Acrylic Nails


Step-by-step acrylic nails & nailwraps lessons and other general info.

Temporairly this page contains both acrylics and wraps.... This page is currently being reorganized and modified. More lessons on application to come soon! Untill then here are 2 short lessons, some Q & A's and troubleshooting problems tips with acrylic and wraps application ideas. Also see the "Hints & Tips" and the "FAQ's" pages for more info.

Subjects covered on this page (you must scroll down as jumps and anchors have not been installed yet!):


Honestly, it took me 2 years to perfect the Pink And White backfill to the point that it took me the same amount of time as a "regular" fill, and another full year until it finally took LESS time (because of the "no polishing")than a "regular".

I've been doing nails about 10+ some years now, and started doing P & W's on a regular basis 4 years ago.... before that I would give-up on them because of all the extra time it took.... but like any other procedure or skill in our industry, I found that in time and PRACTICE it finally came to me. Now I purposefully schedule my book so that my last appt before I leave is a P&W so that I can look forward to no polish drying time and so leaving the salon 10 minutes sooner!

Personally, I like the Atwood Industries backfill bit designed by Lisa Comfort (it cuts a really nice trench, IMO). (see my links page for buying info on Atwood products)

And YES, you do need to file off about 1/2 (sometimes more!) of the old white from the FE to re-cover with the new white (at the new smile-line and out over the FE), in order to get nice, even white colorant on your FE (free-edge), and to prevent to FE from getting too thick after multiple fills.

What product line you use may or MAY NOT contribute to your speed and skill level, I don't have any personal recommendations in that area that I feel are relevant, but I do have some other tips that you may or may not already know, so here goes..... (see also the regular fill steps above for more info)

Here are my over-simplified (or maybe not so over-simplified? Maybe the better description is "short version".... as there is just an unlimited amount of info and variations to explore on this subject!)

P & W back-fill steps.

1) Regular prep... wash, sanitize, remove polish, push back cuticles.....

2) Shorten nails (I use a tip slicer, others use a drill or by hand), whatever your usual and customary method.

3) Rebalance the nail. By hand-file or by drill, move back the arches, take down thickness at the FE (free-edge), remove about 1/2 the white there, allowing for more white application, so it doesn't get too thick! (Sometimes this CAN mean removing almost all of the old white, so a drill is most helpful!) Bevel the new FE.

4) Blend the cuticle and side-wall areas.

5) Trench the new smile line with the back-fill or FM (french manicure) bit of your choice. Trench from where the new smile line should be to where it used to be, maybe a bit more. OR file by hand or with a regular drill bit; reduce the thickness of the entire FE, more than in a regular fill to accommodate the additional white acrylic application.

6) Re-examine nails for any other re-adjustments necessary, but don't drive yourself nuts!

7) Do all your usual pre-product application stuff.... dusting, pre-primers or dehydrants or pH balancers, primers, etc! (see acrylic nails and gel nails full-set lessons for more info on primers)

8) Apply your white FE*, let it set up a bit if needed before moving on to the next step. (With acrylics this should be a very dry ratio to keep it strong and crisp.) Practice with different ratios of liquid to white powder to see which ratio gives you the best coloration for your free-edge. *See my Hints @ Tips page for more Tips on this procedure.

9) Now, continue with your normal fill..... Apply product at cuticle area and then in middle of nail (or use 1 ball method if you prefer), and pull out thinly over your new white FE.

10) Continue with your usual finishing work, which should be VERY minimal if you sculpted well to begin with. Blend cuticle area gently, check side-walls and FE. Now contour top ONLY as needed, if at all! (Strive for no contouring to reduce lifting later, sculpt with your brush, not your file.) Buff as per your usual procedures, then 3 or 4 way buff to a high-gloss shine, or simply apply a clear or translucent French manicure topcoat color.

11) Send the client to wash (yes, even if you're not polishing, removal of acrylic chemical residues is critical to help prevent long-term client sensitization!).... take your payment, book her next appointment, and NOW you're all done.

Remember the "100 Full-Set Rule" and practice, Practice, PRACTICE!

silk, fiberglass and linen

Fiber wrap fill procedure..........

1) Standard Prep: Wash hands, sanitize, remove polish, push back cuticles, etc......

2) Shorten nails; with tip cutter (my method, straight across square for now, shaping of nail comes later), by hand file, or drill. Nails should be maintained at a steady and consistent length. Clients should be encouraged to pick their ideal length and then stick with it. That requires that the nails be shortened the amount that they grew between fill appointments.

3) Preliminary shaping of nails: Put preliminary shape into nails so that the rebalance filing done in the next step reflects the proper shape. I use my drill to quickly go through the nails and "round" them for those clients who wear them rounded or squoval, or any shape not squared. If client wears nails squared, then skip this step!

