There’s an old saying that you can never be too rich or too thin. Modify that a little bit and you have the motto of dedicated wrap users: You can never be too strong or too thin. Because wraps rely on a combination of fabric mesh and adhesive, nail technicians are able to create very thin and lightweight natural-looking nails that can hold up as well as acrylic. NAILS talked to 26 wrap devotees who say that they prefer wraps because they’re odorless, easy to apply, and generate much less filing dust than other product systems.


Wraps offer the same strength as acrylics and gels, but you can build a much thinner nail with wraps because the adhesive and material combine their best qualities and work together as a team. The adhesive provides a hard, strong coating while the fabric creates a flexible nail.

The way wraps work can be likened to the way cement works. If cement is poured into a mold without a supporting metal grid, it is more likely to crack as the earth beneath it shifts. likewise, without the wrap material, the adhesive is more brittle and likely to crack or break when the nail moves.

There are three components to a basic wrap system: mesh, adhesive, and activator. The mesh provides strength and flexibility; the adhesive allows adhesion and strength; and the activator speeds the adhesive drying time. Although there are just three basic components, you can use different types of each element. For example, your mesh can be either silk, linen, or fiberglass; you can adhere with standard nail adhesive, quick-set adhesive, or no-light gel; and you can use a brush-on, drop-on, or spray-on activator. Most manufacturers provide complete systems, and you should not mix and match components.


Fiberglass and silk are the most popular wrap materials, with linen making a strong showing Each material has benefits, but the deciding factor in which mesh you use is what’s best for each client. Fiberglass and silk are both strong, transparent, thin, and easy to apply. Fiberglass has long been credited as the strongest wrap material, but several marketers say that on the nail fiberglass isn’t noticeably stronger than other meshes.

“Fiberglass thread is stronger, but there is a ratio of three silk threads to one fiberglass thread in mesh. It’s really your preference,” says Monica Ladd, national director of sales and education for Soft Touch (Brea, Calif.).

Linen is less popular than silk or fiberglass because the material is heavier and more tightly woven.

But its proponents say it can’t be beaten for strength. Linen has thick, tightly woven fibers and can be visible through the adhesive. However, it’s ideal for clients with especially weak nails or active lifestyles. After two coats of polish, you’ll never know it’s there except for the strength it gives, says Chris Jahn, marketing director for Star Nail Products (Valencia, Calif.).

Some technicians prefer silk or linen because they’re natural fibers (fiberglass is a synthetic material).Silk is porous and can absorb the adhesive, which makes the mesh transparent on the nail. Because fiberglass will not absorb adhesive, it is difficult to conceal. In response to this concern, manufacturers have modified their fiberglass systems to include a thin glue that surrounds the fiberglass fibers to make them more transparent.


When wraps were first introduced, the meshes didn’t have self-adhesive backings or precut pieces. Technicians had to size the material on the nail, hold it in place while cutting, and apply the adhesive — all without letting the material shift or wrinkle.

Things have definitely changed for the better. Many companies still offer non-adhesive backings and bulk sheets and strips, but now you can buy mesh in ½ - to 1-inch precut strips of varying lengths and precut fingers already rounded at the ends. With precut, self-adhesive fingers, you can size the length and width of the nail, cut the material, and lay it on the nail in a matter of seconds.

If you use a non-adhesive material, you must “base” the nail by applying a thin coat of resin before placing the material. “You have to be careful, because if your fabric buckles or wrinkles you have to start over,” says Jahn. The adhesive coating on the mesh will not interfere with the wrap adhesive, she adds.


Resin, adhesive, glue, no-light gel—wrap adhesives are called many names, but they are all cyanoacrylate-based adhesives that adhere the wrap to the natural nail. The difference in adhesives is their viscosity, or thickness. So-called resins, adhesives, and glues are all medium viscosity adhesives that can be spread with the adhesive bottle nozzle. No-light gels are thick viscosity adhesives that are brushed on the nail like nail polish. No-light gels have become more popular for use with wraps in the past year because one coat of no-light gel and activator is the equivalent of 2-3 coats of resin and activator. Many manufacturers now offer a choice between traditional adhesives and no-light gels.

