Getting Polish to Stay

For all the work you do to get your clients’ polish to last — from buffing to using the best in top coats — something keeps making it chip and tear away. Frustrated? Read on for tips from some of the trade’s utmost experts on how to make polish longer-lasting.

Do some clients come in for their weekly manicures with hardly a nick in their polish while others come in looking like they got in a fight with a paper shredder? How can this happen when you used the same techniques and product on both clients, you wonder?

In a fantasy world, clients’ manicures would look as good one week later as they do the moment the polish has dried. Unfortunately, in real life, many clients don’t even make it an hour before a smudge has ruined your beautiful polish job. It’s the same story for many a nail technician. Yet, when questioned, most technicians say they don’t change their method because they feel the tried and true buffing, using two coats of polish, and a top coat usually does the trick. But to get all of your clients’ polish to last equally as long, sometimes you have to waver from your normal routine and try different tricks on different clients. Because, as we’ll explain later, not all clients’ nails are created equal.

The Basics

Several factors contribute to the wear of a manicure. How clients use their hands is one of the greatest single factors. Further, it greatly depends on the basic characteristic of the fingernails. For example, some clients may have weak, soft ridges, while others have strong, sturdy nails.

“Good product choice and precise product application are the two most important components to getting polish to last,” says veteran nail technician Elsbeth Schutz. Schutz’s philosophy is that there’s no need to use “tricks.” “When you’re using quality products and common sense, you shouldn’t have any problems,” she says.


Do your own tests. Try a variety of polish brands on the same few clients to see which polish holds up the best. You can also paint each of your own nails with a different brand and wear it for seven days. For your active clients, have them do everything from gardening to washing dishes to see which brands stand up best.

The Perfect Polish Job

Make sure nails are clean. Laura Bui, a nail technician at Brentwood Nail Design in Los Angeles, says cleanliness is key. “You need to be sure the natural nail is as clean as it can be. Clean your clients’ nails with an acetone- based nail polish remover that contains hydrating oils so there are no lotions left on them,” she says.

Marlee Willis of Glam! Nails and More in Elmhurst, Ill., agrees: “Prep is the most important step. Polish only sticks to a clean nail plate.” Anakah Reed of Creative Concepts Salon in Chattanooga, Tenn., says don’t brush it on. Instead, “use a lint-free wipe.”

Remove any stains. Sometimes nail polish, dirt, and bacteria can stain the nails. This can be removed by using a cotton swab or an orangewood stick with a cotton tip. Soak the cotton in 10 parts water mixed with one part bleach, then rub the nail where the stain is. This will remove most stains from the nails. Scrub under the nails with a nail brush or toothbrush with soap or bleach solution to remove stains under the nails.

Experiment with different base coats. Schutz recommends trying “sticky and rubberized” base coats that act like a double-sided tape to assure maximum adhesion. “The difference can be amazing,” she says. Sixteen-year veteran Darlene Feric of Escape Nail Spa in Antioch, Ill., says, “I’ve even put a coat of brush-on resin as a pre-base coat for clients who really have problems with polish adhesion.”

Have patience. “Be sure to let the base coat dry for at least one minute,” says Penny Clouse, a 16-year veteran of Penny’s Nails in Maggie Valley, N.C. “The base coat helps to keep polish from chipping so don’t hurry over this important step.”

Apply two coats of polish. You should be able to cover the nail in three stokes, one on each side and one in the middle. Do this twice.

Apply the polish in several thin coats instead of thick ones. The thicker the polish layers, the longer it will take to dry, and the more likely it is to chip or smudge.

Don’t shake. Willis says, “I roll the polish bottle between my palms instead of shaking the bottle before applying it. Shaking it can cause air bubbles, which can cause polish to peel.” Edge the nail. Reed says the best way to prevent chipping is to “edge” the nail with a nail brush. She says, “Add a horizontal brush stroke across the top of the nail. This acts as a sort of sealant.”

