Acrylic Nails

The Chemistry of Acrylics

Creating the perfect set of acrylics could be considered an art, but the foundation behind it is found in the science. NAILS breaks down the chemistry behind liquid-and-powder in laymen's terms.

A Primer on Primers

PRIMER: a substance that has the ability to bond both to the nail and to other acrylics, making the nail plate more compatible with the enhancement product. The priming agent is typically dissolved in a fast-drying solvent like acetone or ethyl acetate.

Acid-based primer: primers that contain methacrylic acid, whose molecules have two arms each. One arm develops a hydrogen bond (a temporary bond) to the keratin surface, and the other arm undergoes a chemical reaction and creates a covalent bond (the strongest chemical bond) that links the primer molecule to the nail enhancement.

Mild-acid primer: primers that contain an acid that’s gentler than methacrylic acid (which is highly corrosive) and improve adhesion by creating many temporary, hydrogen bonds between the nail enhancement and the natural nail. These are sometimes erroneously dubbed “non-acid” primers. (Acidbased and mild-acid based primers can yellow enhancements.)

Acid-free primer: primers that contain no acid components and work via both arms of their molecules creating strong covalent bonds between the nail plate and the enhancement. They are non-corrosive and don’t yellow enhancements.

Primerless acrylics: adhesion promoters, like specific acrylic monomers or other additives, are added to replace the need for primers.

* A note on pre-primers: applied before a primer, a pre-primer makes the nail surface more alkaline, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the primer.

Take It Off (Acrylic Nails, That Is)

ACETONE is a solvent, meaning it dissolves other substances (known as solutes).

When you file down the enhancement before soaking it in acetone, it helps the solvent work in two ways: 1) there’s less product to remove, and 2) rough surfaces have more exposed surface area for the solvent to be absorbed into.

Once the acrylic nail is in the acetone, the acetone swells the polymer network until it breaks into pieces. It will be removed even faster if you scrape away pieces of softened polymer with a stick or other implement.

As a general rule of chemistry, solvents work better when they’re warm (think of how sugar dissolves faster in hot water than in cold water). But keep in mind that acetone, like most solvents, is volatile, increasing the risk of fire or lower air quality when not handled safely. Therefore, if you choose to warm acetone, DO NOT use a stove, microwave, or any open flame. Instead, place a plastic bottle with the acetone under hot running water or simply use the client’s body heat by soaking a cotton ball with acetone, placing it on the enhancement, then wrapping the cotton and finger with aluminum foil.

Solvents can become saturated (meaning they can’t dissolve any more solute), so make sure to always use fresh acetone on each client.

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A tough, insoluble protein that is the main constituent of hair and nails, and of the outermost layer of the skin.
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