Whether you choose a no-light gel or traditional thick adhesive, you still need to use a very thin adhesive to saturate the wrap material enough to conceal the mesh.


Without an activator, adhesives take up to five minutes to dry and no-light gels can take 24 hours or more. Activators — also called accelerators or catalysts — reduce this drying time to just seconds, making wraps a time-efficient salon service.

Activators contain a catalyst that starts the polymerization process from the top of the nail. There are brush-on, drop-on, and spray-on activators. All quicken drying, but are formulated differently and work at different speeds. For example, spray-on activators contain a higher concentration of catalyst than brush-on activators because they are sprayed 12 to 16 inches from the nail (and some catalyst is lost in the air), while brush-on activators are brushed directly on the wet adhesive. Never brush on a spray activator because the higher concentration of catalyst in spray activators may burn the client Likewise, spraying a brush-on activator would probably not dry the nail because it contains a lower concentration of catalyst.


The most common complaint about wraps centers around die activator. Fortunately, eliminating burning, pitting, brush hardening, and odor is often a matter of just following instructions.

Burning can happen as a result of misuse — when too much activator is applied, spray activator is sprayed too close to the nail, or adhesive is applied too thick. The chemical reaction that quickens drying can occur too quickly and cause clients’ nails to burn. In the NAILS wrap poll, the nine technicians who experienced occasional burning problems were all using a spray activator.

“As the polymerization converges toward the center of the nail, there’s more friction between the molecules,” says Richard Rosenberg, vice president of Isabel Cristina Nail Products (Teaneck, N.J.). “It’s a chain reaction. As the reactions converge in the middle of the nail, there’s less space and the molecules bombard each other more quickly, giving off more heat and causing burning.” However, the burning that is associated with spray activators can usually be eliminated by spraying 12 to 16 inches from the nail.

Pitting is also caused by misuse of the spray activator, say manufacturers. “It’s supposed to mist onto the nail,” says Ladd, “but if the sprayer spits, it dents the nail and creates tiny holes [pitting].” Use a firm pumping action to get a fine mist. Also, hold tire bottle the recommended distance from the nails when you spray, usually 12 to 16 inches.

Despite the occasional problems, many technicians still prefer spray activators for their speed. Because they contain more catalyst, spray activators take 15 to 30 seconds less than brush-ons to dry adhesive. Technicians also say that one pump of spray activator is enough for four nails, while brush-on and drop-on activators must be applied to each nail separately.

Brush hardening is unique to brush-on activators. “Cyanoacrylate adhesive is made to dry on contact with something,” says Tom Shay, general manager of Becky Lynn Co. (Valencia, Calif.). “As soon as you brush the activator on the nail there is a certain amount of glue on the brush. If the brush touches anything, such as die side of the bottle, the glue will dry. The trick to brush-on activators is to avoid contact with anything except the gel and activator.” Most marketers who offer a brush-on activator also sell a brush cleaner.

Activator odor is most noticeable with spray activators because you’re spraying the product in the air. Some marketers add fragrance to their activator to hide offensive odor, but you can limit your exposure to chemicals by wearing a mask and having adequate salon ventilation (see “Activators and Your Health”).


“It’s not so much what’s new in wraps,” says Ben Edwards, president of Design Classic (Escondido, Calif.), “it’s what’s safer. Everybody is striving to give nail technicians safer products that are non-dam- aging to the nail.”

Edwards says adhesives have been improved. “Resins are stronger, more pure this year.” The application technique has been refined with some systems, and many marketers, he saw, have added thin adhesives to their systems to help make materials invisible. No-light gels aren’t new either, but many companies are incorporating them into their systems.

