Traditional nail polish was originally formulated from the recipe for car paint. Charles Revson, his brother Joseph, and chemist Charles Lachman, used a formulation from the auto industry to bring Revlon nail enamel to the masses in 1932. Almost all modern nail polish is formulated with some combination of nitrocellulose and solvents like butyl acetate or ethyl acetate, among others. The solvents evaporate as the polish dries, and the nitrocellulose forms a shiny film. With plasticizers, pigments, UV filters, and other ingredients for color or to create a shimmer or glitter effect, nail polish is a complex chemical formulation that must be kept sealed and in a stable environment. (We don’t recommend keeping nail polish in the car or in the fridge, for obvious reasons.) Examples: OPI, Essie, butter LONDON, Revlon, CND Creative Play, pretty much any traditional nail polish you can think of.
A nail enhancement is any material that can add length or strength to the natural nail. There are several options for nail enhancements, but for our purposes, we’ll break them down into four categories. Liquid and Powder, Hard and Soft Gels, Fiberglass/Resin Wraps, and Dip Systems. To understand these categories, we need to remember our friends from earlier, the acrylate polymers. Almost every enhancement system we mentioned uses some form of an acrylate polymer to form a nail coating or extension. They are applied differently, have different features and benefits, and are used for different client indications.
Please note that no enhancement system or product “ruins your nails.” Every system for applying nail enhancements described below include products that are approved and formulated specifically for application to the natural nail. No enhancement product inherently damages the nail. Nail enhancements, when applied and maintained correctly, are completely safe and non-damaging. It is when the product is improperly applied, cared for, or removed, that it can cause everything from minor nail plate damage to severe chemical and allergic reactions to loss of the nail entirely. That is why the information in this post is so important to read, understand, and heed. Nail products are rarely to blame for nail damage – it is almost always the fault of improper application, removal, or improper or lack of home care.
Liquid and powder enhancements are arguably the enhancement type that most nail clients are familiar with. Often referred to as acrylic nails, fake nails, Solar nails (which is a long discontinued brand of CND liquid and powder), porcelain nails, and false nails, liquid and powder enhancements are applied with a brush dipped in a sometimes strong-smelling liquid monomer and then a powder, and shaped onto the nail. Liquid and powder enhancements cure without a light, and once hardened and cured, are quite strong. Powders can be clear, white, pink, or a myriad of different colors. Additive drops can be added to the monomer liquid to change the color and achieve stained glass-like results. Liquid and powder is an ideal medium for embedding materials such as glitter, dried flowers, stone chips, etc. It is durable and perfect for long enhancements or overlays of the natural nail.
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