Nails 101: A Student Blog

Week 3: Starting Liquid and Powder and Hands-On Practice

by Gregory Fletcher | September 23, 2019

This week we received lectures on chemistry and liquid and powder enhancements (acrylic). During the chemistry lecture, we learned about the building blocks of the universe, namely elements, atoms, and molecules. We learned that everything, except for light and electricity, is made of chemicals. For example, even something as “natural” as water is made from hydrogen and oxygen, which are both chemicals. So any commercial product that is marketed as “chemical free” is simply not possible!

The liquid and powder lecture was in a way an extension of the information covered in the chemistry chapter. We were introduced to a number of terms such as monomer (liquid), polymer (powder), and polymerization (chemical reaction). We learned that the two industry standards for monomer are ethyl methacrylate (EMA) and odorless monomer. A third form of monomer, methyl methacrylate (MMA) has been found by the FDA to be unsafe for use on nails. Unfortunately, some salons continue to use MMA on clients due to its relatively low cost and durability. Our lesson emphasized the importance of nail techs being adequately informed so they can use only the most appropriate products and protect their clients.


You may recall last week we had a lecture on basic manicuring; consequently, this week we had our first actual hands-on lab with real live people. We paired off with classmates and took turns giving each other manicures. Although I was somewhat nervous to play the nail tech role, fortunately my partner was very gracious and patient with me, helping to guide me through the process. With my “client’s” help and the conveniently placed “cheat sheet,” I managed to complete the lab successfully with all ten fingers still present and accounted for at the end of the service. (The physician’s adage “First do no harm” kept running through my mind).

The second lab this week was working with liquid and powder. We received a practice sheet with different size nails depicted on it, which are inserted into clear plastic sheet protectors. The assignment was to practice creating “beads” with the correct ratio of liquid to powder and then applying the bead to the practice sheet. Once the combined liquid and powder had cured we could simply peel off the finished result and reapply another practice bead. The California Cosmetology Board requires the use of odorless liquid during the state licensing exam, so that is what we practice with in class. Because odorless liquid products have slightly different formulations than do typical EMA products, odorless products tend to harden more slowly, which at this point gives me more time to work — a definite benefit!

We had one test this week on nail structure (my A average is still intact). This chapter covered the basic parts of the nail anatomy, which is collectively termed the natural nail unit. One of the important points is understanding the difference between cuticle (the dead colorless tissue that adheres to the nail plate) and the eponychium (the living skin at the base of the nail covering the matrix). Although the terms may frequently be used interchangeably, especially by the public, it is important for nail techs to understand the difference, since only one can be safely cut by nail techs. (Hint: Nail techs are never to cut living tissue!)

That was the third week of nail class. Next week we have three tests scheduled plus more labs, including pedicure lab. I imagine Shirley the practice hand will receive some liquid and powder enhancements. However, I am not certain if she will be expected to also double as a practice foot. We will see.

Bye for now!

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