When it comes to nail products, odor and safety have nothing to do with each other.

If I’ve heard once, I’ve heard it 100 times. Beauty salon owners, upon hearing I work for NAILS Magazine, tell me, “I’d really like to offer nails in my salon, but that smell. It can’t be healthy. And I know It would turn clients off.”

Hairstylists and other non-nail salon professionals respond in much the same way. “I don’t know how people can work around those chemicals. All that smell-it’s got to be bad for you. I don’t want to work in a salon that smells like that.”

Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Your salon doesn’t smell like that because you have proper ventilation. Your salon is just as safe as a hair salon for the same reason. You know that. I know that. The problem, whether you choose to face it or not, is that a lot of people, both salon professionals and clients, don’t know it. Salon owners use chemical odors as an excuse to keep nails out of their salons, and clients use the excuse to not get their nails done.

Now, before I launch into the main thrust of this article-which is the merits of odorless liquid and powder systems- let’s clear up a few misconceptions.

First and foremost, anyone who tells you odorless products are safe while products with a strong odor are dangerous is either misinformed or trying to misinform you. When it comes to nail products, odor and safety have nothing to do with each other.

When liquids evaporate, they turn into vapor. Vapor cannot be seen, but can often be smelled. When we breathe odoriferous vapors, they stimulate the highly sensitive ol-factory cells in our noses, signaling the brain that an odor has been encountered. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines odor as “a quality of something that stimulates the olfactory organ a sensation resulting from adequate stimulation of the olfactory organ.” Nowhere does Webster’s use the words danger, hazard, or even chemical, in association with odor.

Many potentially dangerous chemical vapors have no smell at all. Other, very safe chemicals smell terrible. And regardless of door, any chemical formulated for salon use is safe if used properly in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions, in a properly ventilated salon. In fact, strong odors in some ways promote safety. Think about it. If you have two chemical compounds and one emits a strong, unpleasant odor while the other emits none, which are you more likely to avoid smelling?

Don’t allow an absence of odor to give you a false sense of security. Overexposure to any chemical, no matter what it smells like, is dangerous. Odorless products require proper ventilation just as much as traditional products. In addition, it’s important to always cap your products between services to avoid evaporation. Not only does evaporation result in vapors and odors, it also changes the chemical makeup of your product.

Liquid and powder systems-sculptured nails and tips with overlay- are far and away the most popular services in most salons. Although these services are the backbone of the industry, they have been kept out of many beauty salons because of the odor associated with them.

Enter odorless technology. It’s important for technicians to realize that odorless liquid and powder systems with the odors removed. Odorless products have a completely different chemical structure than traditional systems, and application differs accordingly. Of course, the system still consists of a liquid monomer and a powder polymer. The polymerization that occurs when the two are mixed is still a chemical reaction that results in a cross-linking or crystallization, which forms the artificial nail. But because the chemical structure is different, the monomer and polymer are mixed in different proportions, and the consistency is different as well.

Odorless products vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and it is important for technicians to receive training from the manufacturer when using a new system. Some odorless systems, for example, harden much like traditional systems, while others require warm water or oil to complete the hardening process. Also some odorless products are formulated for use without primer, while others require priming. Whatever the differences in technique the end result is a nail similar to a traditional liquid and powder nail in appearance, strength, and durability.

Many established nail technicians who have been using traditional liquid and powder systems for years hesitate to try odorless products. Others have tried odorless systems and found they didn’t work as well. The reason for this, according to technicians who have made the switch successfully, is the difference in technique “I’ve met technicians who bought an odorless system and didn’t read the directions or didn’t take advantage of manufacturer training because they figured they knew how to apply all products,” says Sandi Cummings, a licensed nail technician and educator in Chicago. “Then they used the odorless system just like a traditional liquid and powder system, and they hated it. Well, of course they did. They were using it wrong, so it didn’t work.”

Technicians who do not have much experience with traditional systems tend to have better luck with odorless right from the start. In California, for example, the State Board of Cosmetology now requires that all nail students use odorless systems when they take their final exam. Therefore, many schools teach the odorless systems along with traditional systems, or teach odorless exclusively. These students are comfortable with the new technology, and therefore many of them prefer it.

The main difference between the two applications is the product’s consistency. Odorless systems are applied in a much drier formula than their traditional counterparts. While many traditional liquid and powder in a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio, odorless products almost universally are used in a 1:1 ratio.

“The powder particles in odorless are larger and the liquid is thicker, so it takes longer to absorb,” explains Linda DeFalco, owner of The Nail Loft in Coventry, Rhode Island.

Because of this, many odorless manufacturers recommend “double dipping” the brush in the powder. What this means is the brush is dipped in the liquid as usual, then in the powder to absorb the liquid, then dips the brush into the powder again.

