Troubleshooter: Prepping to Prevent Lifting

by Staff Writer | March 1, 2002

The most common problem nail technicians face with nail enhancement application — especially those just starting out —: is lifting. If it isn’t the client’s fault, it may be a simple problem like improper preparation.

When one or two clients complain of lifting, you more than likely can trace the cause back to some activity they are doing. When 10 clients complain of lifting, however, it’s time to examine your technique.

“All too often nail techs blame clients for lifting problems when most often lifting is caused by the technician,” says Lee-Anne Baker-Smith, an educator for Creative Nail Design, based in Ontario, Canada.

Here, she guides us through the step-by-step preparation process.

First, sanitize your hands and your client’s hands. Then use a cuticle remover [Photo I] to eliminate stubborn cuticle from the nail plate. Apply a drop to each nail and spread around the folds of the skin with a cuticle pusher. Gently slide the cuticle push­er along the nail plate to loosen the cuticle. [Photo 2]

“Since the eponychium [the cutaneous fold that covers the matrix of the nail] acts as a gasket, or seal, protecting the cuticle, it’s risky to push it back. If you push it back, do so with great care,” advises Baker-Smith.

Next, use a manicure nipper to carefully remove any loose pieces of non-living cuticle or hangnails. Then use a curette to gently remove the cuticle from the nail plate up to — but not beyond — the eponychium and lateral edges.

“Be sure to work along the eponychium edge and the lateral folds, as these are the most common areas for lifting to occur,” says Baker-Smith.

Be sure to double check all the way around the nail plate, along the cuticle line, and lateral walls for any thin transparent tissue that might be hiding. This non-living tissue contains oils, moisture, and contaminants that could act as a barrier between the nail plate and product.

Use a 240-grit file to shape and smooth the free edge of the nail [Photo 3] Damage to the natural nail weakens the foundation under the coating, so avoid harsh abrasives or a heavy hand when filing.

If tipping, gently round off the corners to ensure they fit at the tip contact area. If sculpting on a form, leave the corners more square for best form fit at the sidewalls.

“Thoroughly rinse the cuticle remover before proceeding to the next step because its sticky film will block adhesion if left on the nail plate,” says Baker-Smith.

Lightly buff the shine from the surface of the nail plate with a 240-grit buffer in the direction of the nail growth. [Photo 4]

“Keep in mind that the nail plate of the fingernail is 100 to 150 cell layers thick and only the top three layers need to be removed for ultimate adhesion,” says Baker-Smith. “These sub­stances could act as a separating medium to the nail coating. A gentle buffing is all that is necessary to remove the oily shine.”

Next, cleanse the nail, making sure the entire area is clean, sanitary, and dehydrated. [Photo 5] You can choose to use primer or go primerless at this stage.

“If you choose to use primer, use a thin coat on the nail plate only and let it dry before proceeding,” advises Baker-Smith.

After these steps, you should be ready to proceed with the enhancement application. [Photo 6] Another common reason that lifting occurs is because of incorrect product mixing, sometimes referred to as liquid-to-powder ratio.

“This alters product chemistry, which affects the way the enhancement func­tions,” says Baker-Smith.

The incorrect mix ratio can either be too wet or too dry.

When you place a wet bead on the nail, it should spread out quickly. A medium-wet bead should settle on the nail, but not spread out so much as to lose its shape; it’s too dry if it doesn’t settle into the nail. A dry ball is too dry if it sticks to your brush or if you can see powder on the bead.

“If a nail tech follows proper product application and does proper prep, she could still have a lift-prone client,” says Baker-Smith. “There are other factors that are out of your control that can cause lifting such as hormonal changes, excessive dieting, severe illness, and pre­scription drugs.”

Recommend to clients that they avoid frequent use of polish remover. Solvents will strip the enhancements of their flexibility, leaving them brittle and prone to lifting and breakage.

Baker-Smith’s final advice is, “Never touch the surrounding skin of the nail with liquid and powder or any enhancement products. Repeated contact with the skin could cause an allergic reaction and will result in lifting. A tight seal to the nail plate ensures proper product adhesion.” 

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