While a nail biter presents a nail technician with a great challenge, the right technique can make her nails a nail technician’s greatest work of art. Here, we offer two techniques — one with tips and one with forms — to aid you in helping this type of client trade an unhealthy habit for one that enhances her hands’ natural beauty.

The secret to sculpting on nail biters is creating an artificial free edge. “You have to build the pink out over the skin so you have something to attach the form to,” says Jewell Cunningham, Mayor of Nail City for Strata Nail Foundation (N. Hollywood, Calif.).

Before you get that far, however, you’ll have a lot of clean-up work to do on the client’s natural nails. For example, says Pal Van Strander, owner of Hair & Nail Works in New-burgh, N.Y., and an educator for OPI Products (N. Hollywood, Calif.), the cuticle will be overgrown and there will probably be lots of hangnails. Ideally, says Cunningham, these clients .should come in twice for a weekly manicure before you apply nails, which should be done in the third week.

Because there’s no free edge to attach a form to, you’ll have to build your own, say Van Strander, Cunningham, and Tammy Taylor of Tammy Taylor Nails (Irvine, Calif.). While the three agree on this point, their techniques for building an artificial free edge differ.

Van Strander applies a thin layer of clear acrylic over the skin where the nail plate should be, extending it back so that it attaches to the nail plate. Once this thin layer is dry, she gently loosens the skin away from the acrylic with an orangewood stick and attaches a form underneath it. From this point, she sculpts the nail as she would a normal nail, except that she keeps the length no more than ⅛-inch.

Cunningham, on the other hand, applies pink acrylic directly on the nail plate, working from the cuticle out toward the free edge. “When you get to the end of the existing nail plate, the acrylic won’t stick to the skin and will automatically make a free edge for you to attach the form to,” she says.

Taylor uses the traditional three-ball technique on nail biters, applying her first pink ball in the stress area to form the body of the nail. She squeezes the acrylic at the edges to form a C-curve. Next, she applies her form to sculpt the tip.

Both Van Strander and Cunningham apply forms under the edge of the artificial free edge they’ve: created, but Taylor recommends against this.

“If the white of the tip overlaps the pink, even by a fraction, it will make the nail too thick at that point and ruin the stability of the nail,” Taylor says. Instead, she butts the form up to the pink and builds the free edge with white acrylic. Next, she adds a pink ball to the body of the nail, stroking to blend it with the free edge. Finally, she adds a small ball at the cuticle and strokes it out.

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