“You don’t wipe the excess liquid out of your brush after you apply the ball of product to the nail,” adds Juli Miller Chen, co-owner of Studio One Salon in Perris, California. “Also, there’s not as much buildup in the brush, and the product doesn’t require as much filling.”

Once the technician is used to the new formula, odorless may even be easier to apply than traditional systems. “The odorless system requires a more passive application technique, “ explains Toni Jane Smith, who owns the nail business in Courtyard Coiffures, a full-service beauty salon in Columbus, Indiana. “The product is more self-leveling, so you don’t have to work it like you do traditional system.”

Most odorless systems do not completely harden on their own, which gives the technician more time to shape the sculpted nail and correct mistakes. The surface of a newly applied odorless nail will remain tacky until the top layer (called the “roll-off”) is filed off in the finishing process.

“At first, odorless products got a lot of negative publicity,” says Peggy Dorsett, a nail technician in Birmingham, Alabama. “The tacky roll-off was seen as a problem because technicians hadn’t seen it before. But now people are getting used to it and they like it.”

The roll-off, Dorsett points out, does provide an important benefit: The roll-off is much heavier than fillings from a traditional system, so it falls to the table instead of becoming airborne dust particles to be inhaled by the technician and client. Although dust is not eliminated by using odorless products, the amount of airborne dust is significantly reduced.

Again, it is important to remember that dust in itself is not dangerous. The minute particles of dust that are light enough to become airborne are not likely to cause any damage to the nose or lungs. Still, inhaling large amounts of any type of dust can irritate the lungs and nasal passages, and a dust-free environment is more pleasant for both the technician and the client.

Most of the technicians we spoke with use both odorless and traditional liquid and powder systems. Even technicians who use odorless product exclusively don’t see it replacing traditional systems.

“Odorless is definitely an important part of the industry,” says Toni Jane Smith. “It’s more marketable in areas where nails have been taboo because of the smell. I don’t see odorless replacing traditional systems, but they will go where odor couldn’t. I see a lot of future for odorless in beauty schools and in salons that are just adding nails.”

 The beauty school market is a big one, especially if more states follow California’s lead and require odorless systems to be used during testing. Spokespeople for the California State Board Emphasize that the decision to restrict students to odorless products is in no way a judgment on the comparative “safety” of one technology  over the other. Odorless products are required because examiners were complaining of the smell, particularly if the examination room was not well-ventilated. The State Board hastens to add that all nail products, no matter what they smell like, must be used in properly ventilated salons.

Some technicians have found that the properties of the two technologies vary just enough so that they appeal to a wider range of clients.

“Traditional products are harder, so they’re good for clients who are typists or bartenders-people who experience a lot of tip pressure,” asserts Cummings. “Odorless, on the other hand, is softer, more flexible. It’s good for nurses or people who have young children, people who need a lot of resilience in their nails.”

“I had a couple of clients who had problem nails, and traditional liquid and powder systems weren’t working on them,” says Barbara Griggs, manager of the nail department in Jeffreys Salon, a full-service beauty salon in Glen Burnie, Maryland. “S I tried odorless on them and it worked. Odorless product seems to adhere better on thin, weak nail plates. Also, the system I use doesn’t require primer, so it’s deal for clients who are allergic to primer.”

“We decide which product we will use based on the client’s lifestyles,” says DeFalco. “The odorless product is best for the client whose hands are in water a lot, or who takes care of young children. It’s also better for clients who have thin or damaged nail plates-maybe from improperly applied or removed product before. There’s no primer required with the odorless product I use, so there is no etching of the surface of the nail plate. The odorless product bonds to the surface of the natural nail, not to the underlying layers.”

“I’ve found that, when properly applied, odorless has a better adhesion,” says Smith. “It’s especially good for clients who are prone to a lot of lifting. I use it on clients who are on medications such as hormones, insulin, or thyroid medication because they tend to experience a lot of lifting.”

Other technicians, such as Juli Miller Chen, use odorless almost exclusively. “I work 12 or 13 hours a day, says Chen. “I was using traditional liquid and powder systems and, even though I have adequate ventilation in my salon, I was getting headaches. I don’t know if they were caused by the odor, but I figured I’d try an odorless product, just to see.” Still, Chen has a couple of clients on whom odorless doesn’t work, so she uses a traditional system on them.

All the technicians we spoke to, whether they use odorless exclusively or use both types of liquid and powder systems, agree that all artificial nail services offered in the salon must be priced the same.

“No matter what the services is, I’m supplying a quality service,” asserts Chen. “All applications are of equal value.”

Other technicians agree, adding that charging the same for wraps, tips, gels, and sculptured nails assures that clients will opt for the service that best suits their needs, rather than choose ones service over another based on price.

Odorless products are not likely to replace traditional sculpting products. Instead, they are another option technicians have, another service to offer to ensure that they can provide the best, most complete array of services possible to service the widest array of clients possible.

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