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Acid-based or acid-free primers?

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Question: I have always been made to believe that acid primers are not advisable to use, as they destroy the natural nail by slowly eating it away. Recently, I heard that acid primers are the only way of “opening” up the layers of the nail to create better adhesion of the acrylic to the natural nail, and those acid-free primer/bonders are just a sticky substance that will only help to adhere to products to the very top layer of the natural nail?

Answer: You were told incorrectly. Try this experiment: soak a piece of nail clipping in any nail primer. You will find that even after months or years of complete immersion, these products will NOT eat the nail. This silly myth was started by some irresponsible UV gel companies in Europe during the late ’90s, solely to frighten nail techs. They wanted to trick nail technicians into thinking that two-part liquid monomer and polymer powder systems were harmful to the nail.  Why? They only sold UV gel products, so they pretended UV gels were safer and healthier, which is false and misleading.  All professional nail coatings can be used safely, and none should damage the natural nail when properly applied, maintained, and removed. 

The primers “eat the nail” myth, and other false rumors like this, were spread just so these companies could unfairly gain a competitive advantage over the competition, companies selling liquid monomer and powdered polymer systems. This is called “fear-based marketing”. Sadly, such scare tactics can work when nail professionals don’t have the correct information.  Here is the correct information:

Artificial nail primers work in one of two ways;

1. The traditional methacrylic acid-based primers act like double-sided sticky tape, but they aren’t sticky.  Instead, the primer molecules have two arms or branches. One branch is strongly attracted to the nail plate while the other branch chemically reacts to become part of the enhancement. This anchors the enhancement to the plate and prevents lifting.  Methacrylic acid primers aren‘t used that much anymore because they are very corrosive to skin, and may cause serious burns when accidental exposure occurs.

2. Newer technology primers don’t use methacrylic acid, are not corrosive, and provide improved adhesion. Some of the new primers also behave like double-sided sticky tape as described above, while other types actually form strong chemical bonds directly to the keratin protein to provide enhancement with superior adhesion. 

Lastly, no primer can “open up the layers” of the nail plate. ALL professional nail primers work only on the surface of the nail plate.  How do you decide which primer to use? I recommend that you use the primer that was designed for use with the system that you choose to use.

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