Nail Trends

Great Expectations

When nail technicians are asked to create their ideal products, their responses range from the practical to the fantastic.

We asked our readers in last year’s reader survey this question: “If you could create any new product or service, what would it be?” The responses ranged from simple (larger finger bowls) to highly complex (quicker gel removal products). Today, product innovations have made many of those wishes come true. Quicker drying polishes, top coats with UV filters, and non-yellowing products abound. But for those requests that are still unfulfilled, here’s how to achieve the benefits you want with the products that are available now. While manufacturers are always working to build better mousetraps, these hints and techniques will help you catch the most clients with your technical finesse.

Nail Technicians America section director Shirley Thomas says her wish list includes a request that technicians not be so anxious to do everything in a hurry. But in a hurry you are. The number one wish list request was faster-acting products, and more than 26% of you made it clear that time is money.

To work faster without sacrificing quality, Toni Jane Smith, a section director for the National Cosmetology Association(NCA) and owner of Details, A Cos-


Although many polishes today dry in half the time as polishes past, Smith offers two practical strategies to further speed the process.

 “I use a heating pad at every station for the client’s hands,” she discloses. “Keeping her hands a consistent temperature accelerates drying time. Also, using fresh polish is a major factor. Once a bottle is half empty, I sell it for $1 a bottle and make a $200 instant profit on my junk drawer polish. Two times a year my salon gives away partially used polishes to nursing homes or homeless shelters.

Curtain hastens drying time yet another way. To keep oils off the natural nail, she applies a nail dehydrator prior to polishing. Then, she applies a base coat followed by a thin layer of polish and uses top coat around the edges to ensure up to a week’s wear.

Adds Curtain, “I use a nail light to dry polish instead of a fan. A chemist explained to me that polish ingredients need heat for the molecules to expand and dry from the base to the top. It’s the same concept as when they use heat lamps to dry a newly painted car. Also, this makes the polish hard. I tell my clients that when they change their polish at home, they should dry it by holding their hands close to a desk lamp, but not so close that they injure themselves.”

Pat VanStrander of Ashley Morgan Ltd. In Newburgh, N.Y., also uses a light to dry nails and says the UV system she discovered completely dries polish in three minutes.

 “I’ve picked up 50% more business by advertising winter pedicures that can be done during lunch hour without worrying about smudging half-dried polish,” she says. “The system works with a special top coat and I discovered it at the International Beauty Show. It just goes to prove that attending shows pays off.”

And for the ultimate in savvy moves, Curtain has her manicure clients remove their own polish and wash their hands with an antiseptic while they’re waiting for their appointment. Not only does this save her time, it cleverly encourages salon sanitation.

 “I wear nail art and joke that I’m not going to remove my artwork with their polish,” she says. “But really, it’s a safety factor so I’m working on clean hands. It also just happens to be a time-saver.


At the time of the survey, your third-ranking request was for non-yellowing products. Today, a number of companies offer second-generation liquid and powder systems, which, according to the manufacturers, are virtually non-yellowing. Additionally, high-tech top coats contain UV inhibitors. Your recommendation that clients apply a fresh coat every other day can stall yellowing and help you sell those products retail.

Adds Smith, “In my opinion, once a top coat is thinned, it’s no good for preventing yellowing, particularly on a French manicure. Also, you’d be amazed how brush cleaner residue left on a sable brush can cause acrylics to yellow. Clean your brush before each use and temper it weekly by shampooing and conditioning it.”

Curtain offers another obvious but unthought of trick. “Remember your color theory,” she says. “Blue and violet cancel out yellow, so to minimize a yellow appearance, use a blue- or violet-based clear polish or base coat. The neutralizing color will come through.

Other technician tips include telling the clients to avoid dishwater and letting them know that smoking and using tanning lotions can increase yellowing.


According to Smith, when it comes to lifting, bottles have no brains; or in other words, it isn’t the product’s fault. It’s all in the technique. “Barring [a client’s] hormones and medication, preventing lifting is up to you,” she expounds.

According to Curtain, antibiotics and thyroid medication can cause lifting, which can in turn create a breeding ground for infection under the product. So know what your clients are taking.

Smith’s no-lift prepping technique, which her salon guarantees, involves treatment of the nail bed with a cuticle solvent and pumice stone.

 “Take care that no membrane from the cuticle attaches itself to the nail,” she advises. “Then, double cleanse with an antiseptic to get rid of everything and apply one coat of a non-acid primer before you apply acrylic.

 “Avoid contaminating your product with dust particles,” she continues. “Fill a bowl with just the primer you need and cleanse and refill the bowl between clients. Don’t let your primer sit open gathering dust.”

To head off lighting problems, Smith requires regular visits for fills and only guarantees her work if clients use professional products and maintain their nails by the salon’s standards. Clients are charged for missed fill appointments, and if they make home repairs they must return to the salon within three days maximum.

Others causes of lifting, according to Smith, are prying the cuticle too much and overfilling. “If you break down the molecular structure, it’s like overworking Play-Doh,” she adds. “Perfect your brush technique and maintain the natural nail’s health for total adhesion.”

While many technicians use methacrylic acid-based primer as a bonding agent prior to applying the powder and liquid, Arlyne Parness, northeast regional manager for OPI, says this can pit the natural nail and make product take longer to dry. She suggests a bonding agent that dries faster with no pitting. In addition, she recommends applying a pH balancer prior to the bonding agent to create the perfect receptor for anything acrylic, including nail polish. “This helps nail polish stay on longer and boosts acrylic adherence,” she says.

