The shaded spot indicates where you could file a small “saddle” for the tip to rest over the bulge of skin on a bitten nail.

The shaded spot indicates where you could file a small “saddle” for the tip to rest over the bulge of skin on a bitten nail.

Your client has arrived, been greeted, and now sits in front of you ready for a consultation to achieve beautiful nail enhancements. How do you determine what course of action will give the best results? If you offer several services, it is up to you to select the one that will best suit the lifestyle of the client while also producing the look she’s after as closely as possible. When a salon patron is looking to add strength and length, two options are available: gel and acrylic.

The client’s occupation, hobbies, and lifestyle choices should all be considered as part of the decision-making process. What will work for an inactive homebody is most likely not going to work for a soccer mom who plays beach volleyball and raises horses.

So how does a tech decide which product to use? Opinions vary, but there are some basic rules of thumb to help make the call:

> Healthy nails that simply need some extra length and strength do well with gel.

> Damaged nails in need of a makeover do well with acrylic.

The principle at work behind this is “opposites attract.” Acrylic creates a harder enhancement than gel. Conversely, a gel enhancement is more flexible than an acrylic one. If your client has hard, brittle nails, they tend to be most compatible with the more flexible product. A weak, damaged nail is often best complemented with the harder product. These rules of thumb are mainly true when dealing with an average salon nail — extreme nails have a standard all their own that often defies the rules.


Lifestyle Factors

Once you determine which product might be best based on the condition of the natural nail, the next step is to take a look at your client’s lifestyle. Let’s say you have a client whose nails are weak with a tendency to peel. She is a florist and takes painting classes in the evenings. While your first instinct might be to choose acrylic, according to the “opposites attract” theory, this fails to take her hobby and occupation into account.

This client’s nails are going to be constantly submerged in water during the day, then in contact with other chemicals in the evenings. Gel would seem to be the ideal option due to its natural solvent-resistance. In this case, lifestyle factors outweigh the condition of the natural nails. To compensate for choosing the more flexible product, it would be ideal to start with the nail at a manageable active length, allowing the client to grow it out gradually and become accustomed to the added length slowly. Hopefully, this makes it less likely that the nails are bashed and banged into things during the acclimation period, which should reduce the chances of lifting and breaking.

Forms need to have a nice snug fit.

Forms need to have a nice snug fit.

Your next client is a performer who snorkels on the weekends. He likes to play guitar Friday nights and he usually dances Monday through Thursday. His natural nails tend to break easily so he has a tendency to chew them off. This sounds like a makeover is needed, so the product we would probably initially consider is acrylic. The harder product would complement the weak natural nail, as well as being ideal for the abuse of guitar playing. His dancing isn’t a factor in product choice, so just the snorkeling has to be taken into consideration. A high-quality, penetrating nail oil that contains carrier molecules such as jojoba or squalene, used daily, will help waterproof the nails. This means we can use acrylic, then retail and educate to compensate for the water exposure.

One more guest has arrived for a full set. This client has beautiful natural nails that have a tendency to crack in the stress area, which prevents them from gaining any length. She is a baker who takes spin classes on weeknights and does Bikram yoga followed by swimming most weekends. Cracking in the stress area can be an indication of brittle nails. Applying our theory about opposites, we would begin by considering the gel. Taking the client’s hobbies and occupation into account also points us toward gel. The solvent-resistance will be a plus for the chemicals involved in baking, as well as the sweat and water from exercising.


Sculpting Versus Using Tips

Once you’ve decided on a product, the next step is choosing whether to use a tip or sculpt with a form. This is going to depend on the structure and condition of the natural nails. Tips are pretty handy for makeovers and nails that need corrections, such as bitten nails, fan nails, and nails without an under arch. Forms can be customized to high, uneven, or square C-curves, as well as being ideal when there is a small bit of extension edge to tuck them under. Again, keep in mind that extreme nails are going to go by their own separate set of rules.

When using tips for makeovers, like on bitten nails, they will need to be customized to fit over the bulge of skin that is at the edge of the nail. In the photo above, a white tip has been used to make it easier for you to see. Look closely to find the small blacked area. This area should be notched out with a file to allow the tip to rest comfortably on the bulge of skin. This will keep the skin from pressing up on the tip, which would feel like the tip is being pried off the nail and potentially do exactly that! The notched-out area will grow out as the nail grows and the natural sidewall slides into place. This allows you to makeover the bitten nail without getting any product on the skin, thus avoiding the potential for overexposure.

Tips are also ideal when the natural nails have either been broken off too low into the sidewall or shaped down into the side, which eliminates the lower arch and leads to weakness followed by breakage. Making sure a tip fits precisely from one natural sidewall to the other is a key to maintaining strength and structure. Ideally, the tips you use on a specific client should match her natural C-curve, fit exactly from side to side, and be blended to reduce thickness and shadowing.

Bitten nails often have a bulge of skin at the tip that can cause trouble.

Bitten nails often have a bulge of skin at the tip that can cause trouble.

Another consideration is when to use clear tips and forms. You should know if the gel you are using will have a more complete cure if you use clear tips or forms. This might vary depending on your manufacturer of choice, so be sure to educate yourself in order to achieve consistent success. The benefit of the clear tip and form is that they allow the light to penetrate from underneath while curing the gel.

Forms come in handy for some challenging C-curves. Sticker forms can be trimmed to fit precisely, whether a nail is wide or narrow, has a high or square C-curve, or any other variation, as long as you have a tiny bit of extension edge to work with. What’s really important when using a form is a nice tight fit under the nail; any gaps can lead to bits of product oozing through and creating little spots to be picked at. You should also have a good fit from side to side, which will enable a lower arch to be sculpted to add to the strength.

When you understand the principles behind your choice of product and technique, client consultations should have less guesswork and more analysis. There will always be exceptions to the rules, and hobbies or activities that clients forget to share, so diligently touch base during each appointment to see how the nails are wearing and if any changes need to be made.


What’s Healthiest for the Nails?

Should we choose one product over another because it’s healthier or better for the nails? “The health of the fingernail has more to do with the skills of the nail technician and less to do with the professional enhancement product or system chosen,” says Jim McConnell, president of Light Elegance.  Knowledge is the key to the health of the fingernail and surrounding tissues. 

It’s important for the nail technician to keep chemicals off of the skin as much as possible. “This means that if you are using a liquid-and-powder system, the liquid must not come in contact with the skin.  If you are using a gel system, the gel must remain on the fingernail and off the skin — even when cleansing the uncured residue from the fingernail,” he says. 


Holly Schippers

Holly Schippers

Holly Schippers is a contributing editor to NAILS and a member of Team CND. Follow her FingerNailFixer blog at



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