Thursday, October 27, 2011

Polymer, Polycrylic, Polly-wanna-cracker, Plastic Nails...


I about sick and more than a little crazy at the unspeakable amount of ignorance regarding the use of the prefix "poly" that runs rampant through out the so-called "professional" nail industry.

Y'all are killin me here! Seriously!

Since it seems, after a good 10 years already, that a significant number of my colleagues largely refuse to educate themselves on the subject; the best I guess I can do is try to put something out there that reaches the masses.

Before you buy into any manicurist's rant regarding "polymer" or "poly-crylic" nails and nail products-- PLEASE, take a moment to look up the definition of "Polymer."

Did you click on that link? It takes you to the Wikipedia entry for "polymer." Now, I know a lot of teachers and college professors won't let you use Wikipedia as a reference source if you're writing a paper-- but, trust me, it's an accurate enough article to give you a real understanding of what the word "polymer" really means. And, if you read it, you now know that "polymers" are types of molecules that make up a lot of different types of materials-- including ALL, that's right! ALL-- artificial nail enhancement products. Even polish. Or "lacquer," or "enamel," or whatever you prefer to call your favorite pigmented, brush-on nail paint.
The word "gel" gets thrown around rather haphazardly in and out of the professional industry.

The primary problem with the word "gel" as it pertains to nail enhancement products is that it doesn't really refer to any specific type of polymer. The word "gel" just refers to any-- that's right, any-- nail enhancement product that is a gel.

You know. Gel. As in gelatinous. Jelly-like.

The majority of the pros concur that real gel nails are created by coating the nails with multiple layers of viscous liquid (viscous= thick. For our purposes here, that's close enough) that must be cured by being exposed to ultra violet light. Which means that the product is already in a jelly-like state when it leaves the factory. No components must be mixed to create the "gel." UV gels can come in all kinds of containers, from pots or jars to squeezy tubes to polish-type bottles, but if they are UV gels, the container will be opaque. (Opaque means that light cannot pass through it-- as in, you can't see through it.) The containers have to be opaque because sunlight and even regular lightbulbs (especially fluorescent light bulbs) emit ultra violet light-- so if light can get through the container that the gel is in, it will thicken and eventually harden in the container.

I hear ALL THE TIME from people who have been duped by unscrupulous salons that claimed to do "gel" nails, but really just slapped on old-fashioned acrylic (liquid and powder) and sealed it with a gel topcoat.
REAL GEL NAILS are done with EVERY layer in gel. Gel is never a powder. It can't be-- since the whole reason gel is called gel is because it's a gel. Remember?

BUT sometimes you hear the term "no light gel."

"No light" gels are really just nail glue. Usually a thick nail glue, but still nail glue. Which isn't even really "glue" since true glue is made of processed protein and nail glue is made of cyanoacrylate resin-- same as Crazy Glue.

Most pros don't consider these "resin" based products to be true gels, but since the term gel only refers to the physical properties of the product, it's fair to call it "no light gel."

But the thing that makes me CRAZY is how many techs are out there selling their preferred UV Gel product as NOT BEING GEL! And go on and on about how their product is a "poly-"something-or-other.

Folks. I'm here to testify. Their "polymer" or "polycrylic" products ARE gels. Why? Because it's in a gelatinous state.

And what's more-- other gels ARE TOO "polymers!" In fact: traditional liquid and powder acrylics ARE POLYMERS! and "no light gels" ARE POLYMERS! and all uv gels ARE POLYMERS! and nail varnish/lacquer/enamel/polish-- all polymers. and nail glue-- also a polymer.

At least, the resulting, cured products are polymers.

Oh yeah. ALL ARTIFICIAL NAIL ENHANCEMENT PRODUCTS are also acrylates, and all acrylates are types of plastic.

Yes. There are some differences in the chemistry of certain types of gels. That's the problem with such broad usage of the word "gel," since it only refers to the physical properties of the products, there a lot of different chemical formulas that qualify.

And part of the problem is that the companies that manufacture nail products market their products in misleading ways-- they tell the manicurists who use their products that the product "isn't a gel because...blah blah blah" or that their product is different/better/new because it's different/better/made with magical unicorn pee...

Sorry. Did my disdain for companies that intentionally use misleading information to convince licensed professionals of their outright LIES start to slip through there?

Yeah. I am going to have to take a stand and claim that some of these companies are intentionally lying to us-- they have chemists making their products. I cannot, for the life of me, wrap my brain around the concept that a PROFESSIONAL CHEMIST who has GONE TO COLLEGE and OBTAINED A DEGREE IN CHEMISTRY could possibly develop a gelatinous polymer designed to use as a fingernail product and honestly NOT KNOW that it's an acrylate, let alone a gel.

Unless there's something I'm REALLY SERIOUSLY missing in the MSDS. (Material Safety Data Sheet-- very cool piece of paper that list ingredients and lets you know what to do in case someone drinks the product.)


So. I'm not sayin' that there aren't different chemical formulas for all the different types of polymer nail products out there. And there ARE many different formulas for gels. In fact, UV gels are booming in the industry right now and they keep introducing more and more new formulas to the market!

We now have "traditional" or "hard" UV gels that will not soak off the natural nail with solvents-- but have to be filed off the nail. We have "soak-off" or "soft" UV gels that can be soaked off with solvents-- and even then! Some "soak-off" gels soak off very easily and quickly, while some take a really long time. We have gel polishes now-- and there's even different formulas of gel polishes!

It really does boggle the mind to try to keep track of them all.

If your nailcare professional chooses to use a particular formula of gel product with claims that it's not an acrylate, or tries to tell you that it's not a gel or that other gels aren't polymers-- well. These are buzz words and marketing terms that indicate that your nail tech probably doesn't quite grasp the concept of polymers in general. But that doesn't mean her product isn't good. In fact, many of these products are great and I know a lot of people who love them...but then again, I know a lot of people who love other types of gels too.

In the end, it's going to be up to you whether or not you decide to stay with that tech and her product. And that comes down to whether or not you like that tech and feel safe with her, and whether or not you like the way your nails look when she's done with them and whether or not you like the way product wears for you.
I just want everyone to know the true meaning of the word "polymer." That way, you can make up your mind about how much you like a product without thinking it's better or worse for your nails based on erroneous marketing.

Remember-- there are some VERY smart folks doing nails out there! And there are some of us who are very knowledgeable about the products we use. Then again-- there are also a lot of people who only repeat what they get told by their sales rep.

It's up to you to educate yourself in order to protect yourself and get what you really want. And education starts with listening to more than one side of the story and then making an informed decision about what you believe.

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