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Hooked on Nails
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Acrylic and Artificial Nail Product Chemistry
If you wish to print out this page,
it is best printed in 'Landscape'.
This page is being written with the express
direction and permission of Doug Schoon. Doug has more than 20 years experience as a
chemical researcher, lecturer and educator. He is
the president and founder of the Chemical Awareness Training
Service based in Newport Beach, California. He has
authored dozens of articles and lectured nationwide on the
important topic of salon chemical safety.
Doug has served as an expert witness in legal cases helping
attorneys, judges, and juries to understand the chemical
complexities of professional and retail beauty industry
products. Is it no wonder why he is my 'chemical
mentor?' Kudos, Doug, and a big thanks for helping me out
A Clean Start
In order for the
products to properly adhere to the porous surface of the nail plate, one
must begin with a clean start.
A clean start begins with simple hand-washing
and scrubbing the nail plate to remove surface oils and other contaminates
that interfere with proper adhesion. Nail scrubs will do much more
than remove oils. Scrubs get rid of bacteria and fungal spores which
lead to infections. Skipping this step is the major cause of nail
infections, and can also cause enhancements to lift at the cuticle.
One of the most dangerous misconceptions in the
professional nail industry is that products don't stick unless you "rough
up" or 'etch' the nail plate. This is absolutely false and very
harmful to clients. Heavy abrasives strip off much of the natural
nail plate, leaving it thin and weak. This leaves no supporting
structure for the enhancements. Rough filing also damages the nail
bed; it promotes allergic reactions and causes painful burning sensations,
infections, loss of the nail plate, product lifting, and breakage.
Thin nails are more flexible. This extra flexibility allows the
enhancement to bend too easily, and creates invisible, hairline
fractures that lead to breakage.
Highly magnified microscopic crack in the surface
of a polymer. This crack is approximately ten microns wide
or 1/10 the thickness of a human hair.
Creative Nail Design Systems, Inc.
Heavy abrasives and
high-speed drills generate lots of heat which is produced by
friction. This heat leaves the nail bed sore and damaged; heating
the nail bed to over 150° F. Need to rough up the nail plate to get
good adhesion? Then something is wrong! Many nail technicians
have great success without roughing up the nail plate. Why?
The answer is simple; they properly prepare the nail plate, use correct
application techniques, and high quality products. Lifting problems
can always be traced back to one of these three areas.
Monomers are like Tinkertoys
they can be arranged and rearranged into almost unlimited
combinations. Monomers can hook together into extremely long chains;
each chain containing millions of molecules. Very long chains of
molecules are called polymers. Polymers can be liquids, but
they are generally solids. Chemical reactions that make polymers are
called polymerizations. Sometimes the term cure
or curing is used, but it has the same meaning. A monomer
is a molecule that makes polymers.
It takes an initiator
molecule to begin this chemical reaction. The initiator molecule
touches a monomer and excites it with a boost of energy. Monomers
prefer the quiet life; they don't appreciate too much excitement, so they
look for ways to get rid of the extra energy. They do this by
attaching themselves to the tail of another monomer, passing the energy
along. When this reaction begins, monomer chains sprout up
everywhere. They grow longer and longer, becoming knotted and
tangled until they are a teeming mass of microscopic
This game of 'tag' continues the
chain of monomers becomes longer and longer until the growing polymer
chain can't find anymore monomers. Once the monomer is all gone, the
chain reaction stops and the polymer is formed, although the chemical
reaction is not finished. The surface may be hard enough to file,
but it will be days before the chains reach their ultimate
Drawing Courtesy of Paul Rollins
A cross-linker is a monomer with 'arms'. Normal
monomers can join only head to tail. Cross-linkers also join head to
tail, but their extra 'arms' grow new chains. These cross-linking
monomers join with other nearby chains and can link three or more
chains. Cross links are like rungs on a ladder; creating strong
net-like structures. Cross-links can also join many other layers of
cross-linked nets. The result is a three-dimensional structure of
great strength and flexibility. This is how many types of artificial
nail enhancements are made
Drawing Courtesy of Paul Rollins
A polymer with too much
cross-linking is brittle and easily shattered. However, cross-linked
polymers can be made stronger with IPN's (Interpenetrating Polymer
Network). Imagine weaving a strong polymer rope through the holes of
the cross-linked net. This rope will add strength to the net without
All polymers shrink when they form, there is no
exception in any nail product. Monomers don't normally touch each
other and bounce around the container at high speeds trying to avoid other
monomers. They join only when the conditions are right, and then
they embrace very tight. Imagine billions of monomers suddenly coming
closer together -- the effect is very noticeable. In fact, nail
enhancement polymers shrink between 3-20% with some shrinking more than
others. Excessive shrinkage (above 12%) causes many problems, such
as lifting, tip cracking, and other types of service breakdown.
