Acrylic Nails

When It's Time For a Change

Clients have their reasons for wanting to go au naturel—with their nails, that is. You can keep your former acrylic clients loyal to you with a good removal and post-removal care.

Did she tell you that she’s tired of the look of acrylics or that she just wants a change? Switching a client from an extension service to natural nail manicures doesn’t have to signal the end of a client relationship. You can remove the acrylic easily and put your client on a regimen of manicures to help her nails grow back strong; the idea that removing acrylic nails will ruin the nail plate is exaggerated, says Doug Schoon, director of R&D at CND (Vista, Calif.): “When nails are properly applied and maintained, then removed carefully and correctly, there should be no damage to the nail plate:”


The process of converting acrylic clients to natural nails requires patience from both the client and the nail technician. We followed nail technician Melinda Nelson, owner of The Nail Cottage in Escondido, Calif., and her client Linda Johnson for five weeks. Here is her account of the appointments, and Linda’s nails’ transformation.


Appointment 1: The Big Day

February 13, 1997: Linda has worn acrylics for eight years and now she wants them off. She says that after all this time, she is growing tired of her pink-and-whites, and because she travels a lot, she’s concerned that a broken nail might be poorly repaired. I wasn’t so sure this was a good time of year for such a drastic change for Linda, who is an accountant gearing up for tax season. I asked her if she thought it might be difficult to adjust without her nails. But Linda was determined.


Linda came in 15 minutes early for her appointment to soak off her nails. I warmed some acetone in a dish of hot water. Then I completely submerged Linda’s nails. I placed a towel over her hands and then a light over the towel to keep the acetone warm and let her nails soak for 15 minutes.


(Note: It’s important not to let her remove her nails from the acetone soak until you’re ready to take the nails off, says Schoon. He explains that when the nails come out of the acetone, it begins to evaporate and the product will start to harden again.)


Once the nails were finished soaking, I took one hand at a time and easily pushed off each nail with a cuticle stick. I slathered her cuticles with cuticle cream and her hands with moisturizer before giving Linda a paraffin dip to rehydrate the nails and cuticles.


I finished the manicure as usual, filing Linda’s nails very short. I warned her about the need to keep her nails very short, but she was still pretty shocked at how short they are. For polish, she wanted a French manicure, but it was a challenge with so little free edge. I sent her home with a nail strengthener and told her to apply it daily.


Appointment 2: Time for Cheerleading

February 20: After only the first three days, Linda began picking at the skin around her thumbnails. It was really discouraging for her, and that’s to be expected. Linda had beautiful nails for eight years, so it was quite a shock to have to look at stubby nails. I worked with her on a routine to strengthen her natural nails and to control her picking. She wasn’t consistent with the nail strengthener; she only managed to apply it about three times a week.  I’ve noticed that when a client’s nails are removed, the cuticles at the sidewalls harden, almost callus-like. That’s what she was picking at, but only on her thumbs.  I suggested that she use a cuticle oil to rub into the skin to soften it and make it less tempting to pick.


When you’re helping a client through this kind of transformation, you have to be a cheerleader for her. Even though I told her it would be rough going for the first three months or so - she needed to be constantly reminded that nails grow slowly, but that they would grow back strong.


Appointments 3 and 4: Damage Control

February 27 and March 6: The picking problem worsened; no longer was it just a bit of extra skin on her thumb, but a wound. I think it was nerves, both from Linda’s work and from being unhappy with her nails.  Her enthusiasm for natural nails has waned, and both the picking and the still-weak nails meant I had to work extra hard at encouragement. At this point, I was doing a standard manicure with a paraffin dip. I tried to give her nails a little shape, but there wasn’t much free edge to work with. My biggest job was to eliminate anything that might start her picking.


Now that Linda’s nails have been off for a while, she’s becoming more accustomed to her own short nails. When I first removed the nails, her nail beds were very sensitive, even to warm water, and buttoning clothing was difficult.


I’m still encouraging Linda to keep applying the nail strengthener, but she’s still breaking what little free edge does grow out. A couple times she’s voiced thoughts about putting the nails back on. I’ll ask her if that’s what she really wants, but when she thinks about it, she opts out.


Appointment 5: Making Progress

 March 13: Linda’s nails are still fairly short (they don’t go past the end of her fingers), but the peeling has stopped, and the free edge is getting whiter. This tells me that the nails are getting stronger.


Linda’s enthusiasm for natural nails is finally growing, and she finally picked out some fun, bright polish colors.


Linda plans to continue her weekly manicures and hasn’t mentioned putting the acrylics back on.  I told her that it takes about three months for a nail to completely grow out, and she’s halfway there. She’s actually done pretty well. She could be more consistent with the nail strengthener, and I think the spot on her thumb is now a scar, but her nails are starting to look really nice.

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A thin, horny, transparent plate covering the dorsal surface of the tip of each finger; comprised of dead keratin cells. The fingernail is a...
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