When you look at a well-executed French manicure, whether it’s polished on a natural nail or an enhancement, what do you see? Hopefully, the answer is a crisp smile line that goes from one sidewall to the other, and potentially a work of art that creates an amazing optical illusion of long, beautiful nails for the client. Beyond just noticing it, is there anything to it other than that stripe of color? Let’s explore the science of the smile line together and see what it can do and how we can wield its power.
It is important to understand that different techniques of smile line execution will be needed for three different types of smile lines: competition, extreme, and salon-style (everyday wear). Each one looks different and each is done differently. There is always a balance of placement, brush angle, and curvature that can make or break the cosmetic aspect of the nail. When structure is perfect, it leads to amazing wearability, whereas the smile will make a difference in how the nail is perceived. In the words of CND’s Jan Arnold, “Beautiful enhancements with elegant deep smile lines do for the hand what a dramatic pair of stilettos do for the leg. It’s all about illusion!”
The Competition Smile
Where do we start with that illusion and what mediums are required? Looking at competition nails, we see drastically dramatic smiles. Competitor Tom Holcomb set the standard for competition smile lines that is used for judging criteria today. When you see competition nails in person, they are clearly not structurally designed to endure everyday wear. Competition smile is created to complement the length of the enhancement itself and not to be proportionate to the finger.
“The main difference I have found between salon and competition smile lines is the exaggeration. The smiles are deeper, points are sharper, whites are brighter, and the free edges are thinner," says Crystal Nails’ Guin Deadman.
"When you compete, it will help you to strive for more perfection in your salon work and help you see places in your services where you are wasting time," she says. "With competitions being timed you do have to learn to focus, apply product effectively, and finish in a designated time frame; so many of us tend to waste bits of time in the salon without even realizing it.”
The extreme style is similar to the competition smile line yet, it is designed with your client’s hands and fingers mind, and is structurally built to withstand some activity from the wearer.
Extreme nails are just that: longer than average and dramatically beautiful.
The smile line placement is based on the length of the nail itself. Generally, when looking at an extreme nail, you can see it in thirds with the extension edge making up a third of the nail that contains the smile line. The corners of the smile may reach all the way up into the center of the middle third of the nail for a very deep and elegant look. There are a couple of different ways to sculpt the smile, according to Deadman. “First, the traditional method. White is applied first to the free edge, followed by clear or transparent pink in the nail plate area (zone two). The white is pressed from side to side and moved up to form the corners on the smile line; the line is then cleaned up and crisped with the brush.” This method is limited by the length and shape of the clients’ natural nail. For competitions that allow only use of clear or transparent pink, it is very important to select a model that has very long almond-shaped nail plates and smile line.
The second is the reverse method, emerging from the availability of opaque or cover pink polymer powders and gels. With this method, the nail plate area is sculpted first and most times elongated slightly or even exaggerated depending on desired nail length. An extremely long nail will not look balanced with a very short nail plate. With this method, the pink is applied first and the smile line is created with the pink, then the white will be butted up to it. “Both methods can be done successfully in the salon with some patience and practice,” Deadman says.
Smiles in the Salon
Our final style up for grabs is the salon nail. To start, the average client needs an average length nail. Many come in with short nails (in some cases stumpy nails) and expect miracles! Thankfully, with cover polymer powders and pigments, custom colors can be created to offer coverage of the natural smile line, which allows the applied smile line placement to be cosmetically beautiful.
Learning to sculpt with your liquid-and-powder instead of relying on plastic white tips will also make a difference in the overall look.
View photos of the nails you have done in the past with a critical eye— if they look like you bit off part of a Chiclet and stuck it on the end of a sausage, you haven’t done the client any favors by using her natural smile line as a guide! We have all done those awkward nails at some point; it is part of the growing process. When custom placing the smile line on a salon nail, it should line up with the very tip of the finger. This is simply the placement that will most likely give you the optimum benefit of the optical illusion. Look at the photos to the below, what do you see?
The structure on each of the nails is the same, as is the length. The smile lines look just fine as well; all of them are crisp and functional. However, do you notice that show above has the illusion of being longer and thinner? The secret is simply the smile line placement!
While the nail above was likely created with the smile on the natural line as a guide.
The one below is an average salon standard for smile line depth, taking it just a tiny bit further really creates the look of a long healthy nail with a beautiful nail plate.
If you are not at the point in your nail skills to sculpt the white just yet, online video tutorials can be very helpful, including my own at YouTube.com/fingernailfixer. While you are practicing your sculpting skills, try using a cover pink powder to camouflage the natural smile line. You can also try painting the smile line with your favorite polish or gel-polish after you finish filing. The salon nail also offers the ability to use your smile line skills right on the natural nail, perhaps using a polish or gel-polish that can cover the natural smile line while still maintaining the look of a natural nail.
It’s important to keep in mind that you are the expert. If a client demands a fat, flat smile line because that is she what is accustomed to it is up to you to show them the difference. Offer to polish two nails side by side, one in her method and one with the salon look. Also be sure to use words like, “this will help make the nails and fingers appear thinner,” to sway her to your point of view.
Now that you understand some of the differences in smile lines and what they can do for you, go out and adorn the world with sleek, sexy nails!
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