cross-linking causes excessive shrinking, too. Tightly woven nets
shrink more than loose weaves. The effects of shrinkage can usually
be seen. Too much shrinkage may cause product to lift in the center
of the nail plate and can often look like a 'bubble'. One way to
control shrinkage is by following the manufacturers' directions.
Improperly mixing (too wet a consistency) and incorrect curing polymers
may cause excessive shrinkage and other more serious problems.
Energy is the final key to understanding how monomers
become polymers. All monomers need energy to make polymers.
Initiator molecules control everything. They are the starting gun
that begins the monomer race. Some initiator monomers gets their
energy by only absorbing light energy while others absorb only heat
Light-cured products are energized into
polymerizing by absorbing light energy, usually UV (ultra-violet)
light. Not all light-curing products use UV light -- some have
initiators that use visible light. Sunlight and even artificial room
lights can start polymerization in the container.
products use the heat in the room and body heat to cause
polymerization. Many monomers cure at room temperature, 68° - 74°
F. Tip adhesives (also monomers) and wraps are examples. A few
products require normal incandescent light bulbs -- these are not
light-curing monomers. They are using the extra heat released from
the light bulb and are still heat curing.
Catalysts are used in nail products to make chemical
reactions happen faster. They are like the trigger on the starting
gun, making the initiator molecules work faster and more efficient.
If one of these 'parts' is missing, initiator, energy or catalyst, the
chemical reactions will happen much more slowly or not at all.
When two monomers join, an extremely small amount of
heat is released. This is called an exothermic reaction.
This happens with all types of nail enhancement products; however, some
release more heat than others. One normally cannot feel the heat
released from two monomers, but remember -- it takes billions of monomers
to make a nail enhancement. Can you feel the heat from this exotherm?
The answer is definitely yes! Under certain conditions it can
be quite noticeable, especially for monomers used to make wraps and
light-cure products. Unless the heat causes your client to
become uncomfortable, you should not be overly concerned.
However, exotherms that burn the clients' nail beds can cause damage to
the tissue and weaken the enhancement.
The warmer the monomer, the faster it will
cure. If the room temperature is too warm or the table lamp is
above 60 watts, the extra heat makes monomers react faster.
Sometimes, your client will feel their nail beds become very warm,
It takes time to do things right; faster isn't
always better. Faster means more heat in a shorter time and can
lead to uncomfortably warm exotherms. It may also cause
enhancements to lose some flexibility and lower toughness. An
exotherm can reach in excess of 170° F!
Unhealthy or damaged nail beds may be the reason
for clients complaining of burning sensations, as they are very
sensitive to heat. Even tiny exotherms are easily felt on these
overly sensitive tissues. Generally, the primary reason for
unhealthy nail beds is over filing and over priming. The heat
from heavy abrasives and high-speed drills are usually the
culprits. Drill bits use friction to cut away the surface.
Friction creates heat, and a lot of it! Even light abrasive
files and drill bits can cause nail bed damage. Filing too hard,
too often, or for too long makes nail beds sore and sensitive.
Metal forms can act as a catalyst and cause extra
exotherms, but rarely will it cause burning.
Nipping lifted material will literally 'rip up'
good tight layers of product along with vital nail plate layers,
making them more sensitive to exotherms.
