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Nail techs discuss client’s needs, creating colorful nails to match any occasion
Even if you don’t go in for rhinestones, elaborate nail-polish paintings, or glitter tips, there’s some complex chemistry behind artificial nails. With acrylics—the most popular type of artificial nail—the science starts as soon as the technician combines an acrylic powder (a polymer) and a special liquid (a monomer) and brushes it carefully onto the nail. The combination of these two substances with the air sets off a chain reaction, in which the monomers link up to form an expanding network of polymer chains, resulting in a solid, semi-flexible shield over the natural nail.
On its own, this process will give the nails an impressively strong, shiny natural coating that should stay in place for several weeks or until you want to remove them. But many women want to add length as well. One option is to attach tips—thin plastic nail-shaped add-ons—before covering the entire surface with enough acrylic to make the border between real nail and tip invisible. The other is to work with removable forms, flexible sheets of aluminum or coated paper that are curved under the tip of the natural nail. The nail tech then “sculpts” an extension simply by brushing the acrylic compound out past the natural nail and onto the form.
Once the acrylic has dried, the form is removed while the longer, smoother tip remains, creating a surface that can be buffed or shaped just like a natural nail. One popular option for the finished look is known as “solar nails,” a French-style pink-and-white look that takes its name from a product formulated by CND to resist the yellowing effect that tanning beds have on many other kinds of acrylics.
Gel nails follow a similar process of polymerization, except that this chemical reaction is most often triggered by light instead of air. (Some gels are cured with a spray-on topcoat instead.) Instead of mixing two substances together, technicians simply brush the gel solution onto nail, much as they would with acrylics. Once they’ve achieved the desired length, shape, and cougar-like sharpness, clients stick their hands into a special, low-watt UV lamp that triggers the polymer reaction and causes the gel to harden. Silk wraps, too, harden via polymerization, thanks to a Krazy Glue–like substance that reacts instantly with any moisture in the air or on the nail bed to form a fast-drying bond, though one that is not quite as strong or durable as its gel and acrylic cousins.