Acrylic Nails

Brush Basics

If you’re only as good as the tools you use, make sure to choose the brush that works best for you.

Selecting the right nail brush is sort of like selecting the right golf club. You not only have to choose the right club for the type of shot you’re making, but the clubs themselves have to “fit” you. There are no absolute rules about what you’re “allowed” to use, but choosing the correct club will greatly affect your success at the game. It’s the same with nail brushes.

The brush is the nail technician’s fundamental tool of the trade, and, next to the file, probably the tool she uses most often. There are hundreds of brushes on the market, available in a variety of styles, shapes, and sizes. Depending on the technician, she may chose to use one brush for every application or a different brush for each.

Brush construction is fairly simple, but the life of a brush will depend on the level of quality put into its construction as well as how it is cared for. Basically, a brush consists of three components: the hairs in the tip: the ferrule, which attaches to the handle and holds the hairs in place; and the handle itself.

The types of hair used for nail brushes include pony hair: takalon (a synthetic nylon material): blended red sable: pure red sable; and kolinsky red sable. The sable, a member of the weasel family found in northern Europe and parts of northern Asia, is prized for its valuable dark brown for. The kolinsky red sable brush is generally considered the top of the line by many nail technicians. According to Gary Sperling, vice president of Alpha 9 (Van Nuys, Calif.), the kolinsky red sable is the Rolls Royce of all nail brushes.

The high quality of the kolinsky red sable is due to the makeup of the hair. An individual strand of sable hair starts out thin at the end. “This trait is what gives it strength,” says Greg Mink, assistant sales manager of F.M. Brush CO., a private label custom brush manufacturer based in New York and a member of the American Brush Manufacturers Association in Philadelphia. “No other natural hair has this property. Sable hair has the ability to hold a lot of fluid and release that fluid while still maintaining its shape. Using the right length of sable hair when making the brush gives it this tensile strength.

“A lesser quality brush, pony hair for example, is made with blended hair and has a straighter, narrower tip,” Mink explains, “while a kolinsky red sable is made with pure sable and has a natural curve “

Mink believes that most students purchase inexpensive brushes, like pony hair, at first because they don’t have a lot of money to spend. Also, they tend not to clean their brushes as regularly so they need to replace them more often.

Jan Bragulla, president of Creative Nail Design (Carlsbad, Calif.), says that kolinsky red sable brushes have what is known as “snap,” or excellent shape memory. Also, she adds, the hairs are uniform in length, strength, thickness, and spring.

“High-quality kolinsky brushes offer better pickup and control of the powder,” says Rick Slack, vice president/sales of NSI (W. Conshohocken, Pa.). “They also are more durable and last longer than a lesser quality brush.”

Brush hairs are kept in place with a metal ferrule, available in aluminum, anodized aluminum, nickel-plated copper, stainless steel, brass, or gold. “All our ferrules are seamless metal, which is a solid tube that hasn’t been sol­dered,” says Mink. ‘This accounts for their strength.”

According to Mink, nickel-plated copper ferrules are very strong and durable, and have a high luster and pleasing appearance. “They are less likely to discolor than aluminum or brass,” he adds.

The ferrules on NSI brushes are tapered to a point, allowing a technician to pick up a small ball of powder for cuticle application. “If the ferrule is rounded and crimped,” says Slack, “the tip of the brush will be rounded in shape, making it difficult to pick up small amounts of powder.”

Sperling advises technicians to look for a brush with a high-quality ferrule. When you pick up the brush and wiggle it a little, the hairs shouldn’t fall out. “You don’t want to dip a brush into a liquid and have loose hairs floating around,” he says.

At F.M. Brush Co., brush hair is cemented into the ferrule with a solvent-resistant glue. Says Mink, “Some glues are not impervious to solvents, causing the hair to fall out of the ferrule.”

Then the brush head is glued and crimped for a secure fit onto the handle. Brush handles are made from either natural hardwood (which is usually painted), aluminum, or clear acrylic.

“Our handles are made with natural hardwood that has been kiln dried so all of the moisture is removed in the baking process,” says Mink. “This helps in maintaining the shape and balance of the handles.” Mink also adds that natural hardwood handles are lightweight.