Primers act much like double-sided sticky tape by
making the nail plate more compatible with certain liquids. One end of the
primer chain is a perfect match to the nail plate. The other end of
the primer chain is a perfect match to the monomer and polymer
chain. Fig. 1
Acid-based primers dissolve molecules of residual oils
from the natural nail. These microscopic traces are not removed
during normal scrubbing procedures and may lead to service breakdown.
Nail primers must be used with caution as some are very
corrosive to skin. Nail primers, like most professional nail
products, should never touch the skin. To do so can cause painful
burns and scars.
Courtesy Paul Rollins
Courtesy Paul Rollins
Nail dehydrators (Prep) are extremely important.
Moisture can interfere with the adhesive bond which leads to delamination
or lifting. To ensure proper adhesion, always scrub the nail plate,
dry thoroughly and dehydrate. Skipping one step will lead to
delamination and may also contribute to infections. Some
preparation products contain pathogen fighters that remain on the nail
plate to aid in the prevention of nail infections. The effects of
dehydration are apparent for up to 30 minutes before the natural moisture
levels are restored by the body.
Nail Polish Chemistry
Modern nail polish has been in use since the 20's.
Although the basic chemistry remains the same, many things have changed
since the original product was introduced. A typical formulation
consists of four major ingredient types: polymers, plasticizers,
solvents and pigments.
|Type of Substance
||Use by %
||Reason For Use
Strengthens TSF Resin and makes it hard and
Improves adhesion and toughens the coating --
sticks strongly to the nail plate, but is soft and dull looking.
Increase flexibility and wear of the polymer
Solvents make spreadable liquids, and keep the
polymer and additives dissolved. After the polish is applied, the
solvent slowly evaporates, leaving the remaining ingredients.
Titanium dioxide (a white pigment) is frequently
added with other colored pigments to reduce the number of coatings.
"Contains no Formaldehyde" is seen on
some nail enamel or polishes. Should formaldehyde be a concern for
nail enamel users? In most cases, no! The negligible amount
found in enamel is extremely safe. One exception is the prolonged
use of products with more than 1% formaldehyde. At these levels,
formaldehyde may cause severe allergic reactions. Fortunately, most
nail enamels contain less than 0.0015% formaldehyde. This tiny
amount comes from an important ingredient called toluene sulfonamide
formaldehyde resin (TSF resin). This resin is very different
from formaldehyde in that it will not cause problems unless the client is
already allergic to formaldehyde, i.e., from the use of formaldehyde nail
Nail hardeners may legally contain as much as
3% formaldehyde. Concentrations above 1% will cause the natural nail
to stiffen and lose flexibility. Clients usually confuse this
stiffness with strengthening. They incorrectly assume that harder
nails must be stronger. Although the nail actually bends less, it
has actually lost strength. Prolonged use of formaldehyde
causes the nails to become split, dry and brittle.
Toluene has been safely used in nail enamels since the
30's. In the 90's toluene has become a very controversial
ingredient. Paranoid politicians passed a state law in California
that basically says that safe is not safe enough. California law
requires exposure to be thousands of times below the federal safe-exposure
level. Because of a lawsuit, the state of California asked for a
study which would determine the level of toluene in the average
salon. The study showed that the level of toluene found in salon air
is more than 200 times below the federal limits. In other words, the
air would still be safe to breathe even if the toluene vapors of 200
salons were put into one salon.
Toluene is used to
dissolve other ingredients in nail enamels. Polishes with toluene
apply smoother and produce more brilliant colors that resist
peeling. No other solvent does as good a job as toluene.
Toluene sulfonamide formaldehyde resin is a polymer
produced from each of the chemicals in its name. This particular
polymer is widely used to increase the strength of the primary nail polish
polymer, nitrocellulose. Hypoallergenic polishes usually contain a
polymer resin which makes the polish about 10 - 20% less durable.
Another alternative is toluene sulfonamide epoxy resin. This
polymer has slightly better properties than the polyesters; however,
polishes that contain this resin suffer from poor shelf life.
Neither can it compare to TSF resin for strength and durability.