4) Re-balance nail. File the entire top of the nail. Arches need to be moved BACK (even wraps can have arches put into them, through thicker resins or application of layers of wrap) so nail needs to be thinned and beveled at the free edge to accommodate the new arch -placement. Entire surface needs to be thinned (and shine removed for new product to adhere well), to keep nail from becoming too thick with application of additional product.

5) Blend cuticle area with a 120 or 180 grit file to bevel the cuticle area, and remove shine from the natural nail outgrowth. Also push back cuticles some more with the hand file to be sure all cuticle and contaminants are removed to ensure good adhesion.

6) Final shaping of nail: Using an 80 grit thin (non-foam cored) emery board I tailor and taper (as needed) the sidewalls and put the final shape into the free-edge. Hold client's hand facing you, vertically, to really see the shaping.

7) Dust nail thoroughly (I use a surgical scrub brush).

8) Sanitize the nail per manufacturers instructions with sanitizer, pH balancer, or 99% alcohol.

9) Apply 1 thin coat of resin. Activate (to "dry") or NOT depending on your brand.

10) Apply stress zone fiber strip or full coverage fiber as recommended.

11) Saturate the fiber with resin and activate (with brush-on or spray-on activator/dryer).

12) Add additional layers of fiber as needed and repeat the step above.

13) Add additional layers of resin as needed and activate as needed.

14) Do finish work as per your usual technique in any application: Check free-edge shape, contours of convex and concave shapes, placement of arches and apex, bevel cuticle, buff, etc..... wash-up, take payment, set next appointment, polish nails.... DONE!

15) This is EXTREMELY generic and general information to be used as a guideline only.... please check your manufacturer instructions for specifics!

Primers: types and procedures

This section is "out for repair" *(some much needed editing and tweaking) and will be back in a few days!

Info on primer, and acrylic allergies....

A client can be allergic or sensitized to ANY of the components of doing acrylic nails!(Not just the primer!) It could be the monomer, or it could be the dust from the filings of a completed nail.

Generally most people who have a problem w/ primer are usually experiencing primer in too much primer flooding the nail and the cuticle. In the case of primer burn, then being extra careful (as we should always be)w/ the primer will stop the problem. Although clients who have been exposed to too much Methacrylic Acid Primer (MAP) on too many occassions may now indeed be sensitized to it.

Clients can also be allergic or sensitive to: nail polish, topcoats, pre-primers (especially if they have perfumes or colorants added), polish removers (again usually because of the colorants or perfumes).

The answer may be as simple as switching primer brands (to a weaker MAP) or in to a non-etching primer like Bondex (BX, more like double sided sticky tape to promote adhesion of acrylic to nail)...Or changing brand of acrylics (each has some differant additives and/or different percentages of same ingredients). Or changing enhancement systems altogether to gel or wraps. In most cases in my experience it has been as simple as changing topcoats or polish! Or even the way the polish is removed, so it doesn't get pushed into cuticle, etc....Ferreting out the true culprit can be very difficult.

ALLERGY/SENSITIVITY symptoms, generally come on about 12-24 hours w/ in exposure (ie last fill appt.), and include itching and redness, rashes, and sometimes blistering. The hyponichium is the most sensitive area, and most likely to show symptoms first, followed by the cuticles and sidewalls (where dust sometimes get trapped in the groove). Generally the reaction gets worse for a bit, and then gradually goes away....Usually there is no sign of the reaction left at the 2 week point, and if clients fail to tell nail tech, the cycle can go on and on until there ARE tell tale signs leftover at the clients next appt.

I make it a point to try and ask each client a few times a year if they ever experience any itching or redness w/in a day or so of their appts. And sometimes I am surprised to find out that the answer is YES! But the client had not noticed the connection w/ her nails. In almost all cases I can usually temporarily switch one of the products I use on her (primer, gel, topcoat, etc)and the reaction disappears,. and stays gone, even after we switch back to the suspected irritant. I say suspected, because w/out the help of an allergist or dermatologist we can never be sure....

I also retrain her on the proper use of the BARRIER CREAM (wash, dry, apply, wait 5 mins, and reapply!), so even if we haven't rid her of the right ingredient that's causing her reaction, she is being protected.----I always recommend that they see their Dr., and to ask if it is OK to use Benadryl cream or hydrocortizone cream, to relieve allergic type symptoms. Of course, most won't go to the Dr., but now at least they have some ideas on pain relief for the itchiness and rash.

They also need to keep fingers dry and moisturized. Tell them to stay away from hot water, limit exposure to water in general, and to thouroughly hydrate fingers w/ natural oils or creams to speed healing process.

