I am more just a nail tech, I am also an educator for the nail industry and as I see it my job isn’t finished just because I applied top coat and sent you on your way. Nails is more then just having pretty well manicured nails, it is always an investment in yourself and that is why as a consumer you need to know what is being applied to your nails.

There is currently there is a plethora of options for nail enhancements. Acrylics, soft, gels, hard gels, and nail wraps. Acrylic and gel enhancements are the most popular, and what I will be covering in this blog post. Enhancements are used to lengthen, strengthen and/or and cosmetically change the appearance of the natural nail.

Acrylic nail enhancements originated from the dental industry around the 1970s and had such a lasting impression on the fashion industry that they had become quite the rage. Acrylic nails are made up of two components, liquid monomer and powder polymer. When combined, the chemicals create a polymerization which is know as acrylic.

A skilled nail technician can lengthen your nails using either gel or acrylic in one of two ways – by using a sticker like form or gluing a plastic tip to the free edge of your nail. As your nail then lengthened, your technician would then apply acrylic (Liquid and powder) or gel (a honey like product which is cured under a UV/LED lamp).

So you are probably wondering why do some nail salons charge more then others for acrylic nails?
Aside from obtaining the proper licensing and sanitation requirements, as well as continuing education it really boils down to product.

There are two types of monomer, ethyl methacrylate and methyl methacrylate. Have you ever walked past a discount salon and noticed and unusually powerful, noxious odor? Have you ever left a salon and realized you were having allergy type symptoms like coughing, sneezing, eyes watering or with a headache? If you said YES, there may be a chance that the salon is using a very inexpensive liquid monomer (liquid) called methyl methacrylate (MMA) which has been banned by the FDA and has been known to cause serious and permanent nail damage and severe allergic reactions. These salons choose to use MMA based products knowing the ramifications because they can charge 1/6th of the price of an Ethyl Methacrylate (EMA) based liquid monomer. Choose wisely when you see salons offering attention grabbing, extremely low-priced services for example, $20-30 full sets or $13-18 for a fills, there is a good chance their prices are low because they are using sub-standard products.

So how are gel and acrylic nails different? Technically, both authentic gels and acrylic nails are created with the same monomer and polymer; the real difference is how the two are applied and that one is cured with a UV/LED(light emitting diode)light.

A true authentic gel comes from a single jar and can vary in viscosity but usually has a sticky, honey-like consistency. Gel should be applied in thin layers and cured under an UV/LED light. Gels are a fabulous option for those who people who prefer a durable yet light weight and natural-looking enhancement and because they lack VOC (volatile organic compounds) is it odor free.

So what is the difference between soft gels and hard gels? Most gel polishes are considered soft gels meaning that they can be soaked off in a gel product remover or acetone. Hard gels cannot be soaked off and must be safely filed off by a trained professional.

Most educated nail technicians should be able elaborate on the particular product lines they utilize and what each product is best used for. Don’t be afraid to ask your nail tech questions. Gel and acrylic applications are relatively safe and will not cause damage to the natural nail as along as the tech use good preparation and proper application techniques. Be sure to consult with who does your nails and be sure to explain your lifestyle, preferences and any health conditions you may have, this will all play a part in what is the best enhancement for your nails and their performance.

(Published in November 2007 in Perfectify Magazine)