Many marketers hint that a new activator formulation is in the works. There is much speculation that OSHA or the EPA will soon regulate the use of 1.1.1.-trichloroethane in activators (the chemical in which catalyst is dissolved), and several marketers say they are exploring alternative ingredients (see “Activators and the Environment”).


The most common complaints marketers hear about wrap systems are clogged adhesive bottles, visible mesh, frayed mesh, and lifting. Before you blame the product, marketers recommend analyzing your own technique first. A few adjustments in your application will eliminate most problems.

Leaving the adhesive bottle open or spraying activator over an open bottle will cause clogging. Wrap adhesives are cured by the residual moisture that lies on surfaces, and if you leave the adhesive bottle open, it will attract moisture in the air and eventually thicken and dry out.

If adhesive remains in the bottle’s neck, it will quickly dry and clog the bottle. Jahn recommends tapping the bottle on the table after each use to draw the adhesive back to the bottom of the bottle. Always make sure your adhesive is capped before spraying activator.

Visible mesh is a common complaint with fiberglass material because the fibers are not porous. Says Sunny Stinchcombe of Gena Laboratories (Duncanville, Texas), “Applying a thin costing of nail glue over the mesh before using gel and activator will eliminate the visible fibers.”

Overfiling can also make mesh visible, says Terri Smith of Backscratchers (Sacramento, Calif.). If you file down to the mesh, the material will show and may weaken. If this happens, she advises technicians to re-saturate the material with a thin glue and re-coat with adhesive or no-light gel.

Sometimes you may inadvertently over file by using the wrong file. “With traditional powders and liquids, you would use from 80-grit to 120- or 180-grit files,” says Ladd. “With a wrap system, your coarsest file is a 120-grit and you would use up to a 240-grit file. Cyanoacrylates file much more easily than acrylics.”

Sharp mesh scissors are the key to preventing frayed mesh. Says Terri Lundberg, national education director of Simply Elegant (Huntington Beach, Calif.), “If your acrylic brush wears out you replace it. The same goes for your wrap scissors. Keep them sharp and keep glue off of the blades or your mesh will fray.”

Bias-cut material (mesh cut on a bias instead of with the grain) also cuts down on fraying, says Beth Hickey, national sales manager for Origi-Nails (Arlington, Texas).

Lifting with wraps is primarily caused by improper nail plate preparation. Because wrap systems do not use primers, it’s especially important to remove all oils and debris from the nail plate before you start the application.

Another common cause of lifting with wraps, says Smith, is placing the material too close to the skin. If the material or adhesive touches the skin, body oils can cause lifting. Also, make sure you completely seal the mesh under the adhesive.

When deciding whether to use a wrap, gel, or acrylic, technicians consider several factors. Consider the client s lifestyle and the look she wants. Also, although perhaps unfairly, acrylics have fallen from favor with many clients, who may be looking for an alternative. A wrap application may be right for them.

“It’s custom servicing,” says Debra Daniel of Nails by Debra (Vista, Calif.). Daniel prescribes wraps for clients with normal, nicely shaped nails and low-to medium-activity lifestyles. If a client is extremely active or just needs extra strength, linen wraps can provide the necessary added strength.

Several technicians say they choose wraps if the client has healthy natural nails and is just interested in added strength or length.

Finally, prescribe wraps as an alternative service for clients who are allergic to acrylic or gel. The wrap market is growing and sales are up, say marketers, because the demand for natural-looking (but long and strong) nails is increasing.

The demand will only increase, they predict, because technicians like the ease of application as much as clients like the look.


Manufacturers always recommend against mixing product systems, but in a NAILS poll of 26 technicians using wraps, many mix systems anyway. They find that an activator from one company works well with the adhesive from another, or they simply prefer putting together their own system to save money.

“Manufacturers spend a lot of time, energy, chemical work, and they do an enormous amount of research,” says Jane Schiff of NaturalGlass (Princeton, N.J.). “The products are guaranteed when used with each other in the manner prescribed by the company. You can’t expect to get the best results chemically unless you do.”

