1. Improper nail prep

Improper prep can cause nail enhancements to lift and chip off the nail, and it’s one of the most common reasons behind service breakdown. Whether applying an acrylic, gel, gel-polish, or regular polish, it is very important that the nail bed be free of any dead skin or oils so the product can make a nice adhesion to the nail.

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When prepping the nail, use a plastic, wooden, or metal cuticle pusher, and be sure to use smooth, gentle pressure on the nail plate to avoid damaging the natural nail. Cuticle solvents and removers are a must for cleaning the nail plate. They are available in different consistencies, scents, and active ingredients, and are designed to soften cuticles and aid in the removal of excess tissue.

With cuticle nippers and cutters, remember less is more. Only trim or nip areas where the excess tissue is not attached. Overdoing trimming can lead to additional tissue growth as the body repairs itself, which will lead to thicker and more obvious cuticle tissue.

2. Forgetting to put primer on before acrylic

A problem for many techs when they first start — forgetting to put primer onto the nails before the acrylic application — will directly lead to nail enhancements lifting and popping off the nails. Primer is specifically designed for getting acrylic to adhere better to the nail. It acts similar to two-sided tape. Most acrylic does not stick well to the natural nail, so a primer is used with a chemical makeup of monomers that bond to the nail as well as to the acrylic so the bond is extra strong.

Nail techs unfortunate enough to have gone through this will likely never forget again, as clients will soon be coming in upset that their acrylics are coming off.

Remember when applying primer to keep it off the skin, as it can be an irritant, and to keep applications thin. One coat is typically enough, and applying too much primer can actually decrease  adhesion.


3. Applying gel-polish too thickly

With gel-polish it’s important to be able to get a good cure so the color will create a hard surface that will stay on without chipping for at least two weeks. When the gel-polish has been applied too thickly, the suggested manufacturer curing time might not be enough to create a full cure, which can lead to peeling. Most manufacturers will recommend two coats for solid color coverage, so use the three stroke method to help keep your applications thin.

Use three long, fluid strokes: one down the center, then two on either side. And you can use balance point positioning to keep a steady hand and get better nail coverage. The thumb and forefinger of the holding hand pinch the client’s finger to pull back the soft tissue from the nail plate. This makes the nail bed a little bigger and ensures complete gel-polish coverage.

4. Not pinching the C-curve

The C-curve really shows how well an enhancement has been applied, and C-curves that are too flat will look unnatural and gawky. Pinching is usually done with the fingers or specially designed tweezers, where pressure is applied to the sidewalls of the nail to help “bend” the free edge of the extension into a nice “C” shape.

C-curves begin during the sculpting stage. So whether you’re using acrylic or gel, make sure the form fits correctly underneath the nail and that it follows the nail’s natural curvature. When pinching the nail, remember to use only a bit of pressure to gently mold the curve into the “C” shape. If the nails are pinched too tightly you can cause damage and even cause a break in the enhancement.

For gels, you can use clips to help hold the C-curve shape, and for acrylics you can use C-curve sticks to help bend the enhancement around to give you that perfect C-curve shape.

5. Incorrect acrylic mix ratio

Another very common problem with acrylics is not getting the proper mix ratio of liquid to powder. Each product line mixes a little differently, and it takes some time to master the proper mix ratio. An easy way to spot an improper mix ratio is to look at how the bead appears on the brush.

When trying to achieve a perfect mix ratio, the first thing to remember is you want a minimal amount of the bead attached to the brush hairs. This will allow for a quick, easy release onto the nail. If your bead is too wet, depending on the angle of the brush, the bead will flatten out on the brush hairs and drip off. And if your bead is too dry, the bead will likely have a dry powder coating and will not have a smooth surface. The ideal bead should be smooth, round, and plump, and suspended lightly on the brush hairs.

Achieving a proper mix ratio takes practice and repetition, but it is an essential skill to master. Improper mix ratios can have serious effects on enhancements, leading to signs of service breakdown sometimes as soon as 24 hours after the application. An improper mix ratio often manifests as bubbles or a cloudy appearance in the enhancement, or potential lifting and nail weakness.

