Anyone can make longer nails. The challenge for skilled nail technicians is to create nails that are beautiful and strong as well. Clients with problem hands and nails, such as bitten nails, ski-jump, fan-shaped, or flat nails, need more attention than the usual procedures; ordinary tips and application methods will not work. The nail technician must understand two things: 1) how these problems alter the look and shape of the finger; and 2) how to counteract the faults with a particular nail design.
The Bitten Nail
The challenge with a nail biter is not only the shortened nail bed, but the puffy skin that surrounds it. The first step with this client is to give a manicure to soften and clean up the ragged skin around the nail formed by constant biting and picking. A hot oil manicure may be necessary. Doing this not only removes the cuticle from the nail plate (which would cause lifting if not removed), but it also leaves nothing for the nail biting client to pick. After the manicure, make sure the rest of the preparation is done impeccably to prevent any possibility of lifting (where there's lifting there's going to be picking). Then it's time for the extension.
The newest way to deal with the bitten nail is to adhere a specially pre-tailored tip to create a saddle over the puffy skin at the end of the finger. To pre-tailor the tip, first fit the tip from sidewall to sidewall, noting where it puts pressure on the skin. Then using curved cuticle scissors or a file, carve out that area to create a saddle or bridge that will go over the puffy skin. This relieves the pressure that would normally make the tip pop off. You will also have to reduce the length of the contact area for the shorter nail bed (even more so on those cannibal nail biters). You can use a gel adhesive to fill in gaps when applying the tip, then cut the tip to the end of the finger. Reyna Traywick, owner of True Exceptions salon in Schulenburg, Texas, bonds the tip with acrylic. "The acrylic doesn't touch the skin since it is applied directly into the well of the tip," she explains.
Creating too long of an extension is the number-one cause of service break down for nail biters. Overlay the tip with liquid and powder, being careful to create the apex of the nail back where the nail biter's stress area is located. This is especially important if you are applying white tip powder out a bit to create the illusion of a longer nail plate.
Finish the nail, making sure the cuticle and sidewalls are very smooth to discourage biting. It's a good idea to apply polish (that way, if there is any lifting the client can't see it and won't be tempted to chew). Send the client home with cuticle oil to use daily to make the nail pliable and a soft, fine file to smooth any rough edges. The nail bed of a biter is shorter, therefore it becomes unbalanced more quickly, so continuous maintenance is very important. As Traywick says, the nail is trying to re-attach itself as it grows out. This client needs to come back within a week to 10 days for a fill as opposed to two weeks.
The Ski-Jump Nail
Clients with ski-jump nails pose a different kind of challenge. The ski- jump nail has a concave nail plate and an upturned end. The longer the nail, the more severe the jump. The first step with this client is to remove as much of the upturned edge as possible. Sculpting to extend is not a good option since it will accentuate the upward curve. Use a tip to counteract the curve. Fit the tip as usual, but look at the nail from the side. Adjust the angle that you hold the tip to the nail to create a more natural arch. The well of the tip will not make full contact with the natural nail, so use a gel adhesive to fill in the gap. As long as the nail edge is secure within the stop point the rest of the contact area can be blended away. The nail's strength comes from the liquid and powder overlay.
"I put more acrylic over the slope and thin it as it reaches the free edge," explains Traywick. "By putting more product in the middle of the nail, you're giving it the illusion of sloping down." Check the side view when applying the product. Since the product is thicker here, it is especially important to use the proper mix ratio or consistency of liquid and powder to obtain maximum adhesion and strength.
As with any enhancement, maintenance is important. A rebalance — or fill — is necessary every two weeks as the thicker nail plate area grows out to the tip. This makeover can actually change the curve of the natural nail as it grows out. As long as the client wears overlays, the enhancement will "train" her nail in a more natural curve.
The Fan-Shaped Nail
A fan-shaped nail gets wider as the nail grows out. Traywick explains that often this nail has no natural grooves on each side, so that it is flat as well as fan- shaped. Many times when it is extended, it looks like an ice cream cone because of the V shape at the cuticle and the wide free edge.
To create a sleeker and leaner nail, the nail technician must do what every beauty school instructor told her not to do: file into the corners (sides) of the natural nail. While this would make the natural nail weak, again the nail's strength is going to come from the liquid and powder overlay. To narrow the free edge of the nail, use a 240-grit file, holding it perpendicular to the nail and filing straight where the natural sidewalk flare out. During preparation, push back the cuticle to open up more of the nail plate. This will decrease the V shape of the cuticle area.
Fit a tip to the newly narrowed nail plate and overlay as usual, being careful to reinforce the stress points. As the natural nail grows out, the fan will emerge on the sidewalk If left unchecked, this area will be weak, so timely maintenance is especially important. When rebalancing, file the emerging fan in the same manner as you did during the initial visit to narrow it again.
Traywick has a slightly different ap proach. "I visualize what I want the nail to look like, then select a tip that's slightly smaller than the flare," she says. "Once the tip is applied, I gently squeeze the nail so that it actually molds itself into the C-curve." Since the curve is held by the tip and the overlay, it won't last very long. Traywick's clients come in every 10 days for fills.
The Flat Nail
Giving shape to the flat nail is relatively easy, if you know what works. Sculping really isn't the answer since the flat nail has no natural curve and won't have strength. The problem with regular tip application is that the flat nail puts pressure on the sides of a curved tip which can cause a vertical crack right down the center. The answer is to use a tip one or two sizes larger than the nail. The larger tip has a more gentle barrel curve, therefore there isn't as much pressure. Use curved cuticle scissors or a file to make the tip the proper size. To avoid removing the tip's lower arch, reduce the size along the whole length of the tip and not only at the contact area. Overlay the nail with acrylic to create a natural-looking arch from both the barrel and side views. Frequent rebalancing is a must, because the extra product required to create the arch will grow out to the tip area causing the nail to become unbalanced.
Traywick uses fiberglass or gel on her clients with flat nails. "They are more flexible," she says. She also uses tips that are one size larger and then customizes them to fit.
Work Your Magic
What keeps clients with problematic nails coming back to you is not only the look of the initial service, but the wearability and strength of the nail enhancements. Remember, there are far more potential clients with problem hands and nails than clients with perfect nails.
Sleight of Hand
Not all problems come from the shape of the nails. Some stem from the shape of the hands. Clients with big knuckles, plump fingers, stubby finger's, or crooked lingers can be just as challenging as those with flat or flared nails. When choosing a shape and length for a client, think balance. Big knuckles need a nail in balance with their width, A square or round nail is a good choice, while too narrow a nail (oval or almond) will make the knuckles look bigger: Choose a longer length to draw the eye up instead of a short nail which will broaden the look. Plump fingers should be handled in the same way because of their width.
For short stubby fingers, an overly long nail will be out of balance, while one that is too short will accentuate the stubbiness. An almond-shaped nail will give the illusion of length without being out of balance with the finger.
Crooked fingers need illusion balancing. A consultation with the client will tell whether the nail should look straight with the fingers held straight out or with the hands in a relaxed position. Reyna Traywick actually puts the tip on crooked, matching the direction of the finger as it extends from the knuckle closest to the hand. Then she builds on the side it's curving away from, and files on the side it's curving towards. "Our business is all cosmetic; creating an Illusion." she says. "That is what makes It fun." Developing an eye for overall design will help you create the right shape and length of nail for each client.
LaCinda Headings is an onychology instructor at Xenon International School of Hair Design in Wichita, Kan., a manufacturer's educator, and a NAILS Editorial Advisory Board member. She was the 1995 NAHA winner in the nail makeover category.