Broken nails:

Generally you can trace problems all the way back to the FULL-SET application! If the nail was not applied perfectly (and application tailored to that cleints individual needs)then problems can, and usually will show up around the 2nd or 3rd fill (they generally APPEAR to still look OK at the 1st fill after the full-set, and shortly thereafter start to show problems, sometimes only a few days after the 1st fill---so if you do the fill after someone else does the full-set, then you will get the blame for doing a poor job, when the fault most likely belongs to the tech who did the intial full-set application!)
ANOTHER scenario for this situation happens when you take over a client from another tech and that tech has been doing "FLUFF" fill-ins for the last 1-2-3 appts.....meaning she didn't rebalance or do any PREVENTATIVE maintenance (hint: she's been finishing in 20 minutes! and running out the salon door before everybody else at the end of the night!)

So, before you disect your fill procedure, go back and look at your FULL-SET procedure to be sure the nails have been applied perfectly (no cutting corners!), to give you a good foundation to build on with your fills. Then when problems appear you can decide if they relate back to the full-set, or later on look for other possible causes of service breakdown, THEN you can start looking at the client herself---after you are SURE you are not at fault!

The following is a reply I sent to someone ( It sounded like she was a client and not a nailtech herself...but the info is relevant to both...I responded to her because she got my name off of the nailtech message boards at and sounded desperate for help and relief of her pain!), she was looking for info on what to do with a severe nail bed crack.....

What we should do as professionals is to first stabilize the cracked area by
#1) sanitizing w/ alcohol or peroxide (yes this will hurt! #2)put a small amount of nail glue into and on the crack....(contray to popular belief, cyano acrylate, when used properly is not was developed for soldiers in the Vietnam war to carry w/ them so that they could stop a small cut or wound from becoming infected out in the jungle, and then killing them before they could reach a medic! So they would "SEAL" the wound with crazy glue to save their lives. medical grade cyanoacrylate is used by surgeond every day for internal, self dissolving stitches......)
#3) hold the crack shut untill it dries and is now stable.....
#4) Shorten the nail as short as possible to prevent further damage.
#5) buff (file, thin) down the break area as much as possible w/out causing pain, this nail will not be beautiful, and will most likely need to be redone in 2-3 weeks
#6)if it is a complete break all ther way off, then apply a tip that covers the cracked are on the nail bed to stop air from hitting the nerves, cut the tip fairly short, and continue w/ product application...
#7 if it is a crack down into the "meat of the nailbed" but the nail has not come off, then follow steps above w/ glue and shortening and buffing, and reapply product or fibergalss patch..... by the time of her next appt. the break should be pain free and grown out enough for you to fix more properly and more esthetically pleasing...the temp. fix may not be pretty, but the pain will stop...and that alone will make the client happy....

Following are the rest of the tips about this problem as written to this client (whoever and wherever she is) that you can pass on to your clients....
LETTER TO A DESPERATE CLIENT In canada....(note she had on 2 plus inch extensions! when this happened...lesson learned I hope!)


Hi! Sounds like that really hurts... yes it will be a while before the nail reattaches to the bed. What you have is referred to as a MECHANICAL LIFT...meaning it was done by outside force rather than a disease or infectious process.
Keep the nail clean, dry, and short. According to Dr.s quoted in our trade journals YOU CAN keep an artificial covering on the nail while it grows out (fiber, acrylic, or gel)to help protect it from further injury, and strengthen it enough to withstand the rigors of growing out NOT ATTATCHED to the nail bed....that will take 6 mos or more to accomplish.

So no EXTENSIONS to lengthen the nail (too much weight and pressure on the injured nail, and the length would only act as a lever to BREAK it again). The nail covering will keep oxygen away from the sensitive nail bed nerves...which is what causes the pain...but no bandaids---that only traps moisture in darkness which will lead to secondary infections (bacteria, mold or fungus) settling into the mechanically lifted area which could then lead to disease related nail bed lifting.....

So artificial nails are not to blame...but they did not help....the length you describe was quite should never start out w/ extensions that is one thing to GROW out to that length GRADUALLY under the acrylic...but quite another to just go to that length's just a disater waiting to happen which is what happened to you.

So yes, in my opinion and experience, you can have nails...but start w/ a reasonable length (such as a 25% extension, meaning that the white FREE EDGE is equal in length to only 25% or 1/4 of the pink nail bed length (the part that is SUPPOSSED to be attatched)) and then gradually go to a 50% extension. 50 to 100% extensions and beyond, just are not practical and as you found out are painful and dangerous.

But, I would alow NO EXTENSION on the cracked/broken nail, until it grows out and reattatches!!!!!

