Understanding what primer is
and how it’s properly applied
will lead to less lifting and
Nail primer can certainly make life easier for the nail technician. If used correctly, it can virtually eliminate lifting. But primer can also create problems if used unwisely. As with all of your professional tools, understanding and proper use are the keys to success.
Why do nail technicians need nail primer? The answer is simple: to improve adhesion and prevent lifting. Most liquid and powder enhancement products don’t adhere strongly to the natural nail when used without a primer. This is actually an advantage because enhancements that bond too strongly to the nail plate are difficult to remove safely. The old fashioned “dental acrylics” are a great example. These products bonded so tightly to the nail plate that only aggressive drilling and coarse abrasives could remove them.
Newer, safer products remove easily, especially in warm solvents, but may not adhere as well to the nail plate without the use of primer to improve adhesion.
HOW PRIMERS WORK
Chemically, primers are like doublesided sticky tape. They use the forces of nature to improve product adhesion. One end of a primer molecule is strongly attracted to the nail plate. In other words, it sticks well to that surface. The other end of the molecule chemically combines with the product. The result is a strong bond on both sides.
You could also compare primer molecules to an anchor on a ship. The anchor catches in the ground, and the chain holds the ship to the anchor. How this happens is one of the most interesting aspects of nail technology.
Imagine that you shrank yourself down to the size of a molecule. If you were to stand on the surface of the nail plate, you’d be amazed at what you saw. The nail’s amino acids the same building blocks that make up hair would look like little arms (see picture) standing on the surface. The square and triangular shapes you’d see are the different shape of the nail surface. Certain substances, such as primer, match the nail plate surface more closely than others and maximize the forces of nature to create adhesion.
As you can see from the opening diagram, monomer molecules don’t match the surface of the nail plate very well certainly not as well as primer. But primer molecules match the molecules of the enhancement product and the nail plate, thus creating a strong bond between both. Of course, the process is a little more complicated than this, but you can now see why scientists who study adhesion agree with the old adage, “Like attracts like!”
are like doublesided
sticky tape. They use the
forces of nature to
DO PRIMERS EAT THE NAIL?
The most common misconception about primers is that they “eat” the nail. You can easily disprove this myth yourself using a small bottle and a nail clipping. Seal the piece of natural nail in a small bottle containing primer and put it in your drawer. In 50 years when you retire and sell your vast chain of nail salons, before you take that trip around the world, take out the bottle and examine the nail. You’ll find that it hasn’t changed. You can perform the same experiment with any other nail enhancement product and achieve the same result.
Primer doesn’t destroy the nail plate; nail technicians with heavy abrasives do that! When enhancements are removed, the nail plate should look the same as the new growth. Any depressions or pits that may appear aren’t caused by primer; they’re caused by overfiling.
Everyone knows that enhancements applied incorrectly will lift. Therefore, proper preparation is key. Your main objective in preparing the nail for primer should be to remove only the oil, which can block the amino acid arms on the nail’s surface and cover the places that primer would normally occupy (see Figure1). These oils give the nail plate its shiny appearance. All you have to do is remove the oil, which can be easily done without thinning the nail plate.
First, ask the client to scrub her hands and nails. Then, very lightly buff the uppermost layers of the nail plate with a light abrasive. Buff just enough to remove the shine. Once the shine is gone, the oil has been removed. Of course, there are several other important steps to proper nail prep, but this is all you need to do to remove oils that block adhesion.
A STRONG FOUNDATION
Extremely thin nail plates are often the most challenging. Building a nail is much like building a house. You don’t expect a house to stand very long on a weak foundation, and you shouldn’t expect a nail enhance nail enhancement to do so either.
