This acrylic bead is just the right consistency.

This acrylic bead is just the right consistency.

Acrylic systems require a precise liquid-to-powder mix to assure a durable nail and to prevent clients from developing an allergic reaction.

What happens when you mix liquid and powder?

When acrylic powder is mixed with liquid monomer, a chemical process called polymerization occurs. Polymerization is a chemical reaction in which molecules combine to form larger molecules that are repeating structural units of the smaller molecules; it results in the acrylic nail becoming one hard unit. However, if the liquid and powder are not measured and mixed properly, the product will not harden (polymerize) completely. The slightly “wet” product can cause clients to have a reaction to the product.

Why an improper mix can cause allergic reactions

Doug Schoon, industry scientist and author of Face to Face With Doug Schoon, describes how too much liquid can cause a reaction in a client’s nails: When liquid and powder are combined, they form a solid, much like sand, gravel, and water form cement. If there is too much liquid, some of the excess liquid flows into the cuticle area, causing damage there; the rest of the liquid pools at the nail bed and never has a chance to bind with the powder or evaporate.

The pool of excess liquid can sit on the nail bed for weeks or months. “If your client develops a reaction from acrylics, you can be sure it’s because you are using too wet of a mixture,” says Schoon.

Your bead of acrylic shouldn't pool too quickly.

Your bead of acrylic shouldn't pool too quickly.

Schoon has done research on how the ratio of liquid to powder affects the nails. According to Schoon, client’s allergic reactions are most frequently caused by incorrect ratios of liquid to powder. He says, “This is a top problem in the industry. Product manufacturers and distributors give use instructions so that their product works properly and has good retention, but they don’t stress that the wrong ratio will cause the client to develop a reaction. And this is so important. Think about it: You are open to a lawsuit if your client develops a reaction caused by improper mixing of the acrylic.”

Besides health concerns, product that is incorrectly mixed can create nails that are brittle, fragile, and prone to lifting. Overly wet product can also cause crystallization on top of the finished overlay.

NEVER EXCEED a ratio of 2:1

When liquid-to-power ratios are mentioned in product use instructions, the recommended ratio is usually between 1 ½ :1 and 2:1 (liquid to powder ). But besides the simple ratio, you must also know what consistency and wetness the product should be. Does the manufacturer recommend beads that are “medium-wet,” “firm,” or “medium-dry?” These terms can be confusing; one person’s “medium-wet” is another person’s “very wet.”

This acrylic bead is too wet.

This acrylic bead is too wet.

How to tell when your acrylic bead is too wet

Schoon offers a test technicians can perform at intervals during a nail service to make sure their beads are the correct consistency.

“Place a bead of product on a tip. A proper-consistency bead will flow slowly after 10-15 seconds, will not flatten, and will not have a pool of liquid around it. If the bead flattens, if there is a pool of liquid, or if it flows in 3-4 seconds instead of 10-15 seconds, it’s too wet—as much as four or five times too wet.”

The perfect bead holds its shape. Its consistency is like mayonnaise—it’s movable, but not runny. It doesn’t ooze or melt; it stays in ball form; it’s not so dry that it’s powdery.

Technicians may not even be aware that they are using more liquid than they should. Rena Rivera of Rena’s Nails in Jacksonville, Fla., says you can’t measure how much liquid and powder you use. “I work with a system that I think dries faster than other systems. The liquid seems to pick up more powder so I know it’s not too wet. I avoid dipping the brush into liquid as I sculpt.”

Jody Seagers, owner of Nails by Jody in Camarillo, Calif., says there’s a tendency to think you need more liquid when you really don’t. “There’s enough liquid in the brush to sculpt the overlay smooth without having to dip the brush into liquid again. Once you have the consistency of the bead right, if you redip the brush into liquid you get too much.”

You could simply watch how many bottles of liquid and powder you go through; if you use a 4-oz. bottle of liquid and 8-oz. container of powder in the same amount of time, you know you’re okay.

Some of the new faster-setting (traditional) systems are more sensitive to the liquid-to-powder ratios than the slower-setting systems. These faster-setting systems are temperamental and can set up so quickly that they could be dry before you’ve had time to sculpt. The bead should remain in ball shape when placed on the nail, says Nadine Galli, an instructor of traditional and odorless acrylics in Southern California.


Odorless systems require an even drier ratio than traditional systems. The manufacturers recommend a ratio of 1:1 (never more liquid than that), which results in a very pasty bead of product that seems difficult to work with at first. Technicians used to working with a wetter-consistency mixture are tempted to add more liquid to make the product as workable as traditional systems. But adding more liquid will result in a brittle nail, says Galli. She recommends a bead that is almost frosty in appearance. The bead can be white, as long as there is no powder flaking on it, says Galli. With odorless systems, after the bead is placed on the nail, the liquid soon comes to the surface and you can begin shaping. Odorless systems take longer to set up and longer to dry, so there is plenty of time for patting the product into shape. By practicing working with these systems, you soon can learn to sculpt and get the results you want without adding any more liquid.


It’s easy to get into bad habits with liquid. For instance, if you use a large brush, liquid can hide in the belly of the brush so that every time you pat product into shape on the nail, you release extra liquid on the nail. That liquid has to go somewhere. A small brush (size 6 or 7, for instance) won’t hold hidden liquid.

If you’re using additional liquid as you sculpt to help create a smooth finish, you’re again altering the product ratio, which could lead to poor-quality nails or a reaction to the product. Seagers says, “I see technicians wipe the brush dry, then dip it into liquid. You don’t have to do that---just use the liquid that’s in the brush.”

Nail technicians who use a one-ball method of application must be particularly careful to avoid getting too high of a liquid ratio. A big bead can hide its consistency and often is more wet than it appears.

Seagers prefers using several small beads of product instead of one or two large balls: “If you apply small beads, you can always add more product if you need it. But if you apply too much product, which can happen if you’re not careful with one and two-bead systems, then you have to do a lot of filing.”

Be careful when applying acrylic at the cuticle area

Applying product at and near the cuticle area requires extra care. Some product instructions say to apply “wet” or “medium-wet” beads at the cuticle area. Schoon says the beads should never be wet (more than 2:1 liquid to powder), especially in the sensitive cuticle area. Using two or three small beads in the cuticle area at this consistency may be easier to work with than one larger bead.

Diane Toranzo, a nail technician at State of the Art Nails in Altamonte Springs, Fla., applies a drier-consistency bead on the cuticle area than she does on the rest of the nail. “I do this to avoid getting any liquid on the skin,” she says. “The correct ratio of product on the nail is 2:1; the consistency should be so that the product is movable, but not runny.”

A “dry” bead is closer to 1 ½ : 1 ratio of liquid to powder. A wetter bead is closer to 2:1, but should never go beyond that.

Jane Hancock, a nail technician at Salon BonTon in Omaha, Neb., puts her first bead at the cuticle to make sure no product gets on the skin. She then works her way toward the free edge.

Seagers avoids brushing anywhere near the cuticle area. “You should keep the brush bristles on the overlay only,” she advises.

See if you are as good a judge of product ratio as you need to be by doing the tests suggested by these technicians. If you have several clients experiencing nail reactions, especially in the cuticle area, incorrect ratio may be the problem.

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