Nail technicians use many types of products to create
artificial nail enhancements. Light-cure gels, liquid-and-powder
systems, wraps and no-light gels all seem totally different and unrelated,
but nothing could be further from the truth. The monomers used to
make each of these are very closely related and, in fact, come from the
same chemical family, the acrylics.
and Powder) Systems
The 'liquid' is really a complex mixture of
monomers. The 'powder' is a polymer which contains the initiator and
other additives. The polymer acts as a carrier, holding other
ingredients -- some of which are coated on the outside of the
polymer. The mineral titanium dioxide is used to create a
more natural appearance. This is the same pigment used in white
house paint and children's finger-paint. Dyes are added to give the
polymer a pinkish or bluish color. Pink dyes will also cover-up
yellowing and product discoloration. Blue coloration acts as an
optical brightener; whites look whiter when a small amount of blue is
A heat-sensitive initiator is added to the
polymer; usually benzoyl peroxide.
This is the same initiator
that is found in acne creams. The heat of the room and hand is
enough to break a molecule of benzoyl peroxide in half. Each half is
capable of exciting or energizing a molecule. When a molecule breaks
in half, it is called a free radical. Free radicals also play
a role in wrinkling and aging. Many skin care products contain
chemicals which eliminate free radicals -- so, as you can see, some free
radicals are beneficial while others are not.
radicals are very excited molecules that cause many kinds of chemical
reactions and can be found almost everywhere. Once a free radical
excites the monomer, it is completely eliminated. Monomers are mixed
with polymers containing benzoyl peroxide. Heat will break the
initiator in half, and each free radical will energize a molecule.
The energized monomer will attach to another monomers tail, passing the
energy along until all the monomers are hooked together into a teeming
mass of long chains. Only the monomer can make a new polymer.
The growing chains of monomer wrap around the polymer. The polymer
powder does NOT react; it is only a carrier for the initiator to the
So where does the polymer powder
come from? As you might suspect, the polymer powder starts out as
monomer. The monomer is placed in a large mixer which may hold over
1000 gallons. solvent is added to dilute the monomer, initiator and
catalyst are added and the blend is mixed rapidly. After several
hours, the monomer polymerizes into tiny beads, the solvent is drained
away, and the beads are dried and packaged.
Consistency is determined by the amount of polymer
powder used. The polymer powder gives the enhancement much of its
strength. When the monomer polymerizes, it surrounds each tiny bead
which reinforces the entire enhancement. Nail Technicians sometimes
use extra monomer to smooth the surface of the enhancement, or use too wet
a consistency during application. Too much monomer lowers consistency and
reduces strength which results in excessive breakage. (Fig.1)
The highest strength is obtained by using the correct ratio of monomer to
polymer. (Fig. 2)
Incorrect Mix Ratio
Correct Mix Ratio
|Photo Courtesy of Creative Nail Design Systems, Inc.
Too dry a consistency causes breakage and lifting, but
too wet a consistency is worse. If the mixture is too wet, the
enhancements may seem strong , flexible, and adhere well to the nail
plate, but don't be fooled. Too wet a consistency is one of the
leading causes of allergic reaction in clients and nail technicians.
Wet consistencies may give better adhesion, but they lower strength.
Dry consistencies have equal amounts of monomer and polymer and offer the
best strength, but less adhesion. Medium wet consistencies give the
best of both worlds; they are strong, flexible and offer good
A medium-wet consistency is a mixture of
1 1/2 parts monomer to 1 part polymer. To determine if your
consistency is correct, make a bead in your normal fashion.
Carefully lay the bead on top of a clean, unfiled tip, placing the bead
directly on the center or the apex. Do not pat or press the bead --
it should form a small mound or dome. Watch the bead for 15 seconds
and note what you see. Does the bead begin to settle or flow out
almost immediately? Does the height of the bead drop halfway or more
in 15 seconds? Does the bead seem to lose most of its original
shape? Can you see a ring of monomer around the base of the
bead? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your
bead is probably too wet. If you answered yes to all of these
questions, your ratio is probably greater than 3 parts monomer to 1 part
The monomers used to create wraps are called cyanoacrylates
and are members of the acrylic family. They are the same monomers
used to create many fast setting adhesives such as Krazy Glue.®
Professional nail products are specifically designed for use on
fingernails and are far superior for this application. These
monomers are sensitive to alcohol, water, and weak alkaline substances,
and in large amounts they can cause almost-instant polymerization. A
drop of water or alcohol on wrap monomers will cause 'shock
cure". They will harden quickly and turn cloudy white.
