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How Products Work: Fiberglass

Here's a quick lesson in the chemistry and physics of fiberglass wrap systems.

Those of us who marvel at modern technology — cars that go from zero to 60 in six seconds, laser surgery and mini-compact discs — are often equally mystified by the science behind these innovations.

The same can be said of fiberglass wrap systems. A bit of cloth, a dab of one liquid, and a spritz of another makes a thin, strong, natural-looking nail in less time than it takes to construct the same nail from liquid and powder.

So just what is it that makes fiberglass wrap systems work? Basically, there are three components: fiberglass fabric, resin, and resin accelerator. Each component has characteristics that make it compatible with other parts of the system, and there are pitfalls if they are misused.

Fiberglass Originally Used In Ancient Times

Fiberglass was first used by Phoenician and Egyptian artisans for decoration. By melting glass rods, they could draw thin fibers that could then be pressed into dishes, cups, bottles, and vases. Much later, during World War I, Germany began producing fiberglass as a substitute for asbestos (a fire-retardant material used for building insulation that has since been proven harmful). Commercial and industrial applications of fiberglass came about after manufacturers discovered its strength, durability, and lightness. Now it is used to make all sorts of things — auto bodies for Corvettes, pleasure boats, Jacuzzi tubs, surfboards — not to mention nail enhancements.

Fiberglass fabric is a man-made material, unlike linen or silk, which are natural fabrics. Fiberglass is created by melting glass, which is then drawn into long strands, six to 15 inches long and l00-500 microinches (0.00010-0.0050 inches) in diameter. These strands are woven into threads, which are then woven together on a loom into the finished fabric.

After the actual fabric is made, it is then subjected to several more treatments before it can be used on nails. The fabric is heat-cleaned to remove what fiberglass manufacturers call “sizing.” Sizing is a starchy material used to help the weaving process, explains Kay Crosby of the technical support department at the Hexcel Corporation in Cerritos, Calif., a fiberglass and chemical manufacturer. After heat-cleaning, the fabric is treated with silane, a finishing treatment that reinstates the tensile strength of the fiberglass lost during the extremely high temperatures, and stabilizes errant fibers. It is also a wetting agent that allows resin to penetrate the fibers. Silane is important because when the resin can penetrate all the fibers, it surrounds them completely. Therefore, when you file the finished nail, you are filing off the resin, not free-floating glass fibers.

These steps all occur before the self-adhesive backing is applied. Both the silane and be adhesive backing are important to the nail technician, as they determine how clear the fabric will eventually apply on your client’s nails. Too much adhesive will prevent the fabric from absorbing resin.

The strength of the fiberglass fabric comes from two sources. First, the fibers alone have a commercial tensile strength of 300,000 pounds per square inch, which far exceeds any requirements for nail uses. Second, the threads are woven in a criss-cross pattern to form a fabric matrix. This matrix transfers pressure throughout the threads in the fabric matrix. This matrix transfers pressure throughout the threads in the fabric in two directions, which reinforces the entire area. This is known as a bidirectional strength pattern.

Fiberglass Resin Builds A Smooth, Shiny, Clear Nail

Fiberglass resin is technically an adhesive, but will be referred to throughout that rest of the article as resin. When applied in several layers, the resin saturates the fabric to make it clear, adheres the fabric to the nail, and fills in ridges, gaps, and holes to make a smooth, shiny nail.

Resins are primarily cyanoacrylate-based. Cyanoacrylates (CAs) need a catalyst (a chemical that causes or hastens a chemical reaction) to turn them into a solid (the solidification process is called “curing”). The resins come in a liquid form in a bottle or tube, but harden when exposed to trace amounts of moisture found in the air or alkalis, which are catalysts for CA resins and adhesives.

During the curing process, the molecules in a CA resin join together in long chains to become one giant molecule, a solid, and a very strong one at that. During this process, heat is released as a byproduct: Your client may actually feel the heat on her nail bed.

Resins in fiberglass wrap systems sometimes come in different viscosities, or thicknesses. Chemically, the different between thick and thin resins is the amount of thickening agents added.

The addition of thickening agents has its advantages and disadvantages when building nails. A thick resin works well to build and shape the nail to reinforce the stress area, and to fill gaps.

Some experienced nail technicians actually use brushes to shape the thick resin on the nails much as they would use a brush with a liquid and power system. Special brush cleaners are available for these resins; they are acetone base solvents that will clean brushes with CAs on them.

The thickening agents also work to inhibit or extend the curing time, which allows you more time to work on the nail.

Another advantage to the thicker, slower curing resins is that you can stock product for a longer period of time. However, the shelf life depends on the size of the container. A larger bottle of resin has a longer shelf life than a smaller bottle, says Bill Hunter, president of Satellite City, manufacturer of adhesive products in Simi Valley, Calif., “A 2-oz., bottle of CA resin has a shelf life of over a year, whereas a 1 -oz. bottle may last only 11 months,” Hunter says.

A disadvantage of the thick CAs is that they do not penetrate fibers very well, which is why many fiberglass systems manufacturers recommend that at least your first layer of resin on the fabric be a thin resin. “Thinner resins penetrate more fibers. They surround the glass fibers and create ‘balls’ rather than ‘spears’ when the fabric is filed,” says Hunter.

CA resins work well in most environments, but may not work well on unclean surfaces. Certain impurities will inhibit the resins adhesive qualities. Although the resin will cure, such things as oil and waxes will prevent the resin from sticking to the fabric and the nail. Even the minute amounts of oil found in the salon air can cause resin to lift or peel off the nail.

