You learned everything about nail care in school. Then you got a job at a salon and relearned everything according to your boss. At tradeshows you got product-specific information from manufacturers and educators. In the meantime, you’ve come up with your own “truths” about nail techniques and products based on real-life experience with your clients. It’s tough to separate fact from fiction if you are exposed to contradictory statements. To help, we’ve compiled some of the more common nail claims and asked four industry and medical experts to respond to them in an attempt to lift the veil of misinformation. Special thanks to April Buford, educator at Truman College Technical Center in Chicago, LaCinda Headings, onychology instructor at Xenon International School of Hair Design in Wichita, Kan., Richard K. Scher, M.D., dermatologist and NAILS columnist in New York City, and Doug Schoon, director of R & D for Creative Nail Design Systems (Vista, Calif.), for their contributions to this article.

Myth or Fact? A poor diet will cause weak, brittle nails.

Answer: According to Dr. Scher, a poor diet can result in weak brittle nails if there is a severe vitamin or protein deficiency. “Not enough carrots or too little milk is simplifying the situation too much,” he says. Doug Schoon adds, “In general your nails will not get healthier if you eat healthy, but they will suffer if you eat poorly.” Your nails can stay at the maximum health you were born with, but they cannot be enhanced by eating better. Certain deficiencies do affect the nail plate but that’s true of the entire body. If you eat poorly it may also aggravate other existing conditions in your body, such as psoriasis, which might show up in the nails as a result.

Myth or Fact? Don’t file the natural nail with a back-and-forth motion.

Answer: It depends on your touch and the coarseness of your file, says Headings. An ordinary emery board, about a 100-grit coarseness, used aggressively on the natural nail could fray the edges and cause the nail to peel. However, ordinary filing with a fine grit file (120 and above) shouldn’t be a problem no matter which direction you file in. April Buford warns that if you file too hard in a back-and-forth motion, it could weaken the natural nail. It’s better to file from the corner to the center of the nail on each side.

Myth or Fact? Topical fungal ointments will make nail fungus disappear.

Answer: The problem with topical ointments is that any active ingredient contained in them will be unable to penetrate the nail plate and reach the infection. In fact, the FDA does not even allow product claims to that effect. Systemic medications, such as Sporanox, work on fungus, says Dr. Scher, because they go through the body to get to the source of the infection. Most bacteria, which is more likely than fungus the cause of the infection, die within six to eight weeks anyway, says Schoon, unless you continue to provide “food” to them and keep them in a protected air-free environment. “They’ll eventually clear up, even if you’re just washing with soap and water,” he continues. If a disorder lasts longer than six to eight weeks, then it’s probably not a bacterial infection and should be checked by a dermatologist. Myth or Fact? All salon implements must be sterilized after every use.

Answer: To sterilize means you are destroying all germs, including spores. Sterilization is extremely difficult and unnecessary in the salon, says Buford. This level is necessary only for doctors. Disinfecting implements by immersing them in a disinfectant solution for the proper length of time will destroy bacteria, viruses, and fungi at an adequate level for the salon. Sanitation is low level cleaning; it includes washing your implements before they are disinfected, washing your hands, changing towels between each client, etc. “If your hands aren’t clean, it doesn’t matter how clean your tools are,” says Schoon. It’s important to show clients you pay attention to their well-being by maintaining a clean, germ-free environment for them.

Myth or Fact? You can contract AIDS, hepatitis, and other serious diseases by working on an infected person’s nail.

Answer: The probability of contracting a serious disease like AlDS in the salon is extremely low, says Dr. Scher, considering the vast number of people who get their nails done. To be susceptible to AIDS, you would have to make a series of serious mistakes, like cutting both yourself and an infected client, then managing to have contact between both injuries. There have been a few documented cases of tuberculosis contracted in the salon in the past 15 years, which is transmitted through air by coughing, not dirty implements.

Myth or Fact? Spraying alcohol on the hands is an effective way to sanitize.

Answer: Alcohol is a mild antiseptic, says Dr. Scher, but it will in no way sanitize the skin. The best thing for clients and nail technicians to do, says Buford, is to wash their hands thoroughly with an antibacterial soap before any service. Alcohol is also very drying to the skin; a better option is a hand sanitizer that is made specifically for use on the hands.

Myth or Fact? Women’s nails are affected by menopause, menstruation, and pregnancy.

Answer: Nails do grow faster on pregnant women, say Dr. Scher, but don’t know for sure,” he says. But to blame menstrual periods for lifting or oily nail plates does not make sense. Menstrual cycles last an average of five to seven days, and it takes many months before a body change will be reflected on the nails, whether it’s growth rate, color, or sensitivity. “The nail plate is a dead structure; it has no blood vessels so it cannot be affected by hormonal changes,” Dr. Scher says.

Myth or Fact? Mixing liquid and powder from different manufacturers is OK as long as you use the right ratios.