Creative Nail Design uses a handle of solvent-resistant clear acrylic so it can withstand constant contact with chemicals.

Besides the very important practical considerations of how a brush is made, don’t underestimate how important it is to find a brush that feels right in your hand.

“Our brushes have specially weighted handles to keep them in a down position,” says Susan Meluso, brand manager for SuperNail (Los Angeles, Calif.). The company’s brush handles are made from aluminum, so they can be wiped off easily if any product or polish gets on them.

Says Vicki Peters, NAILS Magazine Shows general manager, “A brush should be balanced when it’s made—not too thick in the middle or too thick at the end. It should have a nice, comfortable feel.”

Cathy Sink, owner of Good Looks Salon (Radford, Va.), agrees: “You can’t control the product if the brush is too light or too heavy. Having the right brush for you is timesaving.”


Nail brushes are available in a variety of tips and sizes. Some nail technicians prefer to use the same brush for each application, while others choose a different brush depending on the product they are working with.

“I like a round pointed brush when working with a traditional acrylic product,” says Sloane Smith-Paez, owner of Lovetouch Nails (Denton, Texas). “It gives me better precision and control. When working with an odorless acrylic, an oval brush works best for me because the product is a lot thicker so you need a firmer brush to press the product onto the nail.” For gels, Smith-Paez prefers a synthetic brush because the gel doesn’t clump onto the bristles like it does with natural hair.

Sink likes a flat brush with an oval tip for fills, but she likes a heavier brush with a pointed tip for sculpting. “It helps me get the right curvature and to sculpt a more natural-looking nail.”

The shape of the tip and the quality of the hairs will affect how much liquid a brush can hold. “I use a round pointed brush for acrylics because it holds enough liquid in the well for the proper mixture of liquid and powder,” says Polly Infante, a nail technician at Salon Nouveau (Redondo Beach, Calif.). “For odorless products, I use a flat tip brush because it holds less liquid.”

Susan Weiss, executive vice president of OPI Products (N. Hollywood, Calif.), concurs. “The brush you choose depends on the amount of liquid it can hold, as well as the consistency of the liquid and powder. Also, certain brush shapes work better with certain parts of the nail.”

Most brush suppliers recommend a particular brush for a particular application. In the brush industry, “one size fits all” is not the rule. Reminds Adrea Nairne, operations manager for Nailmate (N. Hollywood, Calif.), “Brushes are designed for specific applications. They are hot all interchangeable.”

However, there are plenty of nail technicians who make do with just a few brushes, and in some instances, only one type of brush. Weiss says that the brush you use depends on your choice of liquid and powder, but admits that the most important factor is the preference of the nail technician.

Peters, who uses the same type of brush for all applications, also believes that using different brush tips for each product is the choice of the technician. “The only time I really see a need to use a different brush is when you’re working with gels.”

Slack recommends using a synthetic brush with gels because its easy to clean. Also, synthetic brushes are non-porous, unlike natural hair brushes. Since gels don’t require any “wetting out” like an acrylic does, there is no saturation of the hairs.

Judith Ruebel, owner of Judith’s Nail Salon (Gaylord, Mich.), has never found a need for different styles of brush tips. “I feel that if you know what you’re doing, you can create a beautiful set of nails with the right brush. Using the correct brush saves time and makes you respect the brush more.”

Summing up the one-brush philosophy is Luann Rounds, nail technician at Pazazz Salon (St. Petersburg, Fla.), who says, “I use one brush that has to be just right. One that I can get into a fine point in the cuticle area, that has to flatten out to smooth the finish over the entire nail, and that has to be able to blend the product evenly.”


In addition to the shape of the tip, there are other important features a nail technician looks for when buying a brush. “I look for durability and quality,” says Peters. “The brush should be perfect when I buy it and use it. I shouldn’t have to break it in.”

Ruebel believes that some of the problems beginning nail technicians face can be attributed to the fact that they start off with the least expensive brush, which is usually the lowest quality one. A poor quality brush will fray more easily and more quickly, the hairs will fall out, and they don’t retain liquid very well.

