Trying to discern the cause of lifting acrylic can oftentimes make you feel like a failed rocket scientist. But before you start looking into the rotation of the moon or the effects of global warming on monomer as possible causes for your troubles, take a gander at the NAILS Acrylic Lifting Chart. We’ve compiled the many possible causes of lifting along with some handy solutions to take some of the guesswork out of your work.

Lifting is a common problem, especially among nail techs just starting out. But even seasoned veterans are occasionally plagued with bouts of lifting. If it isn’t your clients’ fault (take a deep breath), it may be due to your technique. Avoid problems and troubleshoot your application technique with this helpful chart.

Point of Lifting: Anywhere

Possible Cause: Inadequate preparation of the nail plate

True cuticle, oil, natural nail shine, and dirt or contaminants left on the nail plate before application create barriers between the acrylic and the nail, thus preventing proper adhesion and causing lifting.

How to Prevent: Sanitize and cleanse the nail plate. Gently push back the eponychium. Thoroughly remove all traces of true cuticle from the nail plate using cuticle remover and the proper implements. Remove the shine from the nail bed. Sanitize and remove oil and surface contaminants from the nail bed. Prime per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Do not touch, or allow the customer to touch, the nail plate. Do not touch your brush’s bristles with your fingers, ever. Do not allow product to touch your skin or that of your clients. All of these contaminate product with oils that may lead to lifting.

Possible Cause: Too much or too little primer

While some techs have found success double- or even triple-priming nails, most primers are irritating to soft tissue and may cause redness, burning, and swelling of the eponychium if overused.

How to Prevent: If your system calls for primer, use it. But be careful to follow the directions faithfully.

Possible Cause: Improper ratio

Working too wet or too dry affects the way acrylic polymerizes and adheres. Each acrylic system calls for a specific liquid-to-powder ratio. Working too wet creates voids in the acrylic as it cures, leaving pockets. Working too dry makes for brittle, inflexible nails.

How to Prevent: Practice perfecting your bead technique for your particular product. Do not try to dip a too-dry ball into monomer or sap a too-wet ball of excess liquid.

Possible Cause: Overworking product

Too much patting, pulling, and manipulating as acrylic cures creates air bubbles and weak bonds.

How to Prevent: Be mindful of how long and how aggressively you are manipulating the product. Practice to reduce the amount of time and sculpting necessary.

Possible Cause: Over-Filing

Acrylic takes between 24 and 72 hours to cure completely. While it is hard after a matter of minutes, acrylic remains vulnerable to cracking, fissures, and breakage until it finishes curing. Aggressive filing can create tiny fractures and compromise the bonds within the product, eventually leading to lifting.

How to Prevent: Learn to sculpt mainly with the brush. When filing use a fine grit and a light hand to preserve the integrity of the acrylic.

Possible Cause: Contaminated or old monomer, powder, brush

Age, dust, oil, nail filings, and other contaminants can compromise the integrity of your materials.

How to Prevent: Take precautions with your tools and materials. Keep acrylic powder covered to prevent dust and filings from mixing with it. Pour out only as much monomer as you need per client and throw away excess monomer after each client. Make sure all of your chemicals are fresh. Store your brush in an airtight container and clean it only using monomer. Do not hang your brush from your lamp where it may gather dust.

Possible Cause: Cold monomer, cold hands

Cold monomer and cold fingertips affect the way acrylic polymerizes and adheres.

How to Prevent: Use a special monomer-warmer to gently heat monomer. Place a glass jar of monomer in a bowl of warm (not hot) water. Use body heat to warm monomer. For clients with cold fingertips use a heating pad beneath their hands and massage their fingers to get their circulation going.


Possible Cause: Natural nail pulling

Natural nails absorb moisture and dehydrate every day. This causes the nail to expand and contract and sometimes pull away from the acrylic at the free edge.

How to Prevent: Glue the underside of the free edge right along the perimeter at every fill, drilling the glue off gently and re-gluing each time. If the nail has already separated, you must remove the lifted acrylic, either by hand or using an electric file. If the acrylic has lifted all the way to the natural smile line, remove the nail and start over.

Possible Cause: Unbalanced enhancement

Thick, bulky nails are inflexible and cannot keep up with the expanding and contracting of natural nails. Nails that are thick at the cuticle and free edge and thin in the stress area lack the proper balance and are prone to breakage.

How to Prevent: Balance the nail properly so that it’s thicker at the stress area and thinner at the cuticle and free edge.

Possible Cause: Enhancement too long

The length of the nail bed dictates the length that a nail enhancement can support. An enhancement that is longer than the nail bed places too much pressure on the product and is vulnerable to lifting and damage.

How to Prevent: Stick to an enhancement length that is appropriate for each client. Don’t apply a tip to cover more than half the nail plate.

POINT OF LIFTING: Eponychium edge, sidewall

Possible Cause: Excess true cuticle/Application too close to the eponychium

If your clients’ lifting is limited to the area along the sidewall and along the eponychium edge there are three possible culprits: 1) you’ve left traces of cuticle on the nail plate, 2) you’ve neglected to leave enough space between the product and the eponychium, 3) you’ve left a ridge of product along the sidewall/eponychium edges.

How to Prevent: Meticulously clean the nail plate of all traces of true cuticle, dust, oil, and product. Allow a margin of 1/16 of an inch along the eponychium and sidewall edges. When applying product, make sure that it tapers cleanly along the edges and is free of any bumps that may snag.

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