Answer: Mixing products is generally not recommended, even if you’re working with a “universal” liquid. The whole idea of mix ratio (i.e. the proper amount of liquid mixed with the proper amount of powder), explains Schoon, is that it directly affects product consistency. If the mix is too wet, it can cause allergic reactions; too dry, and the product won’t spread your powder has a benzoyl peroxide level that doesn’t match the liquid you’re using, you risk under-curing or product that will flood the cuticles and cause allergic reactions. If there is not enough benzoyl peroxide, you risk getting nails that become yellow, brittle, or cracked. Most manufacturers recommend against product mixing and many will not guarantee performance if the products are mixed.

Myth or Fact? Acrylic sets should be completely removed and redone every 2-3 months so nails can breathe.

Answer: That’s not necessary if your technique and product are working properly, says Headings. Many nail technicians and clients have acrylic nails that are many years old and look fine; it’s when nails are maintained incorrectly that nails develop cracks or infections. In fact, the more times you remove artificial nails (especially acrylic and gel), the more likely you are to damage the nails. Using nippers too aggressively on old acrylic and excessive filing on gels will take their toll. Myth or Fact? Natural nails become thinner if acrylic nails have been on them for a long period of time.

Answer: Nails become thinner only if they have been over filed prior to the application of artificial nails. Also, when the artificial nails are removed, the natural nails retain more moisture and thus are more flexible (and seem to be thinner). After a few days, however, they will become more rigid.

Myth or Fact? Clipping cuticles is fine as long as you don’t draw blood.

Answer: Clipping the cuticles is recommended, and, in many states, prohibited because too often the living skin that protects the matrix is cut and infections occur. Dr. Scher advises against clipping at all. To remove excess cuticle material that has grown up on the nail, soak it in warm water for 10 minutes, then push it back with a towel or something soft. There are many liquid cuticle removers available that will dissolve dead skin on top of the nail.

Myth or Fact? Extra applications of primer will make acrylics adhere even better.

Answer: No. In fact, the more use the more lifting you can have, warns Schoon. Once primer gets on the nail plate it spreads out and makes a microscopically thin layer that enables it to adhere to the nail and it to adhere to the product (similar to how double-sided cellophane tape works). Extra coats do not enhance that stickiness in any way. Excessive primer could eventually make the nail more porous and cause onycholysis (separation of the nail plate from the nail bed).

Myth or Fact? Putting nail polish in the refrigerator will make it last longer.

Answer: Yes it’s true. There are thickeners in nail polish that in time will over-thicken. Solvent escapes from nail polish when it is left open and as it ages. But, says Schoon, if you constantly remove polish from the refrigerator, use it, and put it back, it will do no good. The polish must stay cool for at least a few weeks at a time, and it must be brought completely back to room temperature before opening, or the water condensation will affect its quality.

Myth or Fact? Calcium helps nails grow stronger.

Answer: There are only trace amounts of calcium in the nail, explains Headings, so increasing your calcium intake by drinking more milk will add nothing to the strength of your nails. And since nail cells are formed in the matrix, they cannot be affected by calcium that is applied topically.

Myth or Fact? Fungus and mold are the same thing.

Answer: A mold is a specific type of fungus. Neither fungus nor mold is common on a nail. In fact, say Schoon and Dr. Scher, the vast majority of infections on the nail are caused by pseudomonas, or bacteria, which shows up as a green discoloration on the nail. There are actually three types of fungi: dermatophyte, yeast, and mold. A dermatophyte is found more commonly on toes; yeasts are found in about 8% of toenail infections and in a slightly higher percentage of fingernails. Molds will form a brown or black discoloration, but again, very few nail technicians will see mold on their clients’ nails.

Myth or Fact? There is no difference between nail polish brands.

Answer: There are distinct differences in nail polish, not necessarily by what brand, but in the ingredients and how they are put together. A polish that contains toluene, for example, generally performs differently than one without. The presence of formaldehyde, and how much of it, will also affect the polish’s performance. Tiny differences in nail polishes make a difference in performance. “It’s more an art than a science,” says Schoon. “It’s all in how the chemicals are blended together, the way pigments are ground, the batch size, the quality of the raw materials used, and the temperature used in the process.” Which ones are better? The only way to find out is to test them ... on your nails and on your clients’ nails.

Myth or Fact? Nails grow faster in the summer than in the winter.

Answer: Actually, they do, although none of our experts knows why. The growth difference is not significant, however. “There’s about a .6mm difference between the seasons,” says Schoon.

Myth or Fact? Drills on low speed are OK to use on the natural nail.

Answer: Although you can use an electric file on low speed with a gentle grit, it takes an experienced nail technician to be careful enough not to do any damage. Buford explains that the drill bit has a tendency to cut very quickly and can take too many layers off of the nail. Schoon agrees, adding, “You don’t need to rough up the nail to get good adhesion. All you should have to do is remove the oils, which involves nothing more than a good scrub and a light touch with a very light abrasive. All drilling does is make the nails more porous and allow for more allergic reaction.”

Myth or Fact? Plunging wet nails into ice water will dry the polish faster.

Answer: This is pure myth, although it is frequently recommended by fashion magazines. To get polish to dry requires the evaporation of solvents (If wet conditions help polish to dry, why do you put your drying client in front of a warm fan?).


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