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Hey there. You've got Vic and today I'm going to be talking about nail enhancements. I've learnt a lot about enhancements over the past two years while I've been training to become a nail tech and I'm here to share some of this knowledge with you. 

There are numerous types of nail enhancements, the most popular being gel polish and gel and acrylic extensions. Lesser known systems also include silk and fibreglass wraps. Looking at my own clients, gel polish is definitely the most popular type of enhancement and it seems to be a toss up between gel and acrylic extensions as to which is second. 

So, let's take a look at them.

First we should consider how nail polish works. Most nail enhancements cure but do not dry. As they cure the enhancement will harden until it's reached its final (raw) form. Nail polish, on the other hand dries. This happens when the solvents inside the polish hit the air and dissolve, leaving a hardened layer. 

Gel polish is usually a combination of methacrylate monomers (not to be confused with the dreaded methyl methacrylate or MMA) and photoinitiators. When the gel polish is placed under a UV or LED lamp, the reaction between the light and the photoinitiators causes the product to cure. It is important to apply gel polish in thin layers as if the layers are too thick, the light will be unable to penetrate the gel layer and the product at the bottom of the coating will remain uncured. 


A Gelish Gel Polish manicure in Are You Feeling It? (The Polish Bottle being my professional alter ego)
Gel polish is a popular option as it allows people to wear a manicure that lasts (some products last up to ten days, others up to three weeks) while protecting their natural nails. Gel polish is removed by soaking the enhancement in acetone, a process which generally takes between 10 and 15 minutes.

One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is what is the difference between Shellac and other gel polishes. Shellac is the name that seems to have cottoned on when talking about gel polish but it's not actually a gel polish; it's a power polish. The difference is in the gel content of the polish. Shellac has a lower gel content than most gel polishes which is why it's not considered a gel polish. 

Nail Tech tom Bachik applying tips to natural nails
Photo credit: NailsMag
Hard gel nails sculpted over a nail form
Photo credit: Nails Mag
Next we'll look at extensions. These can be created in one of two ways: using a tip and overlay method (where tips are glued to your natural nail and the product placed over) or sculpted using a nail form (usually a paper-based sticker which attaches around the nail and is removed after the extension has been sculpted). Which method is used will often be down to your nail tech's preference, but if you want one or the other you should definitely let your nail tech know!

French Manicure created using hard gel
Photo credit: Candyz Nailz
The science behind gel extensions is similar to that of gel polish so I won't go over it again. The difference between gel polishes and the gel used for extensions is its viscosity. There are two types of extending gel: soft and hard. Soft gels can be soaked off using acetone and are more suited to overlays (where the gel is used to reinforce your natural nail) and short extensions. For length, hard gel (also known as buff-off gel) is usually used. Hard gels cannot be removed by soaking in acetone as the cross-links between the molecules are so tight that acetone cannot penetrate between them. As the name suggests, these gels have to be buffed off to remove. Your nail tech will file down the nail to remove as much of the bulk as possible and then buff the remaining gel to a thin layer which can then be allowed to grow out. Due to the amount of filing and buffing involved, this method carries a risk of damage to the nail and should only be carried out by a trained professional.
Extended acrylic design by Classic Mully
Acrylic nails are created by adding liquid (monomer) to a powder (polymer, heat-sensitive initiator and dyes). When the two mix in the presence of a catalyst they begin to polymerise (harden) to form the acrylic nail. Because the initiator is heat-sensitive, the ambient temperature will affect the curing time of the product. Acrylic extensions tend to be harder than gels, however they can be more brittle. Acrylic enhancements can be soaked off using acetone although this typically takes a longer period of time than gel polish.

Silk and fibreglass nails are thin yet strong, however they're not generally suitable for longer extensions. Think of the teabag repair method and you're getting close to the silk and fibreglass method. In fact, silk and fibreglass are often used precisely for that reason. I've never messed around with cutting up perfectly good teabags - I've always used a repair kit. 
Backscratchers fibreglass nails during application
Photo credit: Nails Mag
To extend nails with either silk or fibreglass your tech will start by applying tips to your nails. Once these are in place, a strip of either fibreglass or silk will be applied to each nail, sometimes with an additional strip placed over the stress area. Resin is applied over the fabric and then set using a spray or aerosol activator (this may be repeated a number of times). Once the product has polymerised it can be lightly buffed to smooth the surface. 

One of the big issues surrounding nail enhancements is the possible damage caused to your natural nails and exposure to UV light. It is essential to have products applied (and removed) by a fully trained tech to avoid damage to your natural nails; most damage is caused during removal and not application. Never be afraid to check a tech's qualifications and insurance credentials; a good tech will have no problem in allowing you to see these. Also find out what products they are using (are they well known brands or has nobody ever heard of them?) and check that they are not using products containing MMA. 

I often hear that people find their nails to be overly thin after having worn enhancements. Remember that even if enhancements have been applied and removed correctly your nails will feel thin afterward, even though no damage has been done. Having enjoyed the extra strength that a nail enhancement provides, your nails will naturally feel weaker without the enhancement. This doesn't mean that they are any weaker than before the enhancement was applied. 

The UV light emitted during nail services has been scientifically proven to be safe. Doug Schoon (nail science guru) wrote an interesting piece summarising recent research which can be found here. Essentially, you could place your hand in a UV lamp for 25 minutes a day and not exceed safe occupational exposure limits. Other experts have explained that there is more danger in driving your car in the mid-day sun than can be found in UV nail lamps.

CND Vinylux manicure by our very own Canadian Nail Fanatic
What if you like the idea of the longevity of nail enhancements but are not yet ready to make that commitment? Last year CND launched a product called Vinylux which, thanks to a special formulation, lasts up to a week. Enhancement brand Alessandro also offers a gel polish product called StripLac which lasts for up to 10 days and can be removed by peeling from the nail, leaving the natural nail healthy and undamaged. With the nail industry constantly changing and adapting to customer needs, it won't be long before new innovations start to emerge.

I hope you've enjoyed this guide to nail enhancements. We'd love to hear your thoughts and comments. Do you wear extensions? Would you ever try them? What has your experience been? Let us know in the comments.