The concept was great — by removing the odor from acrylic monomer, manufacturers struck down the number-one complaint of salon professionals, their clients, and surrounding businesses. In the real world, however, odorless systems never gained a wide following after their introduction in the mid-’80s because of the adjustment in technique required, and today they are popular mostly with schools and a small, but loyal, following of nail technicians. According to the NAILS 1997-1998 Fact Book, 20% of salons use odorless systems. In today’s highly competitive market, salons should take every opportunity to gain an edge — and what better way than to offer clients an environment free of the signature (and to some clients, offensive) odor of traditional acrylics?

“There is a growing concern over odor, especially with the day spa trend because those spa owners don’t want the odor a traditional acrylic system has,” notes Margo Reed, education director for IBD Professional Nail Systems (Gardena, Calif.).

“If you can overcome the technical challenges, you might want to consider using an odorless system,” says Michael Bannett, president of The Supply Source (Sunrise, Fla.). “But it’s important that if you’re going to use this product, you use it correctly. People are watching — there’s so much media attention on salons that you can’t afford to mess up.”

Manufacturers say those who make the switch will find the systems have better adhesion, allow more sculpting time, can cut filing by as much as 80%, and minimize airborne filings.

For the most part, what has held back odorless and UV light-cured systems is that while the techniques are similar to traditional liquid-and-powder systems, there are a few key differences that frustrate nail technicians who expected the only difference would be the lack of odor — namely, a different liquid-to-powder ratio, different consistency, difficulty in working the product on the nail, and getting rid of the “tacky layer.”

A Delicate Balance

To the untrained eye, the components in odorless and UV light-cured systems are no different than those in a traditional system (you’ve still got your liquid and your powder), but most nail technicians immediately note that the odorless monomer is slightly thicker than the water-like monomer of a traditional system.

“Many nail technicians try to use odorless products like a regular system and they pick up too much liquid,” says Bannett. “This makes the product run on the nail and become so sticky and gummy they can’t work with it. Then there’s not enough powder in the finished nail so the nails aren’t dense enough, which makes them much more likely to crack and break”

“Odorless monomers are not ethyl methacrylate-based, so their consistency is thicker and the way they penetrate the powder is slower, which gives you more working time,” says Lin Halpern, director of new product development for NSI (W. Conshohocken, Pa.). “The liquid is so viscous it soaks up three to four times its weight in powder”

Adjusting to a drier ratio can be difficult for some. While many traditional systems require anywhere from a 1 1/2:1 to a 3:1 liquid-to-powder ratio, most odorless systems call for a 1:1 or even drier ratio. (This isn’t always the case, however; Star Nail Products’ Ultimate Lyte system recommends a 2:1 ratio for the UV light-cured system. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before using any system.) Used too wet, the product can run into the cuticle and side-walls. Excess monomer also can make the tacky layer that forms on top of the cured product thicker. Second, and even more important, odorless monomers are more allergenic than traditional monomers, says Halpern, because they do not evaporate and are much more difficult to remove from the skin.

By the same token, a too dry ball creates other problems; the product becomes powdery and paste-like, resulting in finished nails that are brittle and break easily because there wasn’t enough monomer to bond the powder particles tightly together.

Because getting precise ratios is easier said than done, experts on these systems offer the following tips to help novices get it right the first time:

Use a smaller, flatter brush than with a traditional acrylic system. Eleanor Victor, supervisor of technical support for OPI Products (N. Hollywood, Calif.) and a long-time odorless user, recommends a flat-edged brush. In fact, most manufacturers of both types of odorless systems say they have brushes intended for use with these systems, like Star Nail Products’ (Valencia, Calif.) Ultimate Sculptor. “It is called a ‘cat’s tongue’ shape because it is small, flat, and comes to a point,” explains Janice Capilli, the company’s national technical advisor and owner of Bravo! Nails in Cranston, R.I. “This brush holds just enough monomer to ensure a proper collection of polymer when forming a ball” Make a snowball. While using the right brush certainly helps, nail technicians should also manipulate the powder and liquid to get the correct ratio. Halpern advises technicians to dip their brush in the monomer, wipe it on a towel, then dip it again. The first dip ensures that all the bristles are wet, she says. After the second dip into the monomer, release as much liquid as possible on the edge of the dappen dish instead of wiping it on a towel.

“You should wipe just the tip against the edge for the largest ball, from the belly to the tip for a medium ball, and from the ferrule to the tip for the smallest ball,” Halpern says.

When picking up powder, she recommends dragging the brush through the powder until the product looks like a miniature snowball. A flaky, crystal appearance means the ball is too dry. If this happens, wipe the ball onto a paper towel and start over.

Pat, Don’t Pull

Like most of the newer-generation traditional acrylic systems, odorless and UV fight-cured products are self-leveling, which is a welcome attribute. When you place the ball on the nail, it should “wet out,” then dome over and stop spreading. It should also take on a slightly glossy appearance as the monomer continues absorbing powder. At this point, Victor and Halpern recommend wiping your brush on a towel to remove excess monomer before you start shaping the product. Because the bead will be much drier than users of traditional systems are accustomed to, it requires a mental as well as a physical adjustment, notes Michelle Williams, national director of education for Pro Finish (Scottsdale, Ariz.).

“You can put the product where you want and shape it with your brush by pushing it into the sidewalls and creating your smile line and arch, virtually eliminating the need for filing,” she says. “Nail technicians have been trained to file their nails into shape, and with these systems you can do all your shaping with your brush.”

Most nail technicians have also been trained to stroke, not pat, product. When applying an odorless system the opposite is true. “You want to pat the product into place because stroking tends to overwork the product,” explains Reed.