They turn cloudy because shock curing causes thousands of microscopic
crack. They are invisible to the eye, but the cracks will scatter
light reflecting from the surface. Small amounts of these substances
cause slower, controlled reactions which result in polymers which are
clear, flexible and strong. Wraps, however, do not have the
advantage of being cross-linked.
monomers must be protected from moisture in the air which is why they are
sold in containers with small nozzles. This prevents air molecules
from gelling or thickening the product. As with other monomers,
inhibitors are used to prevent gelling. Even so, leaving a container
open for too long will thicken the product fairly quickly. You might
think this moisture sensitivity is a negative, although it actually is a
The nail plate contains enough moisture to polymerize wrap monomers, and
just touching the nail plate is often enough to react the
monomers. (This is one reason why cyanoacrylates so
easily adhere ones fingers together.)
speed up the polymerization and reduce cure time from minutes to
seconds. Spray or brush-on catalyst causes an almost-instantaneous
reaction. The catalysts in wrap systems are generally weak alkaline
substances which may be listed as "aromatic amines'. Rapid
reactions cause rapid heat build-up. Incorrectly used, these
catalysts may heat the nail plate to a blistering 170° F. A small
amount of warming is beneficial and will improve strength; however,
pain-causing heat may cause serious burns to the nail bed. To avoid
over-heating, some catalysts must be sprayed from a distance. Always
wear the proper mask when using these systems to protect yourself from the
vapors of mists and sprays.
of cyanoacrylates are used as tip adhesives and are formulated
differently. They are sensitive to moisture and work best when there
is no air. Most set slowly or turn to a rubbery gel in the presence
of air. When the air supply is cut off, the adhesive quickly
sets. This feature is beneficial for the nail technician, allowing
maximum working time and a quick set once the tip is properly
placed. Thinner adhesives set faster, but this is not always good
because extremely fast setting adhesives give lower strength. If you
have a client whose tips just don't seem to hold or they separate in a few
weeks, try a slower-setting thicker adhesive.
adhesives work best if the tip to nail plate fit is perfect. If
there is a gap between the tip as there generally is with ski-jump nails,
nails with missing sidewalls, bitten or broken nails, then the thicker,
slower setting adhesives will give the best retention. Thicker
adhesives (gel adhesive) will fill in the gaps and irregularities and
allow for a tighter bond. With gel adhesives, less is more.
These adhesives usually contain dissolved methacrylate powder to give the
bond more strength, especially in the gaps. Some adhesives contain
special wetting agents which help improve nail adhesion, strength and
clarity. Since these adhesives are not cross-linked, they are
affected by moisture. Clients who frequently wet their hands should
be warned that all cyanoacrylates are moisture sensitive, and should be
instructed to wear gloves whenever possible. This is true of both
adhesives and wraps.
word "glue" is commonly misused -- especially in the
professional nail industry. People often use this term to mean
anything that is sticky. Glue is a name for a certain type of
adhesive. True glues are adhesives made from animal protein, hide,
bones and hooves. No professional nail adhesive is made from animal
by-products, so it is incorrect to call them 'glues'. The proper
term is adhesive. The professional nail industry uses
advanced monomer adhesives, not glue!
Various types of fabrics are used to reinforce the
polymer wrap coating. These fabrics provide support and added
strength to the coating. There are three fabrics in wide use:
fiberglass, silk and linen. the type of fabric is not as important
as the weave. The weave and thickness of the fabric determine its
usefulness; the monomer must be able to penetrate the weave, soaking
completely through the fabric. If the monomer sits on top of the
fabric, it leaves tiny spaces or voids between the monomer and the
fabric's fibers. These voids create weak areas where cracks may
later develop and grow. If the monomer absorbs easily into the
fabric, the coating will be stronger and clearer. Proper wetting
allows the monomer to cover the surface more thoroughly, penetrate deeper,
and hold tighter.
