to get ahold of anyone at Yelp to take care of it.

Until they decided to contact me.

Naturally, all they really wanted to do was sell me advertising. Which left me in a frustrated, exasperated state of hysterical laughter and simultaneous irritation and incredulousity (that's a word, isn't it?)  I did manage to finally get someone to condense all 3 listings into one page. BUT NOW, the 4 reviews-- and I'm willing to just count the 3 legitimate reviews from people other than myself (from that first listing, remember?)-- are "filtered."


Well, apparently I'm not the only person who has experienced the Yelp Review Filter and been left with the feeling that I've been groped by a toothless stranger on a bus-- because it's obviously such a common complaint that they've seen fit to include a significant discussion of the issue in their FAQs.

So... I have been looking for a way to review Yelp itself. So far, I haven't figured it out. So I'm just gonna do it here:

Yelp sucks. Like Communism: it's better in theory than in practice.

I WANT-- desperately want-- to love Yelp. I think it's such a great idea. I like the idea of  peer review sites. I like the idea that my clients have a place-- a place that gets noticed-- online to talk about how great I am. I even-- gulp-- like that the clients who don't think I'm great, can voice their opinions as well. It gives me an opportunity to "listen in" on what people think of my and my business. That's extremely helpful to me when it comes  to deciding how I do business.

I also like the idea of Yelp as a consumer. I like being able to look up a new doctor or a restaurant or salon and find out what people in the community think of them.

Because, let's face it, the marketing that businesses do for themselves is all about us telling you how great we are! And sometimes we are great, but not for the reasons we think, and sometimes we're not as great as we think.

Ok. So... I also totally get the concept of the Review Filter. I understand where the Yelp-masters are coming from when they talk about trying to weed out "fake" reviews. Yeah, we can review ourselves. Disgruntled employees can review their companies; people can review their competitors, their ex-girlfriend/boyfriend/spouses' businesses... there are lot of opportunities for people to leave less-than-accurate reviews and ratings that unfairly tip a business' reputation pro or con. And Yelp can't send a duly appointed representative to each and every place/person to check up on it-- not to mention that duly appointed representatives are generally (still) human beings and are subject to persuasion too.

And I get that Yelp doesn't have (and probably doesn't want) the manpower to individually read and assess each review on the site to determine if it should be posted or not.

So, in essence, I get that Yelp built a fancy piece of software to crawl their site and review reviews. And so, I get what Yelp is saying about the filtering process.

What I don't get, don't like, and think is stupid, is that they've "filtered" ALL my reviews. And I'm not sure I think that makes sense. And not just for me, personally, but in other cases for other people dealing with the stupid too.

I think, maybe, the Filter should "think" to not hide ALL of a businesses' reviews. That's crap. All 4 reviews were made by separate people, from separate accounts, using separate IP addresses, so the Filter shouldn't be thinking they're duplicates.

Hopefully my reviews will eventually be un-filtered again and show up on my business profile. But, in the meantime, Yelp is a review site. How does it make sense to essentially "erase" ALL the reviews a business has accrued?

Especially in an area where the site is just starting to see regular use? Doesn't it make sense that Yelp would want businesses to have reviews? No one wants to keep checking your site for reviews if there are never any reviews.

Is this because I laughed at your advertising prices? .... oh sure, I read that in the FAQs too, all about how Yelp doesn't "punish" businesses for not advertising with them... but, ya gotta admit, seems coincidental.

I don't pretend to be Good Will Hunting-- I can't "reverse engineer" the fancy algorithms that are used to determine credit scores, or Yelp Review Filtering. But I wouldn't be surprised if some of the variables used for the filtering process are the number of overall reviews any particular person has written overall, the number of reviews a business gets within a certain time frame-- like if I get 20 reviews all in one day, it might be because I told people to write me a review and I'd give them each a cookie for doing it-- and ratings, like, if I get 27 reviews and they're ALL 5 stars, maybe that makes the Filter think, "hmmmm, I wonder if she's bribing them with cookies?"

But, like I said, Yelp isn't big here yet. In fact, after my conversation with the Yelp rep about their ludicrous ad prices, I spent the next 2 days asking everyone I spoke with if they'd ever used Yelp-- overwhelmingly the response was "What's 'Yelp?'" And my hair stylist said she only knew about it because I wrote a review for her.

People don't love constantly being required to register for a site and set up a profile-- I guess, eventually, we'll all be able to use our Google or Facebook accounts to sign in for ANY site-- but so far, Yelp isn't playing that game, but Yelp requires you to create an account and log in in order to write a review. That's more effort than many people want to make. And yeah, I tell people all the time to write a review for me--  I never tell them what to say, I don't want to bake cookies to bribe people. I'm not trying to sway the results, just introduce people to the site.
I have hopes that Yelp will figure out a more accurate filtering process. I expect that Yelp will eventually see far more use here in Visalia. And, as long as they continue to play nice with Google, Yelp will grow and prosper. But I am ticked that they now tell me that my business "has no reviews" just because they've been "filtered" shouldn't mean I go back to square one altogether!

But-- I'm not going to bother to keep posting reviews if the reviews I write are going to get trapped in a filter. And my clients aren't going to write reviews for me if their reviews are going to get hidden. And I'm not going to keep encouraging people to use the site if it's going to end up that their efforts are for naught.