Most of us can’t remember when bread came unsliced, but can you remember a time when diapers came without “restickable” fasteners, cell phones didn’t exist, and we used to make dinner (and popcorn) without microwaves?

While “new and improved” may be an overused marketing term, over the years nail product inventors and marketers have improved the quality of nail technicians’ work and the results that they’re able to give their clients. We asked 25 nail technicians from our “Most Influential List” (see page 44) which products have made the most difference in their careers by making their jobs easier, improving the quality of their work, and making it more convenient, cost-effective, comfortable, and safe. From their answers, we compiled a list of the innovations that have had the most impact

You may notice that most of the products on this list are from the last 5-10 years, as nail technology (just like computers) has greatly accelerated during the last decade. We attribute this, at least in part, to the fact that, more than ever, product makers and marketers have turned to nail technicians for input during crucial research and development stages.

CREATIVE NAIL DESIGN’S SOLARNAIL While it wasn’t the first acrylic product out on the market, several technicians, including Donna Louis, VP/sales and marketing for Worldwide Cosmetics (N. Hollywood, Calif.), Paula Gilmore of Tips Nail Suite in San Mateo, Calif, and Marti Preuss, a nail technician and consultant in Rosenberg, Texas, say it was the first product they used that was formulated similarly to the products they work with today. “When I started doing nails in 1979, acrylics were just starting to come into their own,” says Louis, a 20-year veteran, who at the time had just finished school and started doing nails. “Solar-nail was so easy to file. It was whiter and softer than the products I was using before it,” she says. Preuss, who has been doing nails for 33 years, agrees. “The other products I was using were probably MMA-based (we didn’t know any better at the time) and so the adhesion was great, but the product always yellowed. It wasn’t very natural looking and was hard to shape or remove,” she says.

UV LIGHT-CURED PRODUCTS. When they first came out in the early ‘80s, gels didn’t win much praise from nail technicians. Depending on whom you ask, it was the difficulty of application and the lack of clear education or the incompatibility of the light with the product (which resulted in uneven curing and other problems). In the ‘90s, they’ve enjoyed an incredible rebirth because the products dry faster and harder, says Hale. “Now the products and their marketing and education have improved substantially,” agrees Gilmore. “With the growing popularity of day spas and related services, odorless products like UV gels are going to be mandatory.”

THE WHITE FRENCH TIP. While the sculptured nail was prominent in the ‘80s, the tip was more prominent in the ‘90s, according to Vicki Peters of The Peters Perspective in Las Vegas. “The first tips were unsophisticated and were difficult to use and blend into the natural nail,” she says. While advancements came in the materials manufacturers used and the shape of the tip itself, it was actually a significant change in color that many technicians say was most revolutionary. “We think that white French tips actually started the pink and white revolution,” say Gilmore and partner Stephanie Duran. Offering clients an alternative to polish allowed salons to differentiate themselves from others that didn’t offer that choice. Lucia Hale, owner of The Look in Round Rock, Texas, points to the fact that the white tips’ tailor-made smile lines were an instant success with her clients and made her “look like a genius.”

FAST DRY TOP COATS. Fast dry top coats not only changed the way nail techs worked, but how clients viewed the service. No longer was a 20-minute post-manicure wait necessary. From Zoom to Seche Vite, from Poshé to RapidDry, to a whole host of others, they made plain top coat obsolete. Allure’s Editor’s Choice, Poshé also became a top choice for nail technicians in the last couple of years. One of the first fast dry top coats, Seche Vite was the first to receive consumer media attention in InStyle magazine.”My clients and I like that polish is sealed on, doesn’t chip, and stays shiny,” says Baker. “If my client has a beautiful polish job and I use a regular top coat, chances are that she’ll get as far as the first stoplight before she dings it.”

MEHAZ TRIPLE CUT. It may not have been the first tip sheer on the block, but its bright colors and adjustable parts have obviously left an impression on nail technicians. “The cut is more precise and the nail doesn’t crack when you use it,” says Dottie Batliner of Digtz Hair and Nails Salon in Floyds Knobs, Ind. “They’re also easier to use than their predecessors,” adds Hale.