Fiberglass and silk are very similar in
properties. Silk is more easily wetted and creates a more natural
appearance. If properly applied, both silk and fiberglass create
thin, strong and natural-looking enhancements. Linens tend to be
thicker and tightly woven, making it difficult for the monomer to
penetrate the fabric. The result is thick, cloudy coatings that must
be worn with polish to cover the unnatural appearance. Because the
monomer cannot completely wet the linen, these fabrics can lift and peel
away (delaminate). Medium-weave silk and fiberglass provide the best
overall combination of strength, retention, clarity and
Skin oil and other contaminates can block
wetting. Touching fabric will deposit large amounts of skin oil on
the fabric. To eliminate many of the problems associated with wraps,
including lifting, peeling and cracking, avoid touching the fabric with
UV Gel Systems
UV or visible light-curing gels have been around for
many years, but have recently gained popularity. Newer products are
beginning to meet the tough demands of the professional nail
industry. Since these systems can use either visible light or UV
light to create enhancements, the term "gel" will be used when
referring to both types of products.
This term is misleading and suggests that these are
like regular UV gels because they need no light. Not
true! These products are wrap monomers that have been
thickened to have a gel-like appearance. They should be used and
handled as any other wrap product. They have most of the benefit and
disadvantages of the other wrap products. Many feel that the gel
wrap product is easier to use because it is thicker; however, thicker
monomers will not wet fabric as easily.
Gels are often sold as being 'not acrylic', but
in fact are based on both the methacrylates and the acrylates family.
Polymerizing monomers with UV or visible light is not very efficient as it
is difficult to get the UV light deep into the gel. If gels were
made entirely of monomers, most of the gel would not turn into a
polymer. One way to improve efficiency is to pre-join some of the
monomers into short chains. These short chains are neither monomers
or polymers -- they are in between: oligomers. Oligomers make
it easier to create polymers. An oligomer is a single chain that is
several thousand monomers long. Joining a few hundred oligomers is
much faster than joining a million individual monomers. Why are gels
so thick? Nail enhancement monomers are liquids and polymers are
solids, so it makes sense that oligomers are in between. this is why
gels are 'gel-like' inconsistency. Now you can understand one of the
disadvantages of most gel systems. They are more difficult to use
because of their heavy consistency and their tendency to be stringy.
On the positive side, the thicker consistency reduces evaporation and
Some initiators use heat energy and others use
light. It is easy to keep light away from gels so the initiator,
catalyst, and oligomers can be combined together into a single
product. This is possibly one of gel's greatest advantages.
They come premixed and ready to use. Still, no system is
perfect. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Curing with UV
or visible light is more convenient, but raises special problems that must
be addressed. Since initiators are activated by light, they must
penetrate completely through the gel to polymerize all of the
oligomers. Unfortunately, this does not occur. Thick coatings
of gel allow less light to reach the bottom layers. In Europe where
gels are used extensively, they attempt to overcome this with powerful UV
lights. these systems use 38-40 watts of UV light. American
systems tend to be far lower, usually 8 watts. UV bulbs emit only
UV-A, so there is little danger. However, the high-wattage lamps are
far more expensive and can cause problems as well. Remember, when
polymers cure too quickly, they release large amounts of heat in a short
period of time. This can cause serious and damaging burns to the nail
As a rule, the thicker the coating, the less efficient
the cure. It is much better to use three or four thin coats rather
than one or two thicker coats. Thinner coats allow more light to
penetrate the layer. Also, the hands will be under the gel light
longer if more coatings are used. Another advantage is reduced
shrinkage. Gels shrink more than any other type of
enhancement. Using thinner coats reduces the effects of shrinkage.
