Monday, April 9, 2012

A Nail for Everyone

gel polish on natural nails

Of course I think everyone should get their nails done professionally on a regular basis; I'm a nail tech! This is what I do for a living, so it just stands to reason that I might be a little biased toward professional nail services.

But I don't think everyone needs to have fake nails. And although I do love fake nails, it's also important to note that not all "fake" nails are made of acrylic-- you have lots of options!

There's a nail service for everyone!

FAKE Nails-- also called "nail enhancements" "artificial nails" or "nail extensions"
Fake nails petty much means you have something over your nails that makes them longer than they are naturally. Eventually your natural nail will grow out under that product and be as long as the product over them, or you might even start out just putting a product over your natural nails without making them longer to begin with.

Making your nails longer means you have nail extensions. Just putting product over your nails means you have an overlay.

Extensions can be done by sculpting product onto forms or over tips. Tips are really common in the industry right now-- they're the plastic fake nails.

The biggest problem with tips is that there are a lot of salons that use them to cut corners and shave time off of a service. They just grab a bunch of plastic nails out of a box and glue them down to your nails without bothering to make sure the tips are the right size and shape to fit your natural nail. This means that they can break down over time because the plastic is pre-formed and wants to revert back to it's pre-formed shape and as your nails grows out, they don't always grow out together.

You get ledges at the corners where the tip is too wide or too narrow, your natural nails curls under and away from the sides of the tips... I've seen all kinds of problems. Not to mention when places use white tips to do a French manicure-- the smile line is almost always too far up the nail bed close to the cuticle, which looks like cheap work.

Tips can be done properly. It takes a little extra patience to carefully choose a tip style that fits your natural nails, and then choose the appropriate size and do some customizing if the perfect fit doesn't exist. When tips are done right, they make an excellent foundation for the product.

Tips are not where the strength of the extension comes from. They should fit to the very edge of your nail and only offer something for the product to be built onto.

The strength of the extension comes from the product and from being properly structured.

Forms are usually foil-covered paper stickers that fit around the fingertip and then the product is built directly over the form. When the product is cured (hardened) enough to file, the forms are removed and the product is shaped into the finished extension structure.

I like sculpting on forms because it gives me a chance to create a more custom fit of the product to the nail.

Extensions can be made of several different products:

The most common sculpting products are acrylic (liquid and powder) and gel (a thick liquid that cures under a lamp.)

Almost everyone who has ever had their nails done knows about acrylic: liquid and powder mixed on the brush and applied to the nail. It hardens with a few minutes.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people doing nails who aren't very good at it, and many people have had bad experiences with acrylic because of this.


If you had a bad experience with acrylic, there's a very good chance that it's not the acrylic's fault. The person who put them on may have over-filed your natural nail, used MMA, or the acrylics may have been picked or pried off-- which will tear your natural nail up. Acrylic should be removed by soaking it off.

Acrylics also don't have to be thick or long, or yellow, or gross in any way. Acrylic can be an excellent choice for a strong nail extension and it breaks this nail-lady's heart that so many people think it's bad.

almond shape gel nails with 3D acrylic flowers
But you can also build a nail extension with gel:

Traditional builder gels are thick and can be used to extend a nail over tips or forms. Gel can build a strong structure that can support the weight and length of rockstar nails and/or stilettos and duck foot shapes.

Gel is also a plastic product, like acrylic, but not exactly the same. There are some tiny differences in gels that make them more suitable for some clients-- which is why it's important to consult with your professional to determine what the best product for you is.

Dip system over white tips
Other extension products include wraps and dip systems. Wraps can actually be done without plastic tips, but usually start with  tips. Dip systems involve a building the enhancement through a series of layers of nail glue dipped in, or sprinkled with, powder, and while it's theoretically possible to build them over forms I've never seen or heard of it being done.

Wraps use nail glue and fabric mesh made of silk, fiberglass, or linen, to add strength.

Enhancements made of nail glue (Often called "resin-based" services: nail glue isn't actually glue at all, it's cyanoacrylate resin-- like Crazy Glue) are fading from popularity. The resin breaks down over time and exposure to water-- it becomes brittle and gets cloudy.

Resin-based services were often a good Plan B option for clients who are sensitive to acrylic products, but several new gel products are hypoallergenic now without the breakdown rate of resins.

Don't want "Fake" nails? No problem!

Red "French" manicure with Gel Polish

The new light cured polishes are amazing! You can come into the salon and get a manicure and have your nails polished and the polish will actually last-- for several weeks on most people!

You can't find a manicure for $3.00 anymore. A manicure takes about as long as a fill, and it doesn't make sense to charge less for the same amount of time. So I totally understand that for a long time, people didn't really want to pay $20-40 for a manicure when the polish was just going to chip off after 3 days anyway... although, honestly, I would be willing to lay down some good money for a decent hand massage, with or without polish.

There are also a variety of gel products on the market now that bridge the gap between fake nails and manicures. You could get an overlay of thin gel to add strength and structure to your natural nails. It'll still need filled, but you can often whittle down your visits to the salon to once every 3 or even 4 weeks.

traditional polish on natural nails.
And there's always the old fashioned manicure! So traditional polish doesn't last very long, so what? There is nothing like taking a minute to take care of yourself. Sit down, turn off your cell phone, and just relax. Enjoy some pampering, some conversation, and a really good hand and arm massage with calming scents from luxurious products.

A manicure isn't a miracle-- you can't spend 30 years working in the garden without gloves and expect anyone to make your hands look like a hand model from a  lotion commercial in an hour. But if you don't take care of your hands on a regular basis, it's not a bad idea to let someone else show them some attention once in a while. Have your cuticles pushed back, hangnails trimmed, nails shaped and filed, and skin moisturized. Finish it up with polish or not.

Another cool thing for your nails are appliques. Products like Minx and Dashing Diva are popping up all over the place these days. Some of these are little more than stickers, some of them are more complicated. Some are easy to apply at home-- but some really shine in the hands of a professional. Basically, appliques fall into a category somewhere between enhancements and nail art, they typically fit over the natural nail and offer temporary design and delight.

Initially I was less inclined to include them in my repertoire, but as more options come to market, it's becoming more apparent that this is a legitimate alternative to other nail products and services-- especially for a temporary fix!

tie-dye design with gel paint
And don't forget your toes! When all else fails and you just can't see fit to get your nails done, remember, all the same options for fingernails apply to toenails as well!

Professional nail care is for everyone, even if not everyone needs nails.


  1. Just a little note, they're not fake they're artificial. Sounds much more professional. Just my 2 pennies.

    1. It might sound more professional to those of us in the biz, but it isn't what people are searching the Internet for-- I try to use keywords that match popular searches.

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