What causes natural nails to be soft when you remove the acrylic?
Doug Schoon: No matter what type of coating you wear on your nails, moisture will build up underneath. The nail plate becomes a reservoir for the extra moisture. Nail plate moisture levels are highest when UV gels and liquid-and-powder enhancements are worn. Both raise the moisture levels about the same amount: on average, about 18%. This does not harm the nail plate; in fact, it's very beneficial for clients with overly dry nail plates. After removal of any type of nail enhancement, the nail plates will retain these high moisture levels for a while and then gradually dry out over a 24-hour period. The high moisture levels in the nails make them more flexible. This increased flexibility is often mistaken for thinning, weakness, or other damage. After 24 hours, they will lose the extra moisture and flexibility, returning to their normally drier and more rigid state.
Ron Lee: The chemical makeup of the acrylic has little to do with the softening of the nail plate. It's simply the lack of exposure to outside elements that results in a change. For example, wrap a section of your skin in an air-and water-tight seal, such as a strong adhesive bandage, for a week then examine the difference in the texture, color, and thickness of your skin. It responds to the covering just like natural nails respond to an acrylic covering. Exposure results in toughness required for protection.
[Editor's note: The newest addition to our Help Desk panel, Ron Lee is president of Innovative Research Group (IRG), a specialty coatings manufacturer for the cosmetic industry based in Phoenix, Ariz. Lee's formal education has been enhanced by his 25 years of experience with a wide spectrum of chemicals, coatings, and product development for many different industries.]