Bulb condition is vital to the success of gel
enhancements. UV lamps become ineffective many months before they
burn out. After about 6 months of normal use, a bulb has less than
half its original UV energy. UV bulbs should be changed twice per
year even if they look fine. If the product seems to set slower than
normal, change the bulbs immediately. Clean the bulbs whenever
needed or at least once per week.
Finally, the type of oligomer used plays an important
role in skin allergy. Since acrylates tend to cure much faster, they
are more likely to cause allergic reactions. For this reason,
acrylate monomers are rarely used in monomer-and-polymer
formulations. The stickiness of gels also contributes to allergies
because the sticky gel is more likely to remain on implements and
skin. Gels should NEVER be allowed to touch the skin -- NEVER touch
your clients cuticles, either. If contact occurs, immediately
cleanse the area with soap and water. Jeep brush handles, files,
containers, and implements free of gel.
As gel ingredients become more sophisticated, the
products will improve and many of the problems associated with gels will
no longer haunt nail technicians.
Most people believe chemicals are dangerous or toxic
substances. Ask someone about chemicals and they might mention toxic
waste dumps or factories dumping poisonous waste into streams.
Actually, everything we see and touch is a chemical, except for light and
electricity. Air is a combination of many chemicals; oxygen,
hydrogen and nitrogen. Clean, pure mountain stream water is a
chemical. A newborn baby's skin is 100% chemical.
Why do people only think of chemicals in a negative
way? It is because of the dramatized and exaggerated images created
by the media. These images are misleading and inaccurate. The
truth is, 99% of the chemicals we come in contact with in our lives are
completely safe and beneficial. Water is the most common salon
chemical. Water can be very dangerous! In fact, it can kill
you within minutes. Try sticking your head in a bucket full of water
for 5 minutes. Foolish? Yes! Since we were very young,
our parents taught us the potential hazards of water; it is dangerous to
swim after a big meal or use a blow dryer in the bathtub, and not to drive
fast on wet pavement. We all learned the rules, and the same holds
true for salon chemicals. There are 'safe working' rules we must
follow, or we will suffer the consequences. Every chemical can be
safe and every chemical can be dangerous -- it's up to you!
No chemical in the world can
be harmful unless you overexpose yourself. Every chemical
substance has a safe and unsafe level of exposure. Simply touching,
inhaling, or smelling a potentially hazardous substance can't harm
you. Exceeding the safe level of exposure is the danger we must
learn to avoid!
Some chemicals are dangerous even in tiny amounts and
are not suited for salon use. Professional products are formulated
to be as safe as possible, though no nail product or other cosmetic
product is free from all risks. A normally safe product can become
dangerous if used incorrectly. Even gardeners and mechanics must
follow safe working procedures.
Data Sheets provide information to all chemical workers, including
nail technicians. MSDS help firefighters deal with chemical fires or
clean up large spills, and doctors to treat accidental poisonings.
Any professional product that contains a potentially hazardous substance
has an MSDS. What can you learn from an MSDS?
Potentially hazardous ingredients found in each
Proper storage and fire prevention.
Ways to prevent hazardous chemicals from entering
The short and long-term health effects of
Early warning signs of product overexposure.
Emergency first aid advice.
Emergency phone numbers.
Safe handling techniques.
There are only three ways that a potentially hazardous
chemical can enter the body. If you block these 'routes of entry',
you will automatically lower your exposure.
Inhalation by breathing vapors, mists, or
Absorption through the skin or broken
Unintentional or accidental ingestion.
The human body is very rugged and complex, giving early
warning signs of overexposure. Unfortunately, these symptoms are
often ignored. For instance, overexposure to some solvents can make
you feel very tired or keep you from sleeping. Overexposure can
cause headaches, nausea, angry or frustrated feelings, nosebleeds, coughs,
dizziness, tingling fingers and toes, dry or scratchy nose and throat,
puffy red and irritated skin, itching, and many other symptoms.
Watching for these acute symptoms will help you avoid more serious,
Accidents happen when they are least expected.