Because the product is drier, it may tend to stick to your brush, note Williams and Halpern. However, you must resist re-wetting your brush because that will throw off the ratio.

With an air-dry odorless system, Halpern and Victor recommend wiping your brush on a paper towel several times during the application process, starting as soon as you set a bead on the nail. This will continually remove excess monomer from your brush. (The excess monomer is what makes the product stick to your brush, which you want to avoid.).

How do you know when to wipe? “When the product starts to do a taffy pull, which is when it holds to both the nail surface and brush as you pull the brush away, you’re past the time you should have wiped,” Halpern advises. “To recover, wipe the brush very well on a paper towel to remove the sticky polymer and start Working again with a dry brush. Don’t go back into the monomer to clean your brush, even though that’s what your instinct will be.” You’ll know you’ve achieved the proper ratio, she adds, when the acrylic domes over and becomes a perfectly smooth surface when you lift your brush.

With UV light-cured products, however, Williams recommends against this step. “UV acrylic systems are very sensitive to the liquid-to-powder ratio,” Williams says. “Every time you wipe your brush you draw out more monomer when you put it back on the product.” Too many wipes, she says, and the product could become too dry, affecting the durability of the finished nail.

No, Really, It’s Cured

The most common call manufacturers get on their technical hotlines for both types of odorless systems is from a frantic technician who says the product won’t dry. This complaint stems from the soft, rubber-like layer that forms on the surface of the nails with both types of odorless systems even after they are fully cured. “You can tap on the nail surface and hear it click, which tells you it’s cured,” Reed says. The rubber-like layer is unpolymerized product that rises to the surface due to the chemistry of the monomers.

The layer sloughs right off with a block buffer or 180-grit file; underneath should be a perfectly level and smooth finished nail. “This moist layer produces a wonderful side benefit,” says Capilli. “Because it is moist and heavy, it cannot become airborne, so it won’t be inhaled.” As your expertise with these systems improves, the rubbery layer will become increasingly thinner.

The chemical process of odorless and UV acrylics gives the technician more working time than she would have with a traditional acrylic. It’s not so much that the set times are different, says Halpern. “Odorless and traditional systems fully set in two and a half to five minutes, depending on the product and the room temperature,” Halpern says. “What changes is the working time — it is longer for odorless systems because it takes longer for the liquid to absorb into the powder and because the liquid doesn’t evaporate.” UV light-cured acrylics don’t achieve a hard set until they are cured under the light, but Reed says they will become unworkable after about 10 minutes in open air.

Once you’ve finished sculpting UV acrylics, the nails should be placed under the UV light for the final cure.

Manufacturers’ recommended curing times vary from two to four minutes, but Halpern says she recommends doubling this time for NSI’s system, just to be sure the product is fully cured.

Williams, who is a veteran nail technician well-versed in all product systems, describes odorless and UV light- cured acrylics as a “fabulous alternative” to acrylics. “Nail technicians just need to work with them a bit.”

And at a time when nail technicians must do everything they can to differentiate their salon from the one down the street, your time and effort mastering odorless systems could really pay off.

A Fresh Approach to Odorless

Twelve years of research and development finally paid off last January for Tarnmy Taylor when she introduced her Salon Fresh odourless acrylic system, the newest entrant in the odourless acrylic system, the newest entrant in the odourless acrylic market. The reaction from nail technicians – a mix of scepticism and enthusiasm, she says—has made it worth the wait.

Taylor tested more than 200 formulations since she first set out to develop the product in 1986 Dissatisfied with available chemistry that wouldn’t work with her trademark 12-step acrylic system, she plugged on.

“It was very important to me that working with Salon Fresh feels like working with the regular Tammy Taylor system because I didn’t want to come up with something that would change the rules or require re-training the industry,’ she explains.

The R&D was done in-house with Taylor guiding her R&D staff, suggesting the next combination to try, and experimenting with the samples on her own nails.

“I went through formulations where you couldn’t even make a nail because the product was so runny it wouldn’t hold up on a form. Some I would put on one day and they would fall off the next. Others would be bright yellow in a week.”

When she finally bit on the right chemistry she kept asking herself, “Is this really going to work?” The answer was ‘yes’ in every test she tried in the six months she tested the product on herself forcing it to stand up to her rigorous lifestyle as a working mom whose nails are critiqued more than the average professionals.

“I wore this product while working my booth at shows and at my seminars where nail technicians examine your nails practically with a magnifying glass” Taylor notes.

On a scale of 1-100 (where a traditional acrylic represents 100), Taylor says Salon Fresh ranks an 85 in terms of strength “To come up with an 85% formulation after working on it for so many years is amazing to me. I never thought I’d get so close,” she says.

Let There Be Light

When IBD introduced its Sculpt-Sure light-cured acrylic system in 1994, the company showed it with the signature Salon Essentials lamp. “What we didn’t realize,” says Joan Komorowski, marketing manager, “was that it would take significant education to show that the light-cured acrylic was such a great alternative to traditional acrylic.” Nail technicians confused fused SculptSure with a gel product, or felt they couldn’t justify the expense of a lamp.

Nevertheless, SculptSure went on to gain a steady customer base, and IBD is continuing its momentum in the marketplace by enhancing the product’s education program “We’ve decided to focus on schools because many of them require the students to work with an odourless product,” Komorowski says. “We’ll offer special deals where if they buy the product in sufficient volume, we’ll give them the lamps. We also plan to market to day spas” IBD’s new education program will cover all of the differences between its odourless acrylic system and its gel system. “I definitely see the demand for odourless growing, especially the light-cured products,” Komorowski says. “They really compare well with the traditional systems.”


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