Sometimes the best answers to technical questions are from your peers. In this bimonthly column, respected nail veterans from across the country tackle reader questions ranging from how to prevent a gel-cure burn to advice for chronic nail pickers to etching the natural nail.
Q: During my training for fills, I was taught to etch the natural nail regrowth for the strongest hold and to prevent lifting. Yet, I recently read in one of the Help Desk answers that a technician did not etch the nail because it causes so much damage. I agree, but wonder what the major difference would be without etching? Should I apply more primer?
Marti Preuss, Hair Spa, Houston: Etching is a practice that began in the very early days of acrylic application. Since then, we have learned that etching the nail plate removes too many layers of foundation that are vital to the success of the service. Oils and moisture, inherent in the nail plate, inhibit adhesion. Removing the shine from the nail plate should be the extent of surface filing before application. One thin coat of primer is all that is needed, unless specified differently by the product manufacturer.
Sue Roberts, My Nails of Westerville, Westerville, Ohio: Extra primer is not necessary. Keep in mind that “etching” should be done lightly to remove the shine. Even this removes a top layer from the nail plate, but it does not cause permanent damage. Meanwhile, the body’s natural healing process reinforces the nail plate.
Tracey Stadamire, Tracey’s Un-4-gettable Nails, Portland, Ore.: No more than two coats of primer are ever recommended, and one usually works best To prevent fill lines, buff off the shine, then fill. Etching is fine on top of acrylic, but must be used wisely and sparingly on the natural nail.
Q: How do you get a client to stop picking the acrylic at the cuticle?
Jaime Schrabeck, Precision Nails, Pacific Grove, Calif.: If you leave a ledge of acrylic around the cuticle, most clients will be tempted to pick. During application keep the acrylic 1/16-inch away from the cuticle and file the product flush to the nail plate. Also, inform your clients that picking damages the nail plate. Then take the time to find out what leads to the picking. Boredom? Anxiety? Once you have established the scenario, offer a bottle of cuticle oil to apply to her nails in these situations, replacing a destructive habit with a beneficial one.
Michele Martinez, Chele’s Frills, Austin, Texas: Give your client a buffer block and advise her to buff problem areas when they are noticed. If she gets into the habit of relying on a buffer, she may not pick.
Preuss: Clients will pick at their nails if there is a ridge of product at the cuticle line or if lifting is apparent. Telling them to stop will not alleviate the problem. Try applying your product thinner at the cuticle line and buffing the product to blend to the natural nail, leaving no ridge or “bump” at the cuticle. This will remove the area of aggravation, and the client will have nothing to pick at anymore.
Stadamire: Inform your client that picking will damage her nails if she doesn’t stop. If this doesn’t work, ask her to purchase a file — filing acrylic away is better than chipping or picking it away.
Q: What causes the burning sensation when a new set of gels are curing? How do I prevent this?
Roberts: If a client has a thin nail plate she may be more susceptible to a burning sensation during the gel curing process. The chemical reaction that occurs during the curing process causes heat that may penetrate a thin or damaged nail plate. Another type of nail enhancement may work better for these clients.
Preuss: Some gel systems use heat energy and others use light energy to cure. If you are using a system that does not require UV light to cure, chances are the bulbs in your table lamp carry more wattage than necessary for this product. The heat sensation will occur if the bulb is stronger than 60 watts because higher heat causes rapid curing. Also, if your gel coating is too thick, the burning sensation can occur. Apply one gel coat, no thicker than a piece of tissue paper, and cure. Apply a second coat, just as thin, and cure. Remember, curing too long under UV light may cause excessive shrinking and premature yellowing.
Schrabeck: The burning sensation is a result of the rapid chemical reaction that takes place as gels cure. While you cannot prevent the reaction, you can take steps to reduce your client’s sensitivity to the process. Do not over-file the natural nail plate, do apply the gel in thin layers, and, if you use an acid-based primer, use it very sparingly. If a burning sensation occurs, have your client apply pressure by pressing her fingertips on your table or apply rubbing alcohol to the nail.
Q: I am feeling frustrated because I have trouble applying tips. I am either getting bubbles or the tips pop off.
Preuss: Bubbles under a tip application can be caused by using the wrong type of adhesive for that nail shape. If your client has bitten, ski-jump, or ridged nails, a thin adhesive will not fill in these imperfections, and bubbles can form in the gaps. Use a thicker adhesive product on these clients. Tips that pop off easily have not been properly fitted. To fit a nail, look down the barrel of the nail to check the natural nail C-curve. Then, look down the tip from the contact area and match the C-curves. Once you have chosen the correct tip, apply a line of gel adhesive to the free edge of the natural nail from sidewall to sidewall. Next, apply a line of adhesive to the center of the contact area of the tip. Slide the tip onto the nail plate at a 45-degree angle up to the stop point. Rock the tip onto the nail plate. Press and hold. The gel will fill in any imperfections in the nail plate and allow for complete adhesion.
Martinez: Try using a gel glue to fill in gaps that often cause bubbles. Then, hold the tip in place for about 10 seconds.
Q: I applied one coat of gel on g natural nails, and the gel peeled off the next day. Should I have used more than one coat of primer? The only preparation I did was to buff the shine off of my client’s clean nails, dust, apply a bonder, then one coat of gel, and let cure. What am I missing?
Stadamire: The first thing I always do is dehydrate the nail plate. Then I add primer, gel, and a top coat to seal. I extend the gel layer over the top of the nail and a little on the back side. When the gel seals, it will seal all the way around the top of the nail to ensure a tight bond.
Preuss: All the shine must be removed from the nail plate. The natural nail contains oils and moisture. Use a 240-grit buffer in the direction of natural nail growth. Remove dust particles and scrub the nail with prep, working the product in to thoroughly remove oils and moisture. Allow the prep to dry. Apply one thin coat of primer if recommended by the product manufacturer. (Using primer with a product not designed for its use can actually cause the gel overlay to peel from the nail plate.) Then, apply the gel in thin coats or as recommended by the manufacturer.
Roberts: One coat of primer is enough. Peeling could mean the gel was applied too thin. Also, clients with extremely thin nails are not good candidates for gel products.
Schrabeck: Nail plates must be oil- and debris-free before applying any type of enhancement. Buffing the shine does not always accomplish this. The dead skin cells in the cuticle area must be gently removed, and the entire nail plate must be sanitized to promote adhesion. You may want to try two coats of gel next time. If a client’s natural nails are not rigid enough for gels, a thin layer of acrylic might be more suitable.