Acrylics Then and Now

The history of nail enhancements reaches as far back as the Ming Dynasty in the mid 1300s; however, women throughout the world and throughout history have used everything from pistachio shells to gold, ivory and bone to create long, delicate nails. Enhancements became a status symbol in certain societies, indicating that, unlike commoners, they did not have to do manual labor; the longer and more ornate the nails, the greater the wealth. Modern day artificial acrylic nails are now accessible to women and men in all walks of life. The size, shapes and colors available can complement and fit into the lifestyle needs of just about anyone.

Surprisingly, the powder and monomer liquid acrylic nail system that is used today has its roots in the dental industry. In 1954, dentist Fred Slack and his brother created the first acrylic faux nail using dental grade acrylic in an attempt to mend a broken nail. They later went on to patent the first acrylic nail system brand, Patti Nails. Acrylic nails using traditional liquid and powders literally shaped the nail industry and continue to be an integral part of the business.

Today’s acrylic wearer benefits from years of continued evolution of technology to create the current liquids and powders in the market. The liquid formulas have evolved slightly over the past 50 plus years from Poly methyl methacrylate (PMMA) and over the years have switched to ethyl methacrylate; however, today’s powders are essentially the same but feature newer technology in terms of blends, stability and clarity. Manufacturers have created custom blends to achieve beautiful results with new pigments, special effects and varied setting times. There is a formulation or blend for all applications of acrylic from natural nail overlays, adding tips, sculpting custom nails and intricate 3-D nail art design. The flexible formulations offer endless possibilities for acrylic creativity, truly allowing the imagination of the nail artist to run wild.


Evolution of Acrylic

“…But what about the odor?” This is a common question asked by nail techs not currently using acrylics or who may have had experience with older acrylic formulas. The best answer to that question is that with the advancements in the industry, many of today’s acrylic powder and liquid blends feature low odor technology. When combined with correct disposal of remaining product, the odor associated with liquid and powders has become minimal. Some of the other issues nail techs encountered in the early days of acrylic are also no longer a factor. It used to be that bubbles and crystallization (almost like ice particles forming on the nail) were major issues with older versions of products, but new technology has allowed for products that set up within seconds, never crystallize and can be applied under any temperature conditions. Packaging also has changed over the years from standard utilitarian to more eye catching and useful designs. Easy to use containers make it simple to work from and bulk sizes allow the product to be one of the most economical forms of creating artificial nails. With simply the liquid and a powder, with a brush for application, you can create nails of all lengths, shapes and thickness.

Acrylics, by their chemical nature, are durable and strong. They are a good choice for individuals who enjoy wearing their nails longer or those who use their hands a lot. They are extremely good at resisting blunt pressure and, combined with the ability to shape into nearly any form imaginable, this makes them an ideal product for nails. From standard Pink and White nails (commonly referred to as a French manicure) to bold neon designs, the powders combined with liquid create breathtaking color choices. The wearability is unbeatable when compared to traditional polish or even gel polish. There is never any chipping or peeling and the color shines on and on, making acrylic a cost-effective and time saving nail enhancement for people who don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to manicures. Ideal for nails on women, they are just as naturally suited for men. Though they may not wear long, elaborate nails, men often have issues with damaged or splitting nails which can be corrected with a very natural looking acrylic application. And don’t forget toes; acrylics are easy to use and apply on toenails as well. Acrylic can help to disguise imperfections and give wearers the perfect pedicure for sandal season.


Acrylics in the Future

The biggest challenge that acrylic-loving nail techs are currently facing is the decline in the demand for acrylic services from younger clients. The recent rise in popularity and advances in builder gel and gel polish technology has led some clients to move away from acrylic nail enhancements, but for the client who needs a lot of strength or is particularly tough on his or her nails, acrylic is a great choice. Loyal acrylic clients will continue to wear acrylics because they know the value of the service and the amazing durability. Demonstrating the quality, durability and variety of colors and finishes is a great way to entice gel wearers into trying acrylic.

Education and competitions are key elements in the security of acrylics in the nail industry. The nail tech who continues to learn and elevate his/her skills will be able to keep acrylic relevant to the next generation. A salon or nail tech that continues to evolve and offers the most current acrylic technique and technology will maintain their client base and continue to add to it over the years.

Recently there has been a rise in the number of nail techs participating in acrylic competitions, perhaps for the gratification of working with a product that has endless creative possibilities. It is very sculptural so nail techs have been known to go over the top with fantasy nails, indulging their artistic side by replicating everything from jungle animals to “Alice in Wonderland” characters. Competitions are also a great opportunity for techs to perfect their craft and technique with judges looking for uniformity in color, consistency and shape.

If the past 20 years of innovation are any indication of the staying power of acrylics, the future looks bright. Acrylic continues to be a major portion of salon nail business as well as a large focus for school curriculum. Many nail artists have a passion for the flexibility and artistry that comes with using acrylic as opposed to gels, so the bar is continually being raised for manufacturers to offer more and better products.




Terry Burciaga has been a Global Educator for American International Industries for over 20 years, specializing in nails, waxing and lashes. She is a licensed cosmetologist who trains beauty industry corporations, salons and distributors both internationally and domestically on AII product lines. Her love for the industry continues her travels to places such as Spain, Lebanon, Dubai and South America where she strives to improve on her own skill set while enjoying the time to share her knowledge with others.

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