Ready, Set, Sculpt!

by NLS Staff | April 1, 1996
Fast set acrylics cut time when you're applying the product on the nail. Brushing the product over the nail can be completed in as little as one stroke.

Fast set acrylics cut time when you're applying the product on the nail. Brushing the product over the nail can be completed in as little as one stroke. 

Remember when the only way to cook a meal was in the oven, before the invention of the microwave? When it took hours to prepare a meal instead of minutes? Well, the same can be said of fast-set acrylics. Instead of requiring about an hour and a half to do a full set using a traditional acrylic, a fast-set system can reduce the application time by half, say its proponents. The result? A set of strong, durable nails and a satisfied client who doesn’t have to spend a lot of time in the salon.

What is the chemical difference between traditional and fast-set acrylics that makes such a difference in their set-up times? According to Doug Schoon, director of research & development for Creative Nail Design Systems (Vista, Calif.), there are three chemical properties that can alter the set-up time of any type of acrylic system: 1) temperature (the higher the temperature, the faster the product sets up); 2) the amount of catalyst in the liquid, and 3) the amount of initiator in the powder.

“How fast a product sets up is determined by how quickly the initiator breaks down and how much initiator there is,” he adds.

A fast-set acrylic system can contain a fast-setting powder or a fast-setting liquid or both, says Schoon. The advantages of a fast-setting powder, he says, is that the product sets up faster and crystallization is reduced. As for the disadvantages, he says, since the product becomes too flexible it can lose its strength.

Advantages of a fast-setting liquid are the same as those of a fast-setting powder, says Schoon. On the down side, though, a fast-setting liquid can cause brittle nail enhancements and lifting, he says.

Making the Switch to Fast-Set Acrylic

Regardless of their pros and cons, fast-set acrylics certainly have enthusiastic users. Debbie Johnson, owner of Savoir- Faire salon in Kansas City, Mo., and an educator for Tammy Taylor Nails (Irvine, Calif.), says, “I’ve been a nail technician for 15 years and I think fast sets are the best thing that’s happened to the industry. I’ve always been fast with my hands, and when I first tried fast sets back in 1991, I became hooked. I started practicing on myself, and I loved the way it set up.” Johnson also likes the fact that fast- set acrylics allow clients to get in and out of the salon faster. “People are always in a hurry, and for me, time is money,” she says.

Speedy hands are also the case for Michele Schaaf, a New Jersey- based regional account executive for Star Nail Products (Valencia, Calif.), who loves fast-set acrylics. “I felt like I was working too quickly with traditional acrylics because I had a lot of downtime during the service. For example, if a client came in for a routine fill, after I was done applying the acrylic, I would have to wait for it to set up before I could start filing. These days, many clients don’t have that extra time — it’s their lunch hour or they have to pick up the kids from day-care.”

Liza Ferraro, owner of California Concepts in La Mesa, Calif., and a platform artist for NSI (Conshohocken, Pa.), made the switch to fast sets because of time and crystallization problems she was having with traditional acrylics. “Standard acrylics crystallize if the room temperature is too cold, if the client’s hands are too cold, and if the product is too cold,” she says. “A fast-set powder, on the other hand, isn’t as temperature-sensitive because it sets up the product more quickly.”

“Everything speeds up immensely with a fast-set acrylic,” says Sheri Cortelloni, a nail technician/hairstylist at Scissor Hands in Oak Lawn, Ill. “I can do a quick fix in 10 minutes with a fast-set acrylic instead of 15-20 minutes with a traditional one. It’s a great timesaver.”

Application Made Easy

Ease of application is an attribute technicians look for in every product. The majority of technicians we spoke to about fast-set acrylics sang the praises of their application. Says Ferraro, “With a standard set, you tend to overwork the product because you have to work with it longer. If you don’t work with it, it will move because it’s not set up yet. With a fast set, I just brush the product over the nail once and I’m done. It shortens my application time by 10 minutes. Fast-set acrylics have really al­lowed the faster technician to excel by getting the job done faster.”

Trina Zummallen, owner of Trina’s Nail Room in Bourbonnais, Ill., and an educator for Tammy Taylor Nails, agrees. “A fast-set acrylic sets up quicker and is easy to work with because it flows on the nail rather than having to be patted into place as with traditional acrylics.”

But Rachel Mathes Vogel, owner of Class Act Nails in Iowa City, Iowa, and an educator for OPI Products (N. Hollywood, Calif.), finds that a “patting” technique works for a fast- set acrylic, too. “I use a one-ball method, and place the ball of product at the stress area of the nail, then pat it into place,” she says.