Hezikiah (Click) Baxter, Jr., owner of Click’s Can’t Touch This Nail Dynasty (Washington, D.C.), chooses his brushes based on the manufacturer. “I have to be famil­iar with the company selling the brash to ensure the quality of it. I also look for durability and the way you can handle the brush.”

Tightness of the hairs also is important to Baxter. “The hairs have to be strong enough to withstand what you are going to use it for. I use my brushes like a pencil I’m interested in the tip, not the length.”

Infante usually buys her brush from the same manufacturer whose product she uses. “Hopefully, the brush holds the correct amount of liquid for its product. I trust their expertise.”

For Rounds, a round tip kolinsky brush is the only choice. “It’s the only brush I’ve found where the hairs won’t separate. If the hairs separate, a tiny groove forms in the product, causing it to harden.”

Although an experienced nail technician probably can make any brush work for her, it is optimal to use the highest quality brush that is designed for a specific application. Says Sperling, “I think that a phenomenal nail technician can work with an inexpensive brush and still create a nice set of nails. But, of course, a better quality brush and product will produce an even better quality job.”


Once you’ve assembled all the brushes you need, you must take proper care of your investment. Proper maintenance and sanitation practices are essential in prolonging the life of your brushes. But equally important, if your brushes are not properly and thoroughly cleaned, they can contaminate product as well as spread germs to clients.

“We’ve had people come back and tell us their brushes lasted two and three years,” says Nairne. “Either they barely used them or they took extremely good care of them.” Nairne believes the lifespan of a brush is dependent on how the technician uses it. If she consistently uses the right brush for the right application, Name believes it will last longer. “If you’re using the brush for something it wasn’t designed to do, it’s not going to hold up. For example, a fine fill-in brush is not designed to build a complete nail extension.”

Weiss says a brush usually lasts three to six months. “It really depends on the care of the brush and how much it is used.”

Over the years, Peters has learned to spend a little extra time and effort to find a brush that lasts longer. “A good brush will last at least a couple of months, whereas an inexpensive brush will barely last one month.”

Although most experts agree that proper maintenance and sanitation are key to a brush’s longevity, there are dissenting opinions on the methods of upkeep and care.

“A natural hair brush needs to retain oil for maintenance,” says Sperling. “A lot of nail techs dip their brush into monomer to clean it off, then remove the brush and let it sit overnight. By doing this, particles adhere to the brush.” Sperling recommends against using liquid monomer to clean brushes; he suggests instead using brush cleaner, with an oil base in­gredient, that is specifically designed for that purpose.

Peters says she is constantly cleaning her brush. “Just like housework, I clean as I go. As I’m working, I always dip my brush in liquid and wipe it off on a towel, so it’s always ready to pick up and use.”

About once a month, Smith- Paez uses an antibacterial cleanser to clean her brushes. “I pour a small amount on my fingers to gently wipe the hairs of my brush. Then I’ll rinse the brush under running water and wipe it off with a towel.” Next, she’ll put a small amount of conditioning oil on the hairs, because the natural oils in them develop build-up over time. Daily, she dips her brushes into monomer and cleans them off with a terry cloth towel “If I don’t get all the liquid out of the brush on a daily basis, it collects in the brush and gets old and gummy and turns yellowish.”

Weiss recommends using a non- acetone brush cleaner every other day. “It’s not wise to clean a natural hair brush in acetone because it dries out the hair.”

Baxter and Infante, who use acetone daily to clean their brushes, have had no problems, yet, with brushes drying out. Says Baxter, “If you take care of your brush, your brush will take care of you.”

Rounds believes that technicians who don’t clean their brushes thoroughly will have problems because product remains in the brush, and they may resort to improper handling of the brush trying to clean it She says, “They will use their fingernails to get the product out and end up removing hairs in the process.”

In between clients, Bounds dips her brush into monomer and feels the tip with her fingers to make sure no product is left in the brush. About once a week she dips her brush into cuticle oil with vitamin E and lets it sit overnight. In the morning, she’ll dip the brush in acetone to remove excess oil, then wipe it off with a towel.

No matter what cleaning method works for you or how many different types of brushes you choose to use, you need to be comfortable and confident with how your brush handles. Since the nail brush is one of your most important tools, take your time when purchasing a brush that’s right for you.

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