My Day as a Nail Science Geek

Last Thursday I got to spend the day down at CND’s Vista, Calif. headquarters. The main purpose of the trip was to tour their research and development lab and see what their chemists do on a day-to-day basis. It wasn’t my first time in the state-of-the-art lab but it was my first time participating in hands-on experiments. A small group of us (two online consumer beauty site editors and a Canadian fashion and beauty magazine editor joined me) got to listen to the chemists talk about their specialties and accomplishments while watching and participating in several gel-focused experiments. (I didn't do that well in my high school or college science classes, but I love getting to see how products are made.)
Our day started out with a welcome from CND founder Jan Arnold (second from left), who reminded us of the company’s philosophy of “knowledge, truth, and fact”. Everything at the 32-year-old company is science-based. (Remember, Arnold’s father Dr. Stuart Nordstrom was a dentist who started the company with SolarNail, a monomer that allowed for greater nail strength and flexibility as well as non-yellowing color.) The company still stands on these beliefs that “you can’t educate what you didn’t innovate” and they take that statement very seriously.
Thong Vu (right), who has been with CND for 10 years and was instrumental in the development of Brisa and the Brisa lamp back in 2004 and also assisted on the development of Shellac and the UV lamp, took us through the history of gel products in the U.S. going back 20 years.
Chad Conger has been with CND for 7 years and in addition to working on Retention+ Liquid and Powder lines, he was responsible for the formulation of the Shellac Base Coat and the Shellac Color base. We mixed several different gel base coats (with different key ingredients) to see how they soak off in acetone. The idea was that Shellac was built from the ground up with individual ingredients (it is not simply just gel and polish mixed together in the lab). Every ingredient has its purpose. They refer to Shellac as a “power polish” because of the presence of solvents and the fact that it has a thinner viscosity (like polish) but lasts longer (like gel).
Next up was color! Diane Larsen has been with CND for 8 years and she’s their color queen. In addition to her chemistry background, she has an eye for color and she approaches color creation with an artist’s eye. Every color of Shellac has a slightly different base formula (based on the pigments used and the opacity of the color). She figures out the color first and then she formulates the gel based on the color. Fun fact: She said the most difficult current Shellac color to formulate was Rosebud likely because it’s hard to see the true color and it is made up of the most different pigments. We got to see what goes into mixing a new color (those ingredients are not easy to measure and mix by hand).
We also got to peek into the back room where all of the big “sciency” equipment is that CND uses for testing products and maintaining quality control. And we talked to Jamie Ellis (sorry no picture) who is the company’s new (hired 11 months ago) quality control specialist. She makes sure the huge batches of Shellac the company has to produce (she mentioned a two-story reactor) are scaled up properly to be the exact same formulas the small batches the chemists in the lab come up with.
It was a fun day in the lab, followed by Shellac manis and pedis in the afternoon. I opted for the new spring color Rubble, which I absolutely love.
— Hannah

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