In addition to non-lifting acrylics, a number of you asked for better antifungal products. Although the effectiveness of topical antifungal products hasn’t been proven, there are ways to prevent the infections that can develop from improper application or maintenance of acrylic extensions. When moisture is the perpetrator, often it’s because of the client glued her own nail down and delayed coming in for a repair. Parness offers this hint: “Tell your client that if her nail lifts and she can’t get to the salon, to use her blow dryer to dry the natural nail before applying a glue you recommend.”

And for less acrylic filing, another frequent request, Curtain adds this hint: Try very fine powder that’s pre-sifted two to three times and taper it into the cuticle area so it’s thinner.

 “You realize less lifting and less filing,” she asserts.


Continuing on the speed theme, a number of you told us you wanted quicker gel removal products. Since environmentally safe practices are also a concern, we favor safe and gentle ways to remove gels. Generally, you can’t have it both ways---anything that acts extremely fast is also caustic. That’s just how chemistry works.

Boyd teaches gel classes for the NCA and relies on gels for the bulk of her salon business. According to her, “The quickest way to remove gels is to buff them. If they are applied properly, they are thin anyway and will file away easily. As a rule, I don’t believe in soaking the hands in chemicals to remove products.

 “It should take 30 minutes to remove gels, and I charge the client the same price as for a fill appointment,” she continues.

Smith has her clients place their hands in a warm glass dish with the removal product and marbles. “As the client plays with the marbles, the rotation of the warm product expedites removal,” she claims.

And for those of you who insist on maximum speed, Thomas says she uses pure acetone as a soak and a coarse file.


Longer-lasting, non-chipping polish is many a technician’s dream and according to our sources, using fresh polish is the first line of defense.

 “Old product chips faster,” claims Smith. “Cap the end of the nail with top coat or give the natural manicure client who is chipping a silk overlay. If you simply can’t solve the problem, offer an alternative service at a higher price.”

Emollient-based polish removers can also encourage chipping, so Smith cleanses the nail plate with a dehydrating antiseptic instead of polish remover before applying polish. “You can even use vinegar and water. When the pH of the nail plate is a bit more alkaline, you’ll get a chip-resistant finish.”

Adds Curtain, “Teach clients how to create a chip-free polish at home. Tell them to polish their primary hand first. If they’re right handed that will be the more difficult hand for them, so they should do it first when they have more patience. Then show them how to put polish on the free edge first, then apply an overlay of polish on top, and finish by wrapping the top coat under the free edge.”


While less than 2% of you wanted “odourless systems that work,” we did pass on the word. According to Parness, the concept behind odourless systems is that the liquid does not evaporate, so the liquid to powder ratio differs from traditional systems.

Says Parness, “In traditional systems, the ratio is two parts liquid to one part powder. In odourless systems, the ratio is one part liquid to one part powder. These systems cannot be used successfully without education because of such differences.”

In addition, Parness suggests using a brush that picks up less liquid, since you’re using less. Her suggestion: a square-edged brush that’s less dense or bulky than the one you use for  traditional systems.

 “The hairs should be more spread out so they hold less liquid,” she explains. “For proper consistency, pick up enough powder so you see a frosted appearance, which is about the size of an aspirin.  Also, become extremely aware of just how much roll-off to expect, then compensate by making the product slightly thicker.”


Better treatments for improving the condition of the natural nail is a growing demand, but Thomas says that sometimes technicians expect too much.

 “The first thing is to know when you should recommend a dermatologist,” she asserts, suggesting a physician referral system for any technician who sees a nail infection, swollen cuticles, or worse. “Know when to say no.”

Curtain offers clients one free acrylic nail, which works as a patch test for allergic reactions and fixes tears in the natural nail by “sewing it.”

 “I work fibreglass threads the size of dental floss into the tear, drop glue on it, and nip off the excess,” she says.

And Boyd’s “natural nail enhancement” uses what she calls a semi-permanent base coat.

 “Apply a very thin coating of UV cured gel in a free form fashion to match the natural nail,” she explains. “The natural nail will grow under it and you can see right through it. This also prevents polish from chipping, and clients can take off their polish without removing the gel.

 “Every three weeks my clients get a refinish. When they come in I shorten the nail, remove the shine, and apply a single coat of the gel again. You won’t get buildup if you prep the nail properly for the thickness you want.”


Environmentally safe products are on everyone’s mind, and working safely means limiting your exposure. Your best weapon to do that is source control. With this in mind, Smith says she did three things that improved her air quality by 75%.

 “First, I lowered the wattage of my table lights,” she says. “I found that the concentration of heat was causing liquid to evaporate too quickly, which put more product in the air. I changed from a 100-watt bulb to a 13-watt tube light. Then, I made it a salon rule that all products must be stored in pump dispensers so there is no spilling, cross contamination, or waste. Also, I use a fresh strip of linen to wipe the acrylic brush on and immediately dispose of it in an airtight container. A pickle jar in your drawer works well.” She doesn’t hold clients’ hands either.

 “If you hold clients’ hands, you’ll expose your own hands six to eight times a day,” she explains. “I don’t want to eat or drink my own product.”

In addition to source control, Thomas says that efficient ventilation---to the outside---is a must.

 “Every technician should be aware of what OSHA recommends,” she says.

And like them or not, glasses are important part of safety. “Contact lenses simply absorb too much when you’re doing acrylics,” says Curtain. “As much as I hate my glasses, I wear them and I offer my clients safety glasses, too.”


With myriad products for every possible situation and distinct differences among clients, the best way to solve any problem is to experiment. Play a little and enjoy discovering what works best. Then, share it with the rest of us. After all, a secret that’s yours alone won’t get the message out to consumers that nails are not something anyone can do at home.

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