Who would ever think we would have this conversation? Acrylic systems that skip applying the bonding agent? Wouldn’t techs and clients experience terrible lifting? Wouldn’t water seep under the acrylic, causing green spots? The imaginative horrors would give any nail professional reason to pause. But the history of primer is wrought with potential problems that today’s manufacturers are trying to help techs avoid.

Any tech who has a few years of experience under her belt can tell primer horror stories. Whether it’s from a spill on the top of the desk that’s discovered only when the forearm begins to itch, redden, and finally burn; or from a client who casually mentions “that’s getting hot;” or from a direct, open bottle spill that lands in the lap and causes primer-soaked pants to form red welts on the upper thigh, we’ve all seen primer fallout.

When acrylic nail systems first became available on drugstore shelves, and statistics came out stating the number of children accidentally burned by primer — more than 500 over four years — the manufacturers noticed. “We knew that Creative Nail Design no longer wanted to be in the acid-based primer business,” says Doug Schoon, vice president of science and technology for Creative Nail Design.

Creative’s answer was Retention+, a primer-optional system whose bonding ability is found in the liquid and does not require primer. “We used the same approach that is found in nature,” says Schoon. “We created covalent bonds. These are the strongest types of adhesive bond in nature and what holds our enhancement product to the natural nail plate.” The result is a product that bonds the nail enhancement tightly without the need of using an agent to act as the “hold” between the natural nail and the monomer.

Since Creative introduced Retention+ eight years ago, many other companies have entered the market with a primerless alternative. In February of 2006, EZ Flow introduced its primerless acrylic system, High Definition. Dennise Mason, marketing and branding manager for EZ Flow, says the benefits of High Definition are significant. “There’s less damage to the nail,” she says. “Also, nails aren’t as dry and brittle when the product is removed because they haven’t been exposed to routine application of an acid-based primer.” Gari-Dawn Tingler, director of education for EZ Flow, says this is great for clients and techs. “The tech is happy because at the end of the day there’s no lifting on the nails, and she’s achieved that result without acid.”

This is good news for techs who have clients who are sensitive to acrylic nails. As a former nail tech, I remember why I switched to a primerless system. A client complained of itching on her cuticles. In an effort to find a solution, I bought a sample size of a primerless system. Not only was the color of the product beautiful, but the client never had a reaction again. That spoke volumes to me, and when it was time to restock, I bought the primerless system to use on all my clients.

 Another benefit of primerless systems, according to Schoon, is that they raise the quality level of techs’ applications. When techs depend on the primer to bond the acrylic to the natural nail, they can become more lax about nail prep. Without the insurance offered by primer, techs become more conscious of removing oils and dirt, and the whole industry benefits from this awareness.

One word of caution: Remember, just because primer is optional, dehydrating the nail plate is not. While preparing the nail, you must still use an agent to remove the oils and dirt that will prevent a good bond from taking hold. “Dirt and oil function as the ‘butter’ that stops the product from sticking,” explains Schoon.

Some Clients Need Primer

Schoon notes that if a product is marketed as entirely primerless, there is a good chance the product is overpromising. Tingler agrees: “There will always be clients who need primer. Techs need to be versatile,” she says. Manufacturers may refer to the system as “primer-optional,” which means primer can be used for clients who require the extra adhesion, but it is not required for all clients.

In primer-optional systems, more than the monomer has changed. Primer itself has transformed. Yesterday’s primers were almost all acid-based; many had a corrosive acid that caused burning. Schoon says techs today can find acid-free primers that are neutral. Sometimes called protein primers or protein bonds, these products allow techs to offer the adhesive step while avoiding the potential danger associated with acid-based primers.

For techs interested in making the switch, here’s a word of advice: At first, the product may seem runny or unmanageable and techs will need to work dryer to compensate. Start by using it on a few clients, and once you have developed the correct ratio, introduce the product to a wider client base. Primer optional products should be applied at a ratio of one-to-one instead of the traditional two-to-one.

Changing More Than Ratio

Once the ratio is mastered, many techs find their overall fill time has been reduced. Techs can avoid applying one or two coats of primer and waiting for it to dry. Additionally, primerless products require less filing than traditional products, so finish time is reduced.

Another difference techs will notice during application is color. Primerless systems often have bluish or purple monomer instead of clear, so the final color of the pink-and-whites is a more “true” color, with less discoloration. Mason says the formula for High Definition includes a color stabilizer to “ensure that discoloring and yellowing don’t occur, even with UV exposure.”

MaeLing Parrish, a nail tech at Nail Sensation in Columbus, Ohio, notes the difference she’s seen using a primerless system. “Techs get great results, ”she says. “The product is easier to use because of the setting speed; it’s easier to apply.”

Primer-optional products have made deep impressions in the market, leading manufacturers and techs to conclude that primerless and primer-optional systems are here to stay. That doesn’t mean, however, that primer is a thing of the past. Primer will continue to have its place in the market to meet the needs of both clients and techs. “Both will always be available,” says Mason. Techs who have always used primer will still be able to purchase the product, but “primerless products offer a new generation of nail systems for a new generation of techs.” 

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