A manufacturer’s guarantee won’t apply if you use one manufacturer’s material with another’s adhesive and activator, says Tom Shay, “We find most of our complaints come from people using parts of someone else’s system. If you’re using someone else’s adhesive, I can’t guarantee my silk won’t lift because my silk is just one part of the system.

“When most manufacturers come out with a system, they test every product on the market and find a particular combination works best together,” he says.

One reason you shouldn’t mix products is because adhesives come in different thicknesses, and activators are formulated to activate at different speeds According to Eric Montgomery, OPI Products’ chemist (N. Hollywood, Calif.), one system’s activator may contain too high a concentration of catalyst for another system’s resin. If it does, the client may experience burning.

Most important, if a client has a problem and you have mixed components from different manufacturers’ systems, you assume full product liability “If you use one manufacturer’s adhesive and someone else’s activator and you burn the client,” says Doug Schoon, owner of Chemical Awareness Training Services (Newport Beach, Calif.), “you’re on your own You can’t bring a manufacturer into a lawsuit if you mix products or don’t follow directions You’ve ignored warnings and common sense “


Most of the health concerns expressed by the nail technicians we spoke to were directed at spray activators. Nail industry chemists Eric Montgomery and Doug Schoon address these issues.

Activators have two components. Catalyst (usually N,N-Dimethyl-p-toluidine) is the active ingredient in activators that speeds the adhesive’s drying time.

The catalyst, often known to technicians as aromatic tertiary amine, is toxic to humans in a 100% solution, says Montgomery. But catalyst is diluted to 0.1% to 1% in activators “There’s not a lot of potential for harm as far as getting it on the skin,” says Montgomery.

However, Schoon says the amount of catalyst absorbed by a technician’s skin might pose a problem over time. “You don’t want to develop an allergic reaction, so keep the tabletop clean and wear gloves. One or two sprays on the client’s hands is nothing, but if you do it 15 or 20 times a day on your own hands, you can quickly become overexposed.”

Montgomery is more concerned about exposure through inhalation. “When you put it in aerosol or pump form, you can get higher concentrations absorbed in the blood stream through inhalation,” he says. “It’s not as much a hazard for the individual client, but for the tech who’s exposed to 30 or 40 sprays a day, this could potentially pose a problem. But until someone does a study on techs using this product and finds a problem, the jury is out.”

Richard Rosenberg, a spray activator manufacturer, defends the product, “Whenever you’re using any type of chemical, you should be using ventilation that draws out the stale air and brings in fresh air. That’s with any chemicals — acrylics, polish, etc. The percentages of chemicals in activators are so minuscule that if you’re using proper ventilation there’s not a problem.”

Schoon recommends brush-on and drop-on activators because they’re easier to control. “You can work safely with spray catalysts; it just takes more attention,” he says. He suggests if you use a spray activator to spray as infrequently as possible, and confine the spray to as little volume as possible.


The catalyst in activators is diluted to 1% or less in a solvent, which evaporates on the nail. 1.1.1-trichloroethane and Freon, the solvents most frequently used in activators, have been under attack for several years because they are known ozone layer depleters. Few manufacturers, if any, use Freon anymore because of its effect on the environment and because of its escalating cost. Manufacturers speculate that the EPA or OSHA will soon also regulate industry use of 1.1.1- trichloroethane.

Ben Edwards advises technicians to keep the issue in perspective. “What we’re emitting is so minimal that it’s not doing the ozone layer much harm. Look at your car and the asphalt we’ve poured all over the world,” says Edwards.

Manufacturers are currently seeking new solvents and formulations that are safer for the environment. “I give the regulators two years before manufacturers have to get rid of 1.1.1-trichloroethane,” says Doug Schoon. “I congratulate the manufacturers for going after the change on their own and looking for a new formulation. Right now, it’s a matter of finding it.”


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.