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The Promise of Fiberglass

While acrylic has been around the longest, there will always be clients who choose not to have acrylic nails. Fiberglass is one way to answer their needs – and keep them as customers.         

She’s a 90’s woman. She is strong and beautiful and she wants nothing less from her nails. Unfortunately, her 10 lovely digits won’t cooperate. They split. They crack. They break. And a natural manicure just won’t do the trick. But wish she strides into the salon, the first words out of her mouth are, “I don’t want acrylic nails.” What’s a nail technician to do? For a growing number of clients, the answer is a fiber-glass system.

While acrylic has been around the longest, and such issues as odor have been addressed with odorless products, there will always be clients who choose not to have acrylic nails. Fiberglass is one way to answer their needs – and keep them as customers.         

Essentially a wrap system, fiberglass systems have three main components: resin, fiberglass fabric, and catalyst/activator. The application techniques used are similar to those for silk and linen wraps, but fiberglass possesses the strength most often associated with acrylic.

The application process is fairly simple: The nails are cleaned, dried, and lightly buffed. The natural nail is coated with a resin, adhesive, or gel. Fiberglass is cut to the nail’s shape and applied with adhesive. A second coat of resin adhesive or gel is applied. A catalyst is applied by spray, mist, brush, or eyedropper. The cured surface is buffed to a shine. Fiberglass converts sing its praises: natural looking, thin, light, odorless, non-dehydrating, non-porous, and non-yellowing.


 “The question isn’t, should I stop sculpturing nails with acrylics and just use fiberglass systems from now on? The question is, should I add fiberglass to the products I currently use and the techniques I’ve already learned?” says one fiberglass marketer.

A second put it this way, “Lots of people want an alternative to the system they’re using. Fiberglass is relatively new, compared with other systems on the market, but it also is expanding very quickly. This demonstrates that there is a need for it.

“We encourage nail technicians to keep moving ahead, a continuous education approach, instead of relying on one product or one technique and perhaps becoming stale. This is a way of expanding her knowledge and education and keeping her fresh.”

“Compared to other systems – silk or linen wraps or sculptured - you’re going to have a much more natural-looking nail,” asserts one technician, “and it’s more durable. Because of the high tensile strength of fiberglass mesh, you can create a very strong nail that is relatively thin and follows the shape of the nail.”

Working with fiberglass systems may be a good option for many nail technicians. “It is a lot faster than sculpturing in many cases.”

Fiberglass systems are a versatile option for the technician. They can be used as an alternative to acrylics. Some technicians have had success filling an acrylic client with fiberglass as she grows out. Fiberglass can be on a temporary basis to handle an emergency or a particular nail problem. It can be used seasonally for nails that need reinforcement only when a subjected to a specific climate or activity.

Fiberglass wraps and tips can be used as a temporary measure for the client who has difficulty growing her own nails.

“With fiberglass, the natural nails can reinforced while they grow to the desired length. Then, the fiberglass can be removed if the client likes,” one manufacturer says.


 “I don’t know if it is a reaction to some of the negative publicity given to sculptured nails,” says a fiberglass marketer, “but there are many women who are looking for another option. “It’s not so much that they have had any problems with their acrylics nails, but they want their acrylic nails, but they want something different- nails that look more like their own and that can be worn without polish.”

A technician related the story of one of her long-time clients who had never been able to grow her own natural nails to even medium length. “She was really hard on her nails. With wraps and sculptured nails, she was forced to take better care of her hands, but her down nails still were awful.

“She decided that her schedule and her lifestyle, taking care of two very active little boys, meant that she really didn’t want to maintain long, polished acrylic nails. She wanted to be able to wear her nails medium short, polished or unpolished, and she wanted them to withstand the punishment a young mother’s hands undergo on a regular basis. “

We decided to try fiberglass wraps. Now she loves her nails. We give her nail treatments whenever she comes in and she pampers herself a little more at home. She loves having nails that look like her own and may keep them, even though her own nails are improving.”

A manufacturer reported that hairstylists are among the biggest fans of fiberglass nail systems, “Their hands are constantly in water. They’ve told us that their nails stand up well to water and to the products they use on hair every day.”

It may sound like a contradiction, say several manufacturers, but fiberglass encourages the growth of healthy, natural nails, “If somebody likes the system, they are going to rely on it for that occasion when they need that protection,” one manufacturer says.

“Not every woman is going to be our customer. There always are going to be women who shy away from acrylics. There always are going to be those who just want the natural look. Fiberglass is a system that can be used on those occasions when their nails need first aid,” adds another.

Another plus for fiberglass systems is that they don’t interfere with treatment systems. “In other words, you can do hot oil manicure. You can do any type of cuticle or nail treatment with the fiberglass because you are not bringing it down to the matrix. That means that other treatment products can effectively penetrate.”

Manufacturers and technicians estimate that the client who chooses fiberglass will visit the salon approximately as often as a client opting for acrylic. It’s about the same I terms of maintenance.

You can use fiberglass as a continuous system or you can use it for that client who normally has a natural nail and would like to keep them all one length. You can add a tip or repair the odd nail and she can keep the natural look.

Unlike a sculptured nail, the fiberglass nail won’t have a line of demarcation as it grows out if a client chooses not to get a fill.