WRAPS (PRE-CUT AND SELF-ADHESIVE). Before self-adhesive, pre-shaped wraps, many nail technicians had problems sizing the wrap to the nail and keeping it in place while they applied product. Many times, the wrap would have to be moved back into position, which caused contamination and prolonged the service.

OPI PRODUCTS’ LACQUER BOTTLE. It’s no wonder it’s patented (#USD0,330,859 for the classic OPI bottle and two patents for Nicole: #USD0,406,242 and #USD0,405,013) as OPI’s lacquer bottle and cap was the first one designed to be ergonomically correct in the hand of a nail technician and actually improve what manufacturers call the product’s “delivery method.” In this case, polish went on smoother and easier due to the cap length, weight, and shape. OPI was also one of the first to use higher quality bristles — and more of them — for a smoother, more controlled application.

PADDED FILES. Before padding, emery boards in 80,100, and a few 180 grits were all nail technicians had to shape and shorten clients’ nails, says Peters. “The unpadded wood abrasives could literally cut clients even if you were very careful,” remembers Halpern. Nail technicians were ready for a change and looked to padded boards, finer grits, and now various shapes and sizes. “Back then black block buffers were coarse,” explains Peters. Now technicians have their choice of 3- and 4-Way Buffers, white blocks, and all of the other specialized filing tools.

BETTER BRUSHES. With the improvements in acrylic products in the early ‘80s, nail technicians soon figured out that they needed to improve their application tools. “I loved the new acrylic-handled brushes that came out,” says Preuss, who also notes the coated wood handles that also made a difference. “With untreated wood-handled art brushes, the liquid would soak into the brush handle and then drip down into the bristles as I worked, contaminating the liquid and leaving brown streaks in the product on the nails.” Nail technicians went from buying very expensive art brushes made out of pony tails to kolinsky sable brushes with handles made especially for their craft, says Lin Halpern, who has been doing nails in a salon (at least part-time) for 37 years. Today, nail companies have even gone a step further, making brushes with wide handles, bigger bellies, and in various shapes.

CREATIVE’S SPA PEDICURE. Few would argue about the impact that Creative Nail Design’s SpaPedicure line has had on the popularity of spa product lines and services. One key goal was to make the service as pleasurable for the technician as it was for the client, with aromatic products, an easy-to-follow system, and thorough training. The result has been a gravitation toward a more spa-like approach to all nail services by incorporating aromatherapy, massage, reflexology, and other organic methods and products.

PINK AND WHITES. Named by just about every nail tech we talked to, pink and whites took up where white tips left off in terms of bringing a new type of client into the salon. “Many of my clients told me they couldn’t wear their nails naturally, but didn’t want to wear polished acrylics because when they had to get up and speak in front of a group, they didn’t want people distracted by their red nails flying through the air instead of following their speech,” says Preuss. It was also a way to avoid the unkempt look of chipped or old polish and allowed the tech to charge more for an advanced service. While white powder was first developed to help techs fill in grown-out white tips, shadowing and color matching made techs try the liquid and powder color combination on its own. Because crafting a perfect pink and white is such a practiced skill, many technicians today still don’t offer them. “It took two years for it to catch on with other salons in our area, remembers Gilmore. Michele Baker of Euro Stylecutters in Land O’ Lakes, Fla., says that the advancements in powder colors as the product category has matured has also made all the difference in the competition arena and in the salon. “The white powders could look milky if you didn’t have the exact ratio,” she explains. “And now with the improved tonal qualities of the pink powders, you can get a natural-looking nail bed by mixing a dark pink with a lighter one.”

COLORED ACRYLIC. The latest in nail design, colored powders, like pink and whites, have helped nail technicians offer their clients yet another service that requires the technician to receive training and education. “I haven’t had a chance to play with them yet, but I like the fact that I get to try something new and that excitement carries over to my clients who like to try new products along with me,” says Baker.

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