Polycrylic, Polygel, Polly Wanna Cracker?

You know what drives me nuts? The average American's ignorance of simple science. In this particular instance: chemistry.


Most people I encounter don't know much about chemistry, and aren't interested in learning. Mostly what they know is they either never took it in high school or they passed with a grade that meant they didn't have to take it again, but didn't get their report card pinned to the refrigerator. And when someone asks me something like, "What is the best way to dry polish anyway?" I find myself having to mentally disconnect the gears in my head in order to find the absolute simplest explanation for why dipping your fingers in ice water is the exact opposite of what you want to do. Even in "designed-for-8-year-olds, Bill-Nye-the-Science-Guy" terminology, I still risk losing my audience as I watch their eyes cloud over.


On one hand it's funny. On the other, it's frustrating. The average American should have a firm enough grasp of simple chemistry to understand movement of electrons.


But what gets really irritating is that the average grasp of simple chemistry does not get better among nail techs. Seriously, if you want to call yourself a "nail technician" maybe you need to step up and wrap your brain around the technical side of the biz. Of course, it's not like our various licensing agencies and schools are helping any. When I went through the California manicuring course in 1992, I was required to have five hours of chemistry. FIVE. Out of 350. You know what I did to "earn" those five hours? I watched a video on hair color. Seriously.


So it's no wonder that nearly 20 years later I find myself regularly having to push my chair away from my computer, or excuse myself from conversations with my colleagues, because their ignorance of simple chemistry is so nauseating that I end up feeling like I just rode the teacups at Disneyland for three hours straight.


But aside from feeling frustrated and just plain embarrassed by how many of us don't get it, over the years I have seen many instances of how this ignorance is potentially harmful and I just haven't been able to get this through anybody's head.


First, it makes it very easy for us to fall prey to marketing on the part of our product manufacturers. About 14 years ago a major manufacturer came out with a new line. It was, actually, a quality product, and it gained popularity quite fast. Unfortunately, the manufacturer insisted on referring to this product as "organic."


Well. It is. All acrylic is. Even MMA is organic. The problem is that "organic" in chemistry isn't the same thing as "organic" in agriculture. In chemistry, "organic" refers to carbon-based compounds, which includes acrylic polymer resins. Problem is that most people, nail techs included, think the word "organic" means that anything thus labeled must be "healthy" and — I particularly love this one — doesn't have any chemicals in it. And don't tell me that the product manufacturer wasn't aware of this.


So what happened was that a lot of salons started using this product and ended up hurting a lot of clients. This is because clients would call up and say, "I'm allergic to acrylic. Is there anything you can do?" and the tech would say, "Oh that's not a problem! I don't use acrylic. My products are all organic."


Yes. It's true. It happened. I ended up with a few of those clients in my chair, having to explain organic chemistry to them. And I encountered that same ignorance more than once while job-hunting. I found multiple salons that were convinced the acrylic product line they used wasn't acrylic.


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