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The Whole Truth About Artificial Nails

Most people these days only know about artificial nails through seeing or visiting one of the nail salons that are in EVERY strip mall, in every city, big and small. They know that it’s cheap, fast and that it stinks in there. Nine out of ten people that walked into my salon were so thrilled to hear English. Not only because it is hard to communicate your desired service in a non English speaking salon, but that they feel like the nail technicians are talking about them. Just a silly feeling I know, but more over, they miss the relationship and experience with the person that is holding their hand.

I was a manicurist back in the day when the only manicurist that people knew was Madge, in the Palmolive commercials. A time when getting a manicure was a real sophisticated experience. You’ve heard no doubt that people tell their hairdressers everything. Well, they were always willing to tell me their whole lives story in the first ten minutes of meeting them. I guess it feels secure while holding hands and I was looking down, not at their faces while they spilled everything, and I mean intimate summarizations to a total stranger. They raised me from a sheltered eighteen year old to a shocked and well informed adult. Let’s say I got a valuable education in human behavior. Never a dull moment!

Hairdressers did manicures until the introduction of artificial nails. They came to my part of the world (Southeastern United States), in the late ’70s. In 1981 I earned my Cosmetology license and unlike most hairdressers, I decided that specializing in nails was more to my liking. In addition to having very sensitive skin that couldn’t take all that shampooing I didn’t like standing with my arms up all day. So, I opted to set down with my head hung over a table. At that time, most states did not require ANY kind of licensing. But, as a cosmetologist, I was covered. In fact, every one in our nails only salon worked under my license while they went to school to become licensed manicurist. What’s that awful smell in salons?

That smell is Methyl methacrylate (MMA). It is used in the manufacture of resins and plastics. In my first days as a manicurist, I went home high as kite. That might explain why the customers didn’t mind that they were done poorly and that they had paid a high price for it. They were enjoying the buzz!

Later, I guess I became immune to it because it became hard work instead of fun and I really didn’t smell it anymore.

MMA is strongly sensitizing although, some people may use it just fine. Enough people were harmed by MMA, that the FDA prohibited the material from nail use two decades ago. But the real damage comes from the fact that it doesn’t adhere well to the nail. So, to help with adhesion there’s Primer. It’s used to dehydrate and pit the nail surface so that the acrylic has a place to grip onto. (Ethyl Methacrylate) a safer version, although more expensive is available. The real problem with regulation is enforcement, and it isn’t. When a salon is caught using it, they are simply fined. First, they are rarely caught because there is no easy way for an inspector to test and prove it on location. Then the offending salon can reason that given the expense of buying the better product, it is more cost effective to just pay the fine instead. With more knowledge of product dangers I used the best I could get. There are primerless products and gel products that use a bonding agent that is less damaging.

Do your nails need to breathe?

Well, NO. Your nail is dead. The part that is showing anyway. The live part is under the cuticle at the back of your nail. In there, in the matrix, is where your nail is formed and then pushed out onto the top of your nail bed. The only reason that it is two different colors is because the whole nails is opaque (almost see through) and part of it is on top of the flesh and the free edge or the length is not.
I like to compare the nail to a wood board. You know a piece of timber. It is made of layers that react to the elements that it is exposed to. If you leave an unpainted board out in the rain, then it begins to absorb water, then warps and splinters and weakens. Once the board is damaged there is no way to repair it, it must be replace. On the other hand, if it were painted or protected by various products like, sealer, stain, wax, oil or what ever gives you the desired effect, it will last longer. These layers are the reason it is so important to use a very fine file.

So, do your nails need to breathe, no, but they do need to sweat. Your natural nail emits body oil from the surface and that is why your polish won’t stay on. To help your polish last, you need to start with clean dry, dehydrated nails. So that brings us to sweating under artificial nails. Well, it is partly the reason that they come off and it is also a contributing factor in getting nail fungus and that green mold. Nail fungus can actually be different balls of wax. The one that turns your nail bed green is really what some people refer to as a mold. A green discoloration of the nail is due to bacteria called pseudomonas. It is where water or your natural nail oils have gotten trapped between the nail bed and the artificial nail. It is not really dangerous, but it is really ugly. It is a stain that you can not treat. You can lightly file it to lighten the color, but for the most part it will have to grow out. By the way, once the green color has appeared, the fungus has already run it coarse and the green residue is what it leaves behind. Be sure to disinfect or throw away, any file used on pseudomonas to avoid spreading it to other nails. A doctor diagnoses real fungus through a yeast test, but if your nail is lifting off of the nail bed (onychomycosis) and it wasn’t because of a physical trauma, then you have nail fungus. The first thing to do is to trim down the length so that you don’t cause more damage by pulling it up, then keep dry and start a treatment plan. There are several good products on the market. Some will work for some people and not for others.

Recovery after artificial nails is hard to do, but possible. There are a lot of variables as to how bad it will be.

Like, what condition your natural nails were before, how long you wore them, what product was used on them, how they were removed. Everything about having artificial nails plays a part in how to recover. If you’re artificial nails are in good condition and tight, you can let them grow off. This way your damaged nail stays protected while they are replaced by natural nail. This will work until they are grown out only about half way. By that time, the product is getting thin, old and brittle. But it does give you some time to keep them reasonably nice for a while longer. If they are not tight, you will have to soak them off. First, take them off gently. Soak them in acetone and let the product dissolve off. Don’t pry them off because you will tear valuable layers of your natural nail off with them. Then, shorten them if you have any length left. I know this is hard, but it will reduce the risk of loosing it anyway through constant snags and splits. They will be soft from being covered up for a few days, but will harden somewhat as they dehydrate.

Be prepared for it to take a long time to get back to normal. Every bit of nail that was exposed to the chemical will have to grow off. In the mean time, it will help to keep them filed smooth and to protect them with your favorite choice of formaldehyde free treatment. Before it starts to peel, take it off and reapply. Peeling polish will also take layers of your nails with it. Always, always use a Cuticle Oil or Cuticle Cream to protect your cuticles and add nutrients to the matrix where your new nail is being formed. Hang in there—you can do this.

Be good to your nails. Remember, Jewels not Tools.

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