Technicians can either reinforce the entire nail with fiberglass or use a nail tip. “If someone has a real problem with her nails – If they are very thin or very damaged - that’s an ideal way to get them back to a healthy nail. With fiberglass, there is no dehydration of the nail and the nail isn’t subjected to heavy buffing. As well, the fiberglass application requires no primer.”


 “What I’ve found is that I can do an entire set of fiberglass nails, but I don’t have to treat every nail Identically. I have one lady who has great nails on one hand  and nails that break all the time on the other,” explains one technician.

“We wrapped all of her nails, but I doubly reinforced the bad hand. The layers are so thin that you can’t tell the difference between the good and bad hands. The client loves it because for the first time in her life her nails are all the same length.”

This technician has also used a fiberglass system to repair damaged or traumatized nails. “I don’t have a problem with doing just a couple of nails for a client. I will do a regular manicure on the natural nails and then glass the nails that need help.”


Nail wrapping was born in the 1970s as a way of reinforcing the natural nail. The system’s humble beginnings began with layering thin sheets of tea bag paper and glue on the nail. Soon silk wraps are thin and sheer. Linen is heavier and allows the technician to strengthen the nail even more. Fiberglass has long been used in the boating industry because it is light and cannot be permeated by water. Resin has been the boat builder’s choice because it is lightweight and strong. The nail industry adopted this combination to create nails that are light, strong, and natural-looking.

Fiberglass systems combine the nail techniques developed over the past two decades and the special qualities fiberglass provides. Fiberglass can be woven into an extremely fine mesh, which, although very thin, has high tensile strength. Fiberglass mesh is flexible and follows the contour of the nail.

Although fiberglass particles should not be inhaled or exposed to the skin, manufacturers emphasize that the fiberglass nail systems has been specially treated and coated so that there is no “free-glass” concern, meaning no small particles are airborne so they cannot be inhaled.

While actual treatment data is proprietary, manufacturers will allow that the usual procedure of treating fiberglass is to hang sheets of fiberglass and spray them with cumulative layers of a protective coating to ensure that no fiberglass particles become airborne during trimming, application, or filling. The weight of the coating prevents that from happening.

Explains one manufacturer, “We developed our system so that you aren’t going to have any airborne dust, and the technician and client aren’t dealing with a heavy amount of chemicals because of the way we control our activator sprays.”


The big debate in recent years over wrap systems has been over the pros and cons of spray activators. As yet, there has been no conclusive research determining the effects of these chemicals in the air.

 As fiberglass now is applied, a catalyst must be applied to the nail to quicken the hardening process of the adhesive. The catalyst reduces the hardening time from minutes to seconds. Obviously in a salon situation time-saving steps are important.

However, what are the costs of adding components of the catalyst to the air? There are solid arguments on both sides of the issue.

According to manufacturers, most catalysts have two components: a solvent and an aromatic amine. The actual catalyst is the amine, and the solvent is included to dilute the amine, because only a very small amount of the catalyst is needed to do the job.

Amine appears in scant amounts in activators. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require it to be listed as an ingredient, so it does not have to be listed on Material Safety Data Sheets.

Why is there such concern if the FDA sees no problem? Some manufacturers believe that aromatic amines are toxic when inhaled or absorbed through the skin. They believe they shouldn’t be used in any concentration.

“We don’t offer a spray activator because we believe that there is a health risk any time any chemicals are sprayed into the air,” said one opponent. “However, anyone who works in a salon comes into contact with an array of chemicals on a daily basis.

“Professionals need to educate themselves about the chemicals they use, how they can be used safely, and the proper procedures for handling. They should read directions and ask questions before they make decisions about what systems they use on the job.”

The bottom line for others in the industry is that anything can be toxic if used in high enough concentration. For those who have concerns about aerosol catalysts, manufacturers do offer alternatives, including mist-on, non-aerosol pump, brush-on, and eye-dropper options. And, research is being conducted to develop systems with less chemical involvement no matter how the catalyst is delivered to the nail.


Fiberglass systems continue to undergo refinement. Fiberglass fabrics are being created in ever-tighter mesh, which allows them to “disappear” into the resin or gel while adding even more strength to the nail.

Resins too have been improved. “The results you get will depend upon the purity of the resin used,” a manufacturer explains. “We have seen great improvement in the resins being used in fiberglass systems as companies work with the product to deal with the conditions nails are subjected to in the real world.”

More manufactures are offering alternative activator methods. Technicians who choose not to work with a spray or mist catalyst can achieve the same results with a brush-on catalyst. Some companies look to the time when catalyst will not be required, eliminating the question of airborne chemicals altogether. Meanwhile, the heat reaction caused during catalytic action has been reduced or minimized in many systems.

Nail technicians just discovering the fiberglass option may be bewildered today. Systems have grown from a handful less than 10 years ago to dozens today. Manufacturers suggest that nail technicians do their homework before selecting a fiberglass system. Take advantage of manufacturer education and attend seminars and demonstrations at shows and competitions.

Perhaps the best method of choosing a product is deciding what results you want to achieve, then testing the products that promise those results with select clients or other technicians in the salon.

In the 90s, the salon and the nail technician must be able to provide a wide spectrum of services to meet the needs of an ever-growing and more demanding clientele. Fiberglass is another piece in the profit puzzle.

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