You’ve just travelled half way across the country, tackling traffic, crowds, airport delays, standing-room-only transportation, hotel reservation glitches, and inclement weather. You’ve spent hundred dollars on airfare and expect to drop a couple more big bills before it’s all over. That’s the easy part. Now it’s time to get ready for your first sculptural nail competition. After two intense, bead-dripping hours, you wait to hear your fate: Are you a winner? Will you be able to afford the flight home?
With so much ridding on these competitions, participants need to be skilled craftsmen with confidence in their technique. More importantly, as craftsmen, they need the right tools for their trade. For most serious competitors, finding the best product to complement their kills is paramount to winning.
“Today’s competitors are artists, technical geniuses, and masters of their craft. But technique is only 50% of the winning equation. Finding a product that performs just right with an individual’s style is the other half,” says former top competitor, Linda Champion of Golden Shears in Runnemede, N.J.
What Makes a Winning Formula?
Competitors are timed, with most events calling for 10 perfect nails in just two hours. The time limit requires fast work with guaranteed product performance, and competitors are always looking for short cuts that won’t compromise quality. Hence, competition formulas were developed to deliver high performance — quickly.
Nail technician Rita Horvath of Technicolor Salon and Day Spa in Allentown, Pa., was doing nails for five years before delving into the circuit “I did my homework before my first sculptured competition so I knew what the judges were looking for,” said Horvath, who practiced her technique, then searched for the best product to match her form. After a year on the national circuit, she was selected from NAILS’ Top 25 Competitors last year for OPI’s Competition Team. “To win, you have to understand the look the judges desire, then deliver that look,” Horvath concludes.
Since 1988 when Galaxy Nail Products (Corona, Calif.) introduced its first liquid and powder system formulated to deliver competition-quality nails, a handful of manufacturers have designed systems with competition qualities in mind.
Traditional acrylic systems are made with hard polymers, which excel in adhesion and strength. Some competition powders, on the other hand, are formulated with soft polymers, which produce more flexible nails in a faster setting time, while others, called co-polymers, contain both hard and soft polymers to allow more time for sculpting than those containing only soft polymers. A fast-set formula is an advantage to competitors who can sculpt quickly and prefer to spend more time working on other areas of the application.
Sunil Sirdesai, co-director of R&D for OPI Products (N. Hollywood, Calif.), says the company’s Competition Formula 3000, made from soft polymers, sets up more quickly. “OPI uses a proprietary ingredient in the formula that lowers the product’s resistance to polymerization. Faster polymerization leads to a faster cure,” Sirdesai explains.
Additionally, Competition Formula 3000 is self-leveling (as are all competition formulas), allowing the acrylic ball to settle as the technician sculpts, reducing lumps and bumps in the nail for minimal filing.
How Smooth Is Smooth?
Veteran nail technician and salon manager Champion, who sidelines as a national spokesperson for NSI (W. Conshohocken, Pa.), while training competitors and salon professionals to use the company’s two competition powders, Choice Brilliant White and Pink, says that products without self-levelers can produce highs and lows that require filing. “Too much filing tends to cause uneven surfaces, particularly on the whites.”
Kim Patterson, director of education for For Professional Use Only (Farmington Hills, Mich.), agrees wholeheartedly. Patterson helped introduce the company’s competition formula last February. “Pinnacle World Class Formula Acrylic System is a co-polymer and not a fast-set product. It gives the nail technician plenty of time to flatten the acrylic and create a perfect nail before it sets,” she says. As a former competitor and a top 10 contender from 1992 to 1995, Patterson believes that the extra time spent on the application is fundamental to winning a competition. The formula’s self-leveling properties, which nearly eliminate the need for filing, compensate for the extra time spent sculpting, explains Patterson.
Achieving Competition Colors
One of the key elements to a winning set of sculptured nails is pigmentation and colorization. Creating natural-looking nail pigmentation involves brilliant yet natural colors with extreme clarity. Manufacturers developing today’s competition formulas boast the whitest whites and pinkest pinks. Perfect clarity occurs when a product minimizes the marbleizing effect that can leave visible swirls. Colors cannot be murky with swirling lines of pigmentation, but must be clear and distinct.
Competitors often look for models with deep pink natural nail beds and product colors with natural skin tones. OPI Products’ executive vice-president and color expert Suzi Weiss-Fischmann says she helped design colors for the Competition Formula 3000 line that are translucent enough to allow a model’s or client’s own skin tone to show through.
Nail technician Tye Broughton of Nail Design in Medford, Ore., attributes — at least in part—her ranking as one of NAILS’ Top 25 Competitors to the powder colors in the Kym Lee System. “It just has that competition look. The white is bright, the pink is bright but translucent enough not to cloud the white,” says Broughton. The formula has time-saving self-leveling properties, but its powder retains the hard polymers for traditional setting time.
“A fast-set formula is not always what a competitor wants or uses,” says Kym Lee, Galaxy’s founder and CEO. “Our formula was designed to be user-friendly so that even beginners could offer clients the beauty of competition nails in the salon.”
Another heavy on the competition circuit is the Pink and White Sculptured Nail formula from EZ Flow Nail Systems (Stanton, Calif.), a fast-set system used by some of the top competitors.
Claudine Morgan entered her first competition in 1993 using EZ Flow’s sculptured system and earned top scores in nearly every event. She was quickly recruited by the company as a national educator. “The ability to produce flawless competition nails lies in finding the right product, and this product works for me,” says Morgan, who currently holds the #1 position on the NAILS’ Top 25 ranking.
Competition Formulas in the Salon
What technicians learn in the competitions can be brought back to salon. “Fast-setting competition formulas are a great tool for those salon technicians who either want to be competitors or simply attain competition-level skills,” says Lin Halpern, NSI’s director of R&D. “Most of the nail technicians using NSI’s Choice powders specialize in pink and whites and French manicures, and they don’t usually polish.”
“Requests from nail technicians looking for a product that would deliver results similar to those of top competitors, particularly in pink and whites, led to the development of Competition Formula 3000,” says Weiss-Fischmann. “The fact that the formula is faster setting is just an added benefit for professionals who prefer a product that works more quickly,” she says.