Sometimes the best answers to technical questions are from your peers. In this new bi-monthly column, the experienced voices of the Nails Industry Association tackle reader questions ranging from lifting to proper wrap application to natural nail care.This month our guest columnists are Michele Baker, Brenda Bollard, Melinda Borrego, Linda Champion, Rima Kitsko, Margo Reed, and Debbie Shoaff

Q: Is it a fact that squared nails are the strongest? Why?

Rima Kitsko, Spoiled Rotten, Indianapolis, Indiana: The theory is that when a square nail hits something straight on it is less likely to break than a rounded nail because the energy from the impact is spread over a wider area. But what if that same nail is hit on the side? A true square nail has an edge on the corner that is more likely to break than a rounded corner because, in this case, the surface area is smaller.

In my opinion, the “squoval” shape offers the best of both worlds (and looks good, too) because the free edge is rounded only at the corners, making it less likely to break no matter where it is hit.

Debbie Shoaff, The Nail and Hair Gallery, Wampum, Pa.: I believe square nails are the strongest because the structure of a nail coming out straight at the sidewalls gives more support to the nail. But I prefer the look of the “squoval” shape. To have the rounded look while retaining the strength, just round the corners of the free edge rather than filing back into the sidewalls.

Q: How do you get a crisp line where the pink and white acrylics meet on a sculpted French manicure?

Brenda Bollard, Bren’s Nails, Conroe, Texas: You need to build up the white on the free edge so that there’s a high, definite wall. People tend to apply the white powder too thin on the free edge and then drag the pink over it. You also have to find the happy medium on when to make the smile line: If you wait too long and the acrylic starts to harden, you’re not going to get a crisp smile line. But the acrylic does need to be dry enough so that it’s not still leveling out.

Linda Champion, Golden Shears, Runnemede, N.J.: I lay the white first and then push it up into a smile line. If I don’t get a perfect line this way then I carve the line into a semi-circle with a dry brush. If it’s still not perfect, I will place tiny beads of white powder where needed. I usually have to do this in the corners because it’s hard to get that point where it meets the sidewalls.

Shoaff: Get a nice point on a damp (not wet) brush and use it to make a wall by holding the brush vertical to the product. A flat brush also works well. Make sure the product is the right consistency: You want to let the product set slightly before you make your wall or it will melt back out and you’ll lose the defined line.

Q: I’ve stopped etching the nails because I heard it can thin and damage the natural nail. But now I’m having problems with lifting.

Kitsko: Most products on the professional market nowadays have made leaps and bounds over the past few years. Now we have learned that, with certain products anyway, etching is no longer needed to help the product adhere.

The nail plate is similar to an onion: it has lots of layers. Etching the nail with a coarse file removes some of those layers, which weakens the nail. You want to keep the natural nail as healthy as possible, because it’s the foundation for your enhancement products.

To prevent lifting, focus your attention on properly preparing the nail surface. To begin with, gently push back the cuticle. Then, lightly buff the surface oils and shine off the nail using a 240-grit file. Next, apply a temporary surface cleanser and dehydrator (do this step twice on problem lifters). Only one coat of primer is needed with most systems, and take care not to flood the cuticles. The primer should be completely dry before you start applying product.

When applying your product, know the correct liquid-to-powder ratio for your system — this not only prevents ‘lifting but it cuts down on breaks, cracks, air pockets, etc. Don’t allow the product to touch the surrounding tissue, and apply it very thinly at the cuticle.

Many times you have to tailor your nail prep steps for problem lifters (maybe you need to apply your cleanser/ dehydrator more than once or prep one hand, apply product, and then do the same on the second hand). This is just one reason to keep good client records.

Q: What causes air pockets in the center of the nail near the free edge?

Margo Reed, Sister Nails, San Antonio, Texas: Sometimes the acrylic loses its bond to the natural nail, especially if the person’s nails grow very slowly. And perhaps it didn’t bond right in the first place — something could have happened during the adhesion process. It has happened to me with natural nail overlays and I just buff it away and fill in with fresh acrylic.

Michele Baker, Euro Stylecutters, Lutz, Fla.: I can think of several reasons. If you don’t press the acrylic to the nail you won’t get good adhesion. Air pockets also can be caused by nipping. Little dips in the natural nail also can cause the acrylic to separate when the dip reaches the stress area and the nail is flexed. I suggest checking your application technique, and make sure your prep products and primer are not contaminated.

Mindy Borrego, Mindyfingers, Granby, Conn.: I’ve learned air pockets are caused by the wrong liquid-to-powder ratio. Sometimes a pocket can be caused by hitting the nail, but most of the time it’s the wrong ratio.

Q: What’s the best way to find a new acrylic system?

Borrego: I always go to a show with no nails on and find a product I like. First I consider aesthetics — is it a pretty nail? If I like the way it looks, I buy a kit and take a class.

I also consider how much support there is from the distributor and how accessible education is. What I commonly hear from manufacturers is, “We don’t have anyone in Connecticut.” With an acrylic system, I need to be able to get it easily and have access to a class for it because each product has its own nuances that you need to learn. I’ve never seen a set of written instructions that were so clear I didn’t need anything else.

Baker: Go to a tradeshow and watch the application techniques at each booth to see how easy a particular product is to apply. Have some nails put on and test them yourself, because we nail technicians are harder on our nails than anyone else.

Also, talk to people in the booth and ask how long they’ve been using this system. If they’ve been using it a long time, remember that it may not be as easy for you to apply as it is for them.

While you’re at the booth stand back and listen to nail technicians’ questions and the responses they get because that gives you an idea of the technical support you’ll get from the manufacturer. Then I would invest in a small kit — don’t get all excited and make a big investment. Practice with the product a little and then test it on some of your tougher clients — that will give you a good idea of how the product holds up.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.