A weak foundation is a common cause of enhancement breakage. Thin nails are too flexible to offer a firm foundation for an enhancement
For this reason, you must Also be careful not to use too much primer when prepping the nail Excessive amounts of nail primer, especially on extremely thin nail plates, can seep through to the sensitive nail bed tissues and cause damage. Both overfiling with heavy abrasives or finishing machines and applying too much primer can cause separation of the nail plate from the nail bed, which can, in turn, lead to infection. Remember, when it comes to primers, a little goes a long way. Use only enough to barely wet the nail plate.
Most primers contain an ingredient called methacrylic acid, which is 60% to 100% of the total formula content. People generally believe that “more is better,” butt that is certainly not the case with primers. You can achieve equally good results with a primer containing only 50% methacrylic acid. The remaining portion is a solvent t that quickly evaporates.
After you dip and wipe the excess amount on the bottle lip, there’s enough primer in the brush to sufficiently cover one entire hand. After you’ve applied the primer, allow the solvent to completely evaporate.
Diluted primers create thin, uniform coatings when the solvent evaporates, thus lessening the chance of overpriming. If you’re doing everything else correctly and using a high quality product, most clients won’t require a second coating.
If you find that you consistently need to apply two or three coatings, review your application technique. You don’t want primer to become a crutch for product adhesion. It may hide errors in your technique, but in the long run, it’s best to find and solve these problems–not resort to excessive amounts of primer or heavy filing.
There’s another reason that many manufacturers dilute the primer. Methacrylic acid is a corrosive, which, by definition, can cause irreversible skin damage. Therefore, diluted primers are safer. There are certain precautions you should always observe when using acid primers.
- Avoid skin contact. Primers can cause serious burns if not treated with caution. Should accidental contact occur, immediately wash the area with plenty of soap and cold water. Soap is alkaline and will help neutralize the acid. Cold water will cool the area. If skin redness persists or there’s obvious damage, consult a physician immediately. The damage may worsen if not properly treated.
- If primer is spilled on clothing, remove the affected items at once. Primer can burn the skin through clothing. Don’t wear the clothing until it has been thoroughly washed
- Avoid contact with eyes. If primer is splashed in the eyes, quick action is required. Flood the eyes with cold water while holding the eyelids open. If your salon has a wash basin with a flexible hose or an eyewash, use it. Continue to flood the eyes for at least 15 minutes. Don’t wait; call a doctor immediately.
- Store primer safely. It’s very important to keep primer out of the reach of children. Each year children are injured when they accidentally spill primer on themselves or try to drink it. Be responsible with your tools. Keep them capped and secure.
Actually, there is no such thing as a “nonacid primer.” All primers contain some type of acid. These primers just contain different acids that don’t create a burning sensation on the skin. Although they work in exactly the same way traditional methacrylic acid primers do and are just as safe for the natural nail, these so called “nonacid primers” may be less effective, especially on lift-prone clients. The benefit they offer is they’re non-corrosive to soft tissue.
Remember, all primers can be safe, and all primers can be dangerous if improperly used. Don’t kid yourself when it comes to safety. As with every professional tool of the nail technician, you should always avoid skin and eye contact. It’s up to you to make sure that your products are used wisely.
“Nonacid primers” are less likely to cause skin damage, but they’re still hazardous to the eyes. Use them with the same caution and respect that all your products deserve.
Improper use of primers, overfiling and other incorrect application or removal procedures account for more than 99% of the damage done in nail salons. Problems you may have blamed in the past on products might very well be due to lack of knowledge, understanding and awareness.
You can usually avoid damage to the nail plate, skin and cuticles by improving your techniques–not by changing your products. If a client’s nail plates or cuticles are in bad shape, reassess your techniques.
It’s your job to keep the entire nail and surrounding soft tissue as healthy as possible. If you accept that responsibility, then you’ll succeed and experience fewer problems in the future.
Doug Schoon is the director of research and development for Creative Nail Design Systems, Vista, California, and the executive director Chemical Awareness Training Services. Portions of this article were excerpted by permission from his new book, Milady’s Guide to Nail Structure and Product Chemistry, Milady Publishers 800-836-5239