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mixing nail product brands

Mixing Nail Product Brands

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Cherry-picking is a very common issue in the nail industry. Nail professionals are mixing nail product brands and breaking systems every day. It is perceived that the main problem coming out of this practice is service breakdown. In some cases, this may be true.

When the incorrect polymer powder is used with a monomer liquid, service breakdown can become a much bigger issue. Even so, there are more important problems that can develop when the incorrect powder is used. Under a microscope, it’s easy to see these powders are actually large numbers of tiny solid polymer spheres that are coated on the outside with various ingredients. Mixing them with monomer liquid causes a chemical reaction that creates a polymer nail coating with great durability. The monomer liquid is more important to the final properties of the nail coating, but the polymer powder is also extremely important. I’d estimate that 70% of the properties come from the monomer liquid and 30% from the polymer powders.  These powders are NOT interchangeable between different company brands and there is NO such thing as a Universal Powder that works with all brands of monomer liquids. 

Interestingly, when it comes to the individual powder particles themselves it’s important to understand:

a) What is inside the particle?
b) What is the outer surface like?
c) What is attached to the particle’s surface?

All three of these are important to the final enhancement. The inside of the particle determines the strength. These particles must be strong enough to resist cracks and keep them from spreading. That’s the main function of each powder particle, to act as crack arrestors to stop tiny cracks from quickly spreading and joining to create larger cracks. Without these powder particles, cracks would easily join together to cause the enhancement to quickly break.  When there are too few of these powder particles in the enhancements or coating, breakage is more likely to occur.

The surface of each powder particle is even more important.  The particle’s surface determines much of its workability and compatibility with the monomer liquid.  In other words, the outer surface determines how easily the powder can be picked up to create a bead. It also determines how well the mixture will flow when it is brushed and if it will stay where it is placed.  Also, the ease with which the surface will self-level and the final surface smoothness and shine are determined by the powder.  All of those factors are largely controlled by how well the particle’s surface interacts with the monomer liquid.  If they don’t interact well, many of these properties are diminished. Additives that adhere to the surfaces of these particles help prevent yellowing, improve brightness or ensure better coverage.  

The most important of these additives is benzoyl peroxide, which is often shortened to “BPO”.  Benzoyl peroxide is the same acne-fighting ingredient that millions of teenagers have applied to their faces over the last 60 years.  In acne creams, BPO is used in up to a 10% concentration. In nail powders, the BPO concentration is usually between 1-2%. Interestingly, there is a VERY big difference between a nail powder containing 1% versus a nail powder containing 2% BPO.  This may sound like a small difference, but this is a BIG difference.  A powder with 2% BPO contains twice as much BPO as one with only 1%.  While other ingredients found in the monomer liquid are responsible for controlling how fast the coating will cure, the amount of BPO in the powder determines how “completely” the liquid monomer will cure.

This is VERY important for nail professionals to understand. Too little BPO, the enhancement will undercure. Too much BPO, the enhancement will overcure.  

Overcuring can lead to discoloration, especially yellowing.  It can also cause brittleness, cracking, breaking, chipping, and loss of adhesion or lifting. These are all classic signs of service breakdown. Of course, no one wants these types of problems with their nails. However, “under” cure is an even more important issue that must be avoided.  Undercured nail coatings often have service breakdowns and are more likely to stain. They can be overly flexible or have increased cracking at the stress zones near the free edge. Even more importantly, undercured nail coatings are much more likely to cause adverse skin reactions for clients and nail professionals.  In fact, I believe undercuring is one of the leading causes of skin irritation and allergies to nail products, in general, and this includes UV-cured nail coatings. This is because undercured enhancements contain excessive amounts of uncured ingredients. 

In the case of these two-part systems, undercured nail coatings contain excessive amounts of monomers. Their fresh dust and filings are also rich in monomers.  Prolonged or repeated contact to monomer-rich dust and filings may lead to skin overexposure – which is a leading cause of skin allergy to nail enhancements. When prolonged and/or repeated skin contact is avoided, allergic reactions become highly unlikely. This explains why it is important to keep arms from laying on dust, filings, or from repeatedly contacting the backs of the hands, arms, neck, etc. When properly cured, these nail coatings will not contain excessive amounts of monomer and are unlikely to cause adverse skin reactions. 

There are two main ways to cause undercuring.  The most common is to apply product beads that contain too much monomer liquid and not enough powder. The amount of powder that is picked up to form the bead determines the amount of BPO in that bead.  Use too little powder and there will not be enough BPO for proper curing.  What is the proper amount of powder for a bead?  The right amount creates a medium consistency bead that holds its own shape; never use a bead that has a runny or wet consistency.  

Also, never brush pure monomer onto the enhancements; this injects excessive amounts of monomer into the enhancements, which leads to undercuring.  If you use the incorrect powder, it likely doesn’t contain the correct amount of BPO. What do I mean by the incorrect powder?  I’m talking about a powder that was not “specifically designed” to be used with the monomer liquid used.  It is important to note that a 1% BPO powder will undercure a monomer liquid designed for use with a 1.5% BPO powder. 

Even a half percent difference in BPO concentration can lead to an undercured enhancement, and that is especially risky during the first hour after creating the enhancement. That’s when the enhancement contains the highest concentration of uncured monomer and the potential for developing skin overexposure is at its highest.  That’s why it is important to avoid prolonged and repeated exposure to fresh filings and dust. That is why I am opposed to so-called “universal powders”. What’s that all about? Why would one company sell a nail powder to cure another company’s monomer liquid? It doesn’t make sense unless they just want to sell the powder to as many nail technicians as they can, and don’t really care if the enhancement properly cures.  In my opinion, it is wrong for one company to tell nail professionals to misuse another company’s products. These are two-part systems that should be used as directed. 

I advise all nail professionals to:

  1. Only use the polymer powder that was specifically designed for the monomer liquid used.
  2. Always use a medium consistency bead, never wet or runny.
  3. Never use monomer alone, always mix it with the powder.
  4. Avoid prolonged and/or repeated skin contact with fresh filings or dust.
  5. Avoid skin contact with any uncured nail coating products, including monomer liquids and UV cured gels or UV gel manicure products. 

Once a nail coating is properly cured, it’ll be very unlikely to cause adverse skin reactions.
So be wise and use them well. 

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