Though it takes very little of any of these inhibiting elements — oil, acids, waxes — to interrupt the adhesion, remember it takes very little (even the trace amounts of moisture found in the salon air) to accelerate the process.

Any experience with these resins, which are very close cousins to nail tip adhesives (they are both of the cyanoacrylate family), and you know how speedy these resins work.

Although it is true that the curing process will be mostly complete in seconds, the final cure is not set until 24 hours after application. Says Hunter, “The cure in the first three seconds will be the same as the cure after one hour, but the strength of the cure will continue to increase up to 24 hours after application.” It is after this initial period of 24 hours and as much as 48 hours after application, says Doug Schoon, executive director of the Chemical Awareness Training Service, that ultimate strength is readied.

Accelerators Speed Up Heat-Curing Process

Resins are quick; .sometimes too quick if your fingers are in the way. But other times they just aren’t quick enough. To the rescue are accelerators. Sometimes called activators or calalysts, these are solutions made up of a very small amount of active ingredient (an alkali) suspended in a carrier liquid.

Accelerators speed up the heat process that is part of the polymerization (hardening) of the resin. When you use an accelerator, you are causing the same total amount of heat to be produced, but in a shorter amount of time. The amount of active ingredient in the accelerator solution affects how much you speed up the process.

There are three main types of liquid chemicals used in accelerators: 1,1,1 trichlorethane, Freon-based solvents, and HCFCs. But this is about to be narrowed down. 1,1,1 trichlorethane has been outlawed, and as of January 1, 1996, it will no longer be legal to produce it in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 1,1,1 was identified by the Clean Air Act of 1990 as a class 1 substance, which means that it is known to deplete the ozone layer.

1,1,1 trichlorethane is believed to be the reason clients and nail technicians experience a burning sensation of the cuticles, a rash on the fingers, or difficulty breathing when using fiberglass wrap systems.

Less harmful to humans, but more harmful to the ozone layer, is Freon. The EPA has also tagged it as an ozone depleter, and has mandated that it no longer be produced after January 1, 1996.

Thai leaves HCFCs. As of yet, they have not been outlawed, as they are less of an ozone-depleter than the 1,1,1 trichlorethane and the Freon-based solvents. That does not mean that HCFCs are completely safe, either, says Schoon. “Anything you spray in the air leaves a chance that it can be inhaled. A mist-rated dust mask can prevent inhaling these particles. These masks are heavier than standard surgical masks, and work well to filter misted particles from entering your mouth and nose,” he says.

The accelerators designed for model airplane and ear resins have quite a hit more alkali in them than the accelerators for fiberglass nail systems. The cure time for model airplane resin with the accelerator is less than one second but the accelerator can burn through skin. Too much of that same accelerator will turn the resin while. These bottles are marked “Not for cosmetic applications,” and these warnings are not to be taken lightly.

The fiberglass wrap systems on the market today are really pretty simple in that they don’t have many components and they don’t require primer. The resins will work without the accelerator, (only the cure time will be longer), and you can find fiberglass wrap systems that require no accelerator. Once the resin has cured, it is very strong but easily filed. Much time will be saved, since less filing is necessary.

Good client candidate’s for this service, according to some industry experts, are those who don’t want extensions, those who have a hard time growing their nails long, and people who have very active lifestyles. Those clients who are not such good candidates are ones who need sculptured nails to correct deformed or oddly shaped natural nails and nail biters who chew off tips.

Because fiberglass was developed commercially to be super-strong, water-tight, and easily repaired, it is a natural for nails that take a lot of wear and tear. All it takes to master this system is a lot of practice, says fiberglass nail competition winner Anita Lime of Albany, Ga. Once you become used to the amount of resin you need and how much time it takes to cure, you’ll be creating nails like a champ, too.

DID YOU KNOW ... Ethyl cyanoacrylate resin has been around since the 1950s. Its adhesive properties were discovered when two scientists at the fine chemicals division of Eastman Kodak were measuring the refractive ability (the ability to deflect light rays) of various acrylate polymers. They tested a thin layer of CA between two prisms and got their measurement, but then found they could not pry the prisms apart. Later, the adhesive’s abilities were tested during the Vietnam war. Many wounded soldiers who had massive bleeding were dying before they could get to conventional hospitals. The adhesive’s ability to stick to the skin was used to its advantage. It was tried on wounds, and according to the Loctite Corp., maker of CA adhesives, the adhesive saved many lives with few toxic side effects.

Glossary Of Terms For Fiberglass Wrap Systems

accelerator, activator: a substance added to an adhesive or coating to promote, speed, or control the curing (hardening) process; different from catalysts in that accelerators take part in the chemical reaction

bidirectional strength pattern: a matrix or framework that distributes stress in two directions to support weight or pressure

carrier liquid: inactive ingredients of a liquid that helps transport the active ingredient to the target area

catalyst: a substance added to an adhesive or coating to promote, speed, or control the curing (hardening) process; different from accelerators in that catalysts do not take part in the chemical process; almost all nail coating systems utilize a catalyst

cyanoacrylate (CA): low-viscosity (runny), general purpose adhesive; those used as both adhesives and resins in the nail industry are ethyl-based.

fiberglass: woven fabric made from strands of molten glass

monomer: of Greek origin: mono=one, mer=unit; a liquid that, when combined with other agents, creates a polymer (solid)

polymerization: chemical reaction when two or more molecules combine to form a larger molecule that contains repeating structural units; creation of a solid

silane: chemical used on fiberglass fabric to reinstate strength, stabilize errant fibers, and promote absorption of resins

sizing: starchy material applied to fiberglass fabric to aid the weaving process

 

Keywords:   fiberglass wraps     how products are made  

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