Allow drying time. Always allow your clients’ polish to dry thoroughly for several minutes before you apply the next coat. This will avoid the new coat from dragging on the surface of the previous coat and allow the next layer to adhere better. Darker shades take longer to dry. Some techs complain that fast-drying polish doesn’t last as long.

Once polish has dried, apply a clear top coat to seal it. Continue to apply the top coat daily to keep nails looking fresher longer.

Consider using a UV-light dryer. “The best way to dry nails fast is to use a UV light dryer,” says Willis. The heat will speed hardening even with non- UV top coats and polishes.

Buffing nails can give them a shinier finish. Start at the cuticle and work your way down to the tip with medium pressure. Don’t use a back-and-forth movement as heat builds up and this can damage nails. Continue lightly until all ridges on the nail surface have disappeared. “If the nail has ridges, the polish won’t go on as well,” explains Bernadette Veramontes of All Nail Revue in Las Cruces, N.M.

Keep Nails Strong

File nails when the free edge has grown out 1/4-inch, says Clouse. “Filing nails before they are 1/4-inch long can weaken the nail. Allowing the nail to grow to a length longer than the base length will ensure that they pretty much break easily. Filing from side to side can also weaken nails. When filing, go from the corner to the center in one direction. Follow the groove on the side of the nail.” File right. Veramontes’ secret weapon is carefully filing. “File in one direction, not back and forth like a regular emery board.”

Clients Do Their Bit

“It’s a nail tech’s responsibility to educate her clients on home maintenance,” explains Schutz. “Daily life is already tough enough on our nails — water is your nails’ biggest enemy. Using a hand cream is so important because hands and nails need to constantly be moisturized.”

Have clients apply top coat often. To really keep nails looking fresh, they should apply a new top coat every couple of days and stay away from nasty housework. Water and chemicals will lead to faded and chipped nails. For clients who really want their manicures to last, tell them to invest in indoor and outdoor work gloves.

Stick to one color for at least a week. “Urge your clients not to remove and reapply polish more than once or twice a week, as it will dry out their nails,” says Feric. “Dry nails crack and split more easily than nails that are well hydrated.” Keep hands well hydrated. Be sure to apply a moisturizing cream or lotion to the hands and cuticles. This will help prevent the nails from splitting. Tell clients to apply a cream or lotion after washing their hands at home. Hands and nails tend to get dried out from soaps and cleansers. Also recommend that they use some type of moisturizer before bed every night.

To Polish or Not to Polish?

With some of your clients’ nails adhering to polish for upwards of two weeks and others a mere few hours, we turned to an expert for some causes and cures for this persistent problem. We asked Doug Schoon, vice president of science and technology for Creative Nail Design in Vista, Calif., for some reasonable explanations. “Two things affect nail adhesion — it’s either a chemical or physical problem,” says Schoon. “But by far the most important factor is preparation of the nail plate.”

As Schoon explains, “Things don’t stick to oily surfaces. So if keratin — which is a hard protein that makes up the nail — is oily, polish won’t adhere.” He further explains that any contaminant, for that matter, such as living tissue, will also affect adhesion. Another factor that contributes to polish not adhering to some clients’ as well as others is that people who have oily skin usually tend to have oily nail plates.

As far as which types of manicures are best, Schoon says that with water manicures, the nail absorbs the water quickly and swells, which can stress polish and cause it to crack and peel. “With oil manicures, the oil improves the flexibility of the nail plate and helps polish absorb better,” he says.

A surprising factor that can cause nails to peel could be your clients’ suntan lotion. “Some SPF ingredients will soak into the polish at a fast rate and these make polish soft and slippery, which may cause it to peel right off in one swoop,” says Schoon. If this is a factor, he recommends having your clients try a variety of suntan lotions until they find one that doesn’t cause polish to peel. Schoon recommends using a good top coat and most

importantly, keeping hands out of water for prolonged periods and keeping them moisturized. He also advises not removing polish more than twice a week because nail plates go from a smooth surface to one of more texture, which contributes to peeling polish


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