Photo courtesy Nail Structure and Product Chemistry, 2nd edition, by Doug Schoon

Photo courtesy Nail Structure and Product Chemistry, 2nd edition, by Doug Schoon

6. Not changing your UV lamp bulbs

As LED lights become more popular, changing bulbs becomes less of a concern because LED lights are made to last for the duration of the lamp, which is about 50,000 hours. But traditional compact fluorescent light (CFL) lamps have about 10,000 hours’ worth of bulb life, and it’s recommended that you replace the bulbs at regular time intervals depending on the amount of use.

A tell-tale sign of bulb inefficiency is if you notice the tacky layer on your clients’ nails getting thicker, or if you see small air pockets or cloudiness in the enhancement. Undercured gels can also lead to a host of other service breakdowns like lifting, breaking, and discoloration.

If you have 30 to 40 gel clients a week, the bulbs should be changed every four to six months. If you have 20 gel clients a week, change your bulbs every six to eight months. Once a year is sufficient for nail techs with less than 20 gel clients a week.

7. Not capping the free edge with gel-polish

One of the most important steps to applying gel-polish is to cap the free edge. When gels are cured they shrink. So it is important that the product continues down over the free edge (but not underneath) so it does not recede back over the top of the nail.

One way to do this is as you apply the gel-polish down one side of the nail and reach the free edge, turn the brush slightly and swipe the hairs across and down the free edge toward the center to seal it. Repeat on the other side of the nail, flicking the brush along the first half of the edge toward the center to seal it. Then make your final stroke down the center of the nail, swiping down over the free edge when you reach the end.

Another technique is to first apply a thin layer of gel-polish right on the free edge before beginning your regular gel-polish application.


8. Unbalanced nail enhancements

When constructing a nail enhancement, especially a sculpted extension, the shape of the nail is very important to its strength and durability. Similar to a building’s architecture, the overall balance of a nail enhancement determines whether it will last. For a nail extension to be structurally sound, it must have an apex located over the stress area and in proportion to the length of the extension. For short natural nails this is the center of the nail, and for longer extensions the apex is situated just a shade down from the middle of the nail toward the cuticle.

Putting the apex here helps to anchor the extension and give it added flexibility. If your apex is too far back toward the cuticle, or if you have product there that is too thick, then the extension will be off balance and at a greater risk of breaking. Too far forward will pull the free edge downward over the fingertip.

Angling your brush when applying acrylic at the cuticle area helps create a natural arch toward the apex. And finish filing techniques help you to refine the apex.


9. Over filing

Excessive filing of the nails leaves the natural nail bed thin and weak, and not a good platform for enhancements. If the nails have been filed down too thin, the enhancements will not bond well to the natural nail and lifting can occur.
When the nail is thin and weak, it is much more flexible and allows the enhancement product to bend more. When flexed excessively, enhancements can get small hairline fractures that lead to breakage and tiny cracks that can get bigger over time. Very thin nails can also allow enhancement products to possibly seep through the nail plate and onto the nail bed causing allergic reactions.

Another concern with over-filing is that onycholysis can occur — where the nail plate separates from the nail bed. Once this occurs, the space in the nail plate and nail bed becomes extremely susceptible to infection.

10. Improper product storage

Just as with food, old nail products can go bad. And when products go bad, nail enhancements break down. With proper storage you can significantly extend the shelf life of your nail products, and by keeping in mind expiration dates, you can make sure this never becomes a problem.

Make sure to keep all lids closed tightly and products stored away in a cool dry place when not in use. Gels should be stored away from sunlight if possible, because any light that seeps in will begin to harden the gel. Acrylic powder lids need to be tightly closed so moisture in the air does not interact with the powder. If acrylic powder is compromised it tends to discolor and change in texture.

Nail polish that has been sitting around a while will begin to thicken and clump, but a good shake is usually enough to remix the lacquer and give a good color application. But if the polish becomes stringy and unworkable, then it’s usually time to dispose of it.

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NAILS Troubleshooter Video Series

You can check out video demonstrations of many of these service breakdowns at the NAILS Troubleshooter tab on NAILStv. The series of videos feature top manufacturer educators giving their best advice and techniques on a range of topics from cleaning the cuticle to fun and quick nail art designs.

For a video on how to achieve a proper mix ratio, go to www.nailsmag.com/video/mixratio.

For a demonstration on how to clean the nail plate, go to www.nailsmag.com/video/cleancuticle

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