What would you do it a small child ran up to your
table and drank from your bottle of primer? The MSDS will
provide emergency numbers that may safe a life.
capped or covered when not in use. Empty waste containers
Just because you don't smell anything doesn't mean
there are no vapors in the air. Keeping products closed will
drastically reduce the amount of vapors released by 'volatile' or
Avoid pressurized spray cans and use metal waste
containers with pop-up lids.
Surgical type masks (often called dust masks) are
completely ineffective against vapors. These masks should only
be used to keep dust particles out of your lungs.
Never use a dust mask to protect yourself from
vapors. Vapors are far too small to be 'filtered' by dust
masks. Use a mist mask if you spray anything.
Some high-quality masks are also effective against
mists. These are called mist-rated masks; however, they too are
ineffective against vapors.
Always wear a dust mask
when filing, especially if you use a drill.
Our lungs can handle a lot of dusts because it has
ways of removing and disposing of inhaled dusts. When you inhale
more than the lungs can handle, you increase your risk. Drills
make much smaller dust particles than files or emery boards.
These smaller particles lodge deeper into the lungs, making them more
hazardous to your health. Drills spin in a clock-wise direction
and will actually 'throw' the dust in your face, and remain in your
breathing-zone up to 60% longer than the dusts from hand filing.
These smaller particles will settle on every surface and even the
slightest breeze will send them back into your air.
Never judge product safety by odor.
What is the most dangerous misconception about
chemicals in the salon industry? Many believe that they can tell
how safe or dangerous a chemical is simply by its odor!
Wrong! A chemical's smell has absolutely nothing to do with its
safety. Some of the most dangerous substances known have very
sweet, pleasant fragrances.
Never smoke, eat or drink in the salon.
Always store food away from salon chemicals and wash your hands before
eating or going to the restroom. A cigarette lighter will
produce a spark that may ignite flammable liquids and vapors.
Coffee cups can easily collect dusts. Hot
liquids, like coffee and tea, will absorb vapors right out of the
air. Dusts can settle on your food, and your food can absorb the
vapors. Think not? Lay a piece of bread on your table in
the morning, then take it outside with you at the end of the
day. What is that smell? Chemical vapors!
You should always wear approved safety glasses
whenever you work and should give your client a pair to wear as well.
Your client may love you and think you are the
greatest nail technician in the world. But, if you accidentally
splash primer or wrap monomer in their eyes, you have lost a friend
and gained a lawsuit! You are responsible for the client's
safety while in your care.
Soft contact lenses can absorb vapors from the
air -- never wear contact lenses in the salon, and wash your hands
before touching the eye area.
Wearing contacts while in the salon is risky as
vapors will collect in the soft lenses and make them unwearable.
Even if you wear safety glasses, the vapors are still absorbed.
The contaminated lens can etch the surface of the eye and cause
permanent damage. Should an accidental spill occur, the liquid will
'wick' under the lens, making proper cleansing of the eye more
Treat all chemical products with respect.
Don't be fooled by marketing terms like "nontoxic",
"natural", and "organic."
Organic simply means the chemical contains
carbon in its structure. Most things on earth are organic.
Cow dung, poison ivy, and road tar are all 100% organic and
natural. Natural simply means "occurring in
nature." Nature is a wicked place; filled with poisonous
substances. Natural doesn't mean a product is safe, wholesome,
or even better.
Don't judge a chemical by what it CAN do --
what's important is how easily you can prevent the potential hazard.
Alcohol (in beer and wine) CAN cause liver damage
-- if you drink a couple quarts a day for 5 years! It won't
happen because you have a margarita with lunch.
There is no need to fear chemicals, just be
careful and wise.
Know your products, read and understand the MSDS,
read all product warning labels, and follow the manufacturers
application guidelines for all your salon products.
To reduce exposure to
vapors, ventilate, don't circulate!
Air-conditioning units are designed to circulate
the existing air in a room. A ventilation system will 'remove'
the existing air and draw fresh air into the room. Vented
manicuring stations will help 'control' dusts and vapors, but only if
the charcoal filter is changed regularly
For a greater understanding of the chemicals we work with, how
and why they 'do what they do', see: Nail Structure and Product
Chemistry by Douglas D. Schoon for
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