How can I keep air-brushed French manicure paint on? Mine comes off in just a few days.

Karen Hodges: In my experience, airbrushed designs, including French manicures, tend to wear better on nail enhancements than they do on natural nails. For natural nails, it is important that a base coat be used and allowed to dry completely before airbrushing. I use a quick-drying base coat that dries to a clear, glossy shine, although you may prefer to use the base coat that is recommended for your particular system. For nail enhancements, it’s not necessary to use a base coat as long as the surface of the enhancement has been well-buffed so that it’s completely smooth. Be sure all nail surfaces are completely dry, oil-free, and contain no lumps or bumps.

For all nail surfaces, the thinner the paint is misted on, the better it will adhere and the longer it will wear. If you apply it too thick or too wet, it tends to peel. The proper way to achieve intense colors is to go with layers of very fine mist that are powder dry instantly.

Your top coat is very important as well. Be sure the first layer of top coat is not a quick-dry product. The accelerants in quick-dries can cause the paint to bubble and crack. It is especially important for beginners to use the recommended top coat for their airbrush system. After waiting a few minutes, you may then apply a second coat of quick-drying top coat as a final sealing layer. To ensure that all top coat layers completely cover the nail plate and wrap around the free edge of the nail, tap or lightly run the brush across the edge.

A client showed me several sores on her stomach. Her doctor told her it is a staph in­fection. She must wash twice a day and shampoo daily. Is this contagious? Am I in danger of infection? I thought people with staph infections should be isolated.

Dr. Rich: Staphylococcus (staph) is a bacteria of which there are several different strains. Staph epidermidis is a normal flora found on everyone’s skin and causes no harm. Staph aureus is the pathogenic staph that can cause skin infections such as boils, impetigo, and folliculitis. Some people carry staph aureus in their noses and skin folds and can get repeated infections on the skin. Staph infection can become very serious if the bacteria get into the blood stream.

Fortunately there are many antibiotics that will kill staph so that it will not become a serious problem. Breaks in the skin around the nail can become infected with staph and show redness, tenderness, and pus. Staph in the nail should be cultured by a doctor and treated with an oral antibiotic to prevent further spread. If you are working on a client whom you suspect has staph, it is important to wash your hands well and use a hospital-grade disinfectant on your implements.

When you do a backfill and you file off all the products down to the tip, do you need to prime that tip before adding white? And if the client has a natural nail under the product, do you prime the natural nail before you add new white?

Maggie Franklin: If you expose the natural nail you do need to prime any natural nail that has been exposed before putting product over it. Do not use primer on top of a tip or enhancement product, however, as it will cause yellowing and can dry out the product and cause it to become brittle and crack. Use primer only on the natural nail.

How do nail strengthened work — both those that contain formaldehyde and those that don’t?

Doug Schoon: Keratin strands make nail plates extremely tough and durable, so they resist breaking and cracking. The main reason for keratin’s extreme toughness is its cross-links. Crosslinks are like rungs on a ladder. They join individual keratin strands into a super- tough, net-like structure. The result is greater tough­ness, strength, and harder surfaces. The same type of cross-links are found in hair, but there are many more in the nail plate.

Natural nails with too few cross-links are weak, flimsy, and have soft surfaces. Nail plates with excessive amounts of cross-linking will have very hard surfaces, but will be brittle, rigid, and prone to splitting or breaking.

Clearly, a proper balance of cross-links is best.

The most effective nail hardeners contain keratin cross-linking ingredients. Formaldehyde is a very aggressive and fast-acting keratin cross-linker. Aggressive cross-linkers work quickly because they create very large amounts of cross-links. Excessive use of these hardeners can result in overly cross-linked nail plates. Over cross-linking often makes the nail plate look dried out and may lead to chipping and shattering, or the underlying nail bed may turn bluish or red. In these cases, the client should discontinue using that particular product until new nail growth replaces the damaged nail plate, then use the hardener much less frequently to pre­vent overexposure.

Other nail hardeners use less aggressive keratin cross-linking ingredients, such as dimethyl urea (DMU), which will not overly cross-link nails or make them brittle. Finally, skin contact should be avoided with all nail hardening products. However, formaldehyde is very often implicated in skin allergies when repeatedly in contact with soft tissue or if applied excessively. Luckily, this is easily avoided by preventing soft tissue exposure.

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