With traditional acrylics, you don’t want too much liquid with the powder so you have to use a smaller brush. And when you dip your brush into the powder, you draw a circle to produce the ball,” says Sue Furtado, owner of Image Gallery in New Bedford, Ma., and an educator for NSI. “With a fast-setting powder, you use a larger brush because you need more liquid than powder. You simply drag your brush in the powder to pick up a ball.”

Because fast-set acrylics require a larger brush, Michelle Waynick, manager of She’s Got Nails in West- land, Mich., and an educator for Galaxy Nail Products (Corona, Calif.), recommends using a #8 kolinsky brush because it holds more liquid.

Says Johnson, “Fast-set acrylics are self-levelling so you don’t have to work so hard — it does the work for you.” Because fast-set acrylics apply smoothly to form a near-perfect nail, filing time is greatly reduced, Schaaf adds.

Leah Thorne, a nail technician at Creative Concepts in Louisville, Ky., and a regional account executive for Sta*+r Nail Products, also extols the smoother finish she gets with a fast-set acrylic, and says the clarity of the product is better. “To get a smooth nail with a traditional acrylic, you first need a heavy-grit file, then a medium-grit file, then a buffer. For a fast-set acrylic, I can get a smooth finish with just a zebra file. Not only is my finishing time reduced, but less filing means less airborne dust,” she says.

Nicole Davis, a nail technician at Desert Rage in Tempe, Ariz., and an educator for Elité Nail Products (Montebello, Calif.), stresses that a fast-set acrylic isn’t so fast-setting that it dries before you’re done applying it. “As long as you get the product where it needs to go, you don’t need to be quick with it. The product stays where you place it and doesn’t move,” she says.

For Beginners, Too?

Are fast sets so fast that students or new technicians aren’t yet quick enough to use them? “That’s a double-edged sword,” admits Ferraro. “With a fast-set acrylic, the novice technician tends to put too much powder on the brush, which creates a nail that’s too thick. On the other hand, she has less ‘playing time’ with the product. With a standard set, too much working time can cause the product to flood the cuticles. The benefit, though, of traditional acrylics is that the novice technician has more time to create a perfect nail. It was difficult for me when I first started using a fast-set system because I was used to applying a larger amount of powder.”

Zummallen recommends trying a fast-set acrylic right off the bat. “Using a fast-set acrylic right from the start allows you to get your technique down rather than having to relearn your technique if you switch from a traditional acrylic to a fast set, like I did,” she says. “It was hard for me at first because I was used to working more with the product.”

But Furtado, who switched to a fast-set acrylic, says it was great to work with from the get-go because she already had her technique down so it allowed her to work even faster. Therefore, when she teaches classes to beginners, she has them work with a traditional acrylic first because it allows more time to work with the product on the nail bed. New technicians’ timing, she says, will pick up as they gain more experience. “You need to be fast to work with fast sets,” Furtado says.

Schaaf agrees, and says it takes a lot of education before you can work with fast sets. “Many beginning technicians don’t work with the product fast enough. If they learn with a traditional acrylic first, they can take their time and get their technique down correctly. Then they can work quicker and smarter with a fast-set acrylic,” she says.

Getting the application down properly so they don’t have to do a lot of filing is another reason why beginners should start with a traditional acrylic, adds Mathes Vogel.

Regardless of how fast or slow a nail technician is, Stephanie Pfeil, a nail technician at Expressions in Tehachapi, Calif., and an educator for Galaxy Nail Products, offers this simple but true advice, “I think the right choice between traditional and fast-set aciylics depends on whatever you’re comfortable with using.”

Are Fast Sets for Every Client? 

Though the majority of technicians we spoke to are hooked on fast sets and haven’t used traditional acrylics on their clients since they’ve converted, Pfeil has a few clients whose nails don’t respond as well to fast-set acrylics as they do to traditional ones.

Ferraro uses a fast-set acrylic on all her clients in winter because their hands are cold. Other times of the year, she says, it depends on what the client’s nail bed looks like and how hard they are on their nails. For example, she uses a standard set on clients with hard natural nails because she says they don’t need a flexible acrylic such as a fast set. If the client has a flat nail bed and is rough on her nails, Ferraro uses a fast-set powder because she says it’s more pliable and flexible than traditional acrylic powder.

Zummalien has found that fast- set acrylics work great on all nail types, but she is quick to point out that a good set of nails depends more on the proper application than on the product.

So if you’re thinking about trying your hand at a fast-set acrylic system, go ahead — you have nothing to lose, and precious time to gain.

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