Acrylic Nails

The French Dip - A Primer on Dipping Systems

You can dip it on, sprinkle it on, squeeze it on, or brush it on. Some nail technicians have never heard of it others denounce it and still others swear by it. Is power and glue a technique that went out in the eighties, or could it be staging a comeback?

In the early 1980s when fiberglass, wraps, gels, and acrylic systems were fairly new products, many nail technicians opted for nail dipping.

“From 1984 to 1988, nail dipping systems, a method of nail strengthening using acrylic powder and adhesive instead of monomer, were very hot all over the country. Just about every manufacturer had a dipping product on the market. Then, when wraps became popular in the late ‘80s, the nail dip business dwindled,” says Sunny Stinchcombe, VP of sales and marketing for Gena Laboratories (Duncanville, Texas).

Although some products did fall to the wayside, others picked up momentum. While some loyal followers perfected the dipping technique that is now called the “French dip,” others found new uses for adhesive and powder systems. Today, dipping and sprinkling are used to strengthen natural nails or overlays (usually tips) and to repair cracks or weak nails.

The fundamental components of the French dip technique are a quick-drying cyanoacrylate adhesive (thin viscosity), nail tips, and extremely fine, sometimes triple-sifted powder. Some systems include thicker adhesive gels for building or accelerators for quick drying. IBD’s 5 Second Nail Glue and Filler products, originally designed to repair and strengthen natural nails, are now being used as whole overlay systems or to fill in seams or ridges on nail tips.

Who Is Dipping?

“I have been doing nails for 20 years and have tried just about everything, including French dipping powders,” says Deborah Tuggle, a nail technician at Hot Tips Plus and director of the Nail Academy in Jamaica, N.Y. “Years ago, when clients started coming in with dips on their nails, I decided to try it myself. I had some lifting trouble with one product, but the others worked pretty well.”

Tuggle says that although the method is a durable and quick way to do nails, dipping is no longer practiced in her salon because of sanitation issues. “All the clients are dipping into the same powder and we don’t feel it is healthy,” she says.

Katie Williams, owner of The Nail Boutique in Bethlehem, Pa., says her clients love the French dip. “I’ve never had a complaint or problem with sanitation. I just pour an adequate amount of fresh powder into a dappen dish, dip the client’s nails, and throw out any excess product at the end of the service.”

Williams uses a product from Nails Direct called All- In-One adhesive nail system, which includes Just-Dip- In Nail Powder and Brush- On Gel (an adhesive and strengthener) to produce the French dip. She and her staff use the product on natural nails and as an overlay on tips. The average time for a full set is 40 minutes and costs $35.95. A fill takes less than a half hour and costs $20. Both are guaranteed for two weeks. Williams also uses it for repairs.

Liz Fojon, owner of Phenomanails & Hair in Fair Lawn, N.J., has been using All-in-One for 10 years. Today, all 15 of the nail technicians at her salon use it.

“We use the adhesive gel or both the gel and powder in conjunction with most other services. The brush-on gel works well on natural nail clients who need just a little help with their nails. We apply one coat of the gel before polish. This works much better than a base coat because it is so porous and holds on to the polish. The gel and dipping powder are applied directly on natural nails for the French dip or as a reinforcement over tips, wraps, gels, and fiberglass. It is also used for repairs,” says Fojon.

Convenience and speed are the keys behind the popularity of nail dipping in New York City, according to Tuggle, who works in the area and trains local technicians. “Salons here are using the French dip because it is so simple and fast,” she says.

Pinky Nail Salons, a chain of discount salons in New York City, charges $30 for a French dip with a manicure. Another New York City salon, Julia Nails, with 30 technicians at one location, charges $17 for a full set of French dipped nails. That is right in line with the prices Tuggle sees in her area that vary anywhere from $17 to $35 for a full set. “The discount salon owners are charging the same amount for a French dip as they do for a regular set of acrylics. The dip is twice as fast, so it is a big money-maker for them,” adds Tuggle.

The technique is simple and fast, but is it safe? Rolf Mast, an IBD technical advisor, thinks it is. “Powder is inert and shouldn’t cause skin irritation; however, when you mix and match adhesives and powder, there is no guarantee the products will cure properly,” he says.

Not all nail technicians embrace the technique. Dorothy Gdovin, owner of the Nail Spa in Howell, N.J., sees nail dipping as more of a home repair service than a salon service. “I don’t believe in the powder and glue systems. I don’t think they are as professional or reliable as regular acrylics, fiberglass, or gels,” Gdovin says.

Cathryn Myers, owner of The Nail Shop of Carrollwood in Tampa, Fla., used the technique in the ‘80s. “I brushed on an adhesive, then I either immersed the entire nail in acrylic powder, sprinkled it on with a shaker, or brushed it on. I remember sprinkling seemed to spread the powder more evenly.”

Myers, who quit experimenting with dips 10 years ago, says nail dipping still has its place in the industry. “There is an application for it in short-term use on natural nails or for repairs. But over time, you’ll get spider cracking. Just like any product that works great at first, if s what happens over the next six to eight weeks that separates the men from the boys, so to speak,” she says.

Vicky Canny, a nail technician and educator in Bound Brook, N.J., disagrees. She has been using, applying, and teaching the French dip for four years and has found it to be extremely durable. “When my area was hit with a flood in October 1996, 1 cooked and served meals at the relief shelter, helped fill and stack sandbags, and pulled out everything from telephone poles to rocking chairs that were floating down the main street of town. During the roughest week of my life, I never broke a nail,” she says.

Canny has added the French dip to her curriculum at local vocational schools where she teaches. “The technique and application are so simple that most of my students craft a perfect nail after just one session,” she says.

Those technicians perfecting the technique have found nail dipping to be durable and quick because it eliminates primers, curing time, forms, and sculpting and reduces the time spent shaping a nail. But, like any other technique, results (and opinions) will vary. The key to success with any technique is to try it and evaluate the results for yourself.

The French dip—All-in-One System

1) Clean, sanitize, and lightly etch the nail.

2) Apply a tip.

3) Apply a thin coat of Brush-On Get or other adhesive product.

4) Pour a small amount of the Just-Dip-In Nail Power or other dipping powder into a shot glass (a dappen dish may be too shallow for longer nails)

5) Tip the glass toward the client as she dips her nail into the glass so the powder covers the entire nail plate and tip.

6) Brush or dust off excess powder with a soft bristle brush.

7) Repeat steps 3 and 5.

8) Apply a final layer of adhesive gel.

9) To dry instantly, spray two, short squirts of accelerator no closer than 6-8 inches from the nail (optional).

10) When all 10 nails are done, return to the first nail to buff and finish. Use a white buffer to smooth and shape.

Technique for repairing a natural nail break or tear—5 Second Nail Glue and Filler

1) Wash and dry hands.

2) Apply a drop of 5 Second Nail Glue or other adhesive over repair area

3) Sprinkle a thin coat of 5 Second Filler Powder or other dipping powder over the nail glue.

4) Re-apply nail glue to the filler area.

5) Gently file the repaired area.


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A term for artificial nails preferred (over “artificial nails”) by many nail professionals; can refer to acrylics, gels, wraps, or tips.
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