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.