Keep the affected nail short, clean, dry. You can use a professionally applied nail covering for strength, provided that it is maintained and re-shortened regularly. Steer clear of gluing it yourself as glue can trap germs and moisture in , and glue is only a temporary fix that could cause more damage than good if not done properly.

If you are hell-bent on doing it yourself w/ glue then PLEASE completely DRY the area first...w/ a blowdryer if possible, then sanitize w/ 91% or higher alcihol, let dehydrate till dry again, then use glue on the end of a clean cuticle stick, a little at a time,use LESS than you think you need, letting layers dry in between coats if applying multiple coats. Then buff lightly w/ white buffer block, and coat w/ clear polish....

They also make something called "crack attackers" that you can use in place (preferred) of the glue....check your local nail salon or supply house. They are thin, clear, oval nail crack "band-aids" designed specifically for nail cracks....but they are intended to be a temporary fix only, till you can seek prof. help for a professional repair!....

I advise no polish, or ONLY French Manicure polish (white free edge w/ clear topcoat only) to allow sunlight in (darkness breeds germs and humidity---your enemies right now) and to be able to watch progress of nail bed re-attatchment diligently.

Daily wiping w/alcohol or peroxide may be necessary to kill bacteria in the not pick at ugly, yellow, crusty stuff under the nail...that is the scab forming to protect your nail bed..."cleaning" this out will lead to permanent scarring and callousing of the nail bed and the nail will never reattatch ....if you have any questions or concerns though you should call or see or consult your Dr. for further medical advice...especislyy if you see redness or swellin or extreme pain, or elevated body temp...all sings od more serious infection!

Also, nail bed and cuticle skin may need to be moisturized daily too, (especially after disinfecting on a daily basis to clean out germs w/ alcohol)so that nail bed stays supple and non-scarred (use VITAMIN E OIL PRFERABLY, right out of the little capsules for sanitary reasons if possible..if not than atleast some sort of natural, non-scented or non-colored (ie edible )oil, such as sesame or rice bran oil....

Primer burn.....

Re a tech with a reactio (she thinks) to primers. Suyggestion: Use a barrier cream while working. I use Dermashield, another brand is Syderma. Avon also makes one, you can also check out any silicone based lotions made for mechanics... Sally's now carry's one too called "gloves in a bottle", also check w/ your local beauty supply or at a show.....You might want to check w/ a Dr. just to be sure...because a lot (your career) is riding on this....he/she may prescribe a cortizone cream (or other Rx)to help w/ the reaction as well....and an anti-histimine (like benadryl) may also be prescribed--either in oral form or topical spray or cream. Hot water strips skin of it's natural oils (which are what protect it) and so increases the reactivity/allergic hot baths or showers etc (lukewarm only, and very short duration) and limit exposure to Sodium Laureth Sulfates...the most common "foaming" agent used in shampoos, soaps,(even toothpaste) etc....but ALSO extremely drying to skin.... compare bottles of shampoo, and look for one w/ this ingredient listed further down the list ( the higher up in the list, the higher the % of it). Foaming action is NOT necessary for don't be discouraged by the lack of suds.... I had an extremely favorable response from the skin on my ENTIRE body when I started skipping shampoo every other day in the shower (all your hairdresser associates will tell you DAILY shampooing is NOT necessary and not good for your hair....I once heard Vidal Sassoon makes his models sign a contract that they will only wash their hair no more then ONCE a week!). Also, limit your exposure to all household soaps and cleansers...and switch from hand lotions to CREAMS (like Eucerin or Aquaphor)
Good luck, let us know how you do!---Barb@nailsplash

Tech frustrated with nail breaksge...

Yes, you have chosen the right career! Don't give up....frustration is a part of this job for life!
Climates change (well here in Chicago we have shifts in temperature that range more than 100 degrees or more! 90 plus in the summer and 10 below and lower in the winter!), clients body chemistry changes, childbirth, illness, medications, menopause... products change...etc

What you are encountering here w/ the nails separating from the old tip just as they are about to grow out is COMMON! Unfortuneatly, schools (and manufacturer classes as well) don't focus enough on Fill-ins, which is how ultimately we make our livings (from repeat biz, not 1 time full-set customers). (although I do know that Creative does have a Re-balance (fill) class, so check that out!)

What you are having is referred to as a service breakdown (when all 10 nails start experiencing breakage or damage of the same type at the same time).

And the good news is that the service breakdown you are having is a GLUE BREAKDOWN! ....more to come in a bit...


When the glue that hols tips on gets old it gets brittle and starts to deteriorate. Clients who have their hands in water a lot will breakdown sooner. To combat this from the start:

1) try differant types, brands, thicknesses of glues,

2) cover as little of the natural nail bed w/ tip as possible (cut back the wells if needed)thereby reducing the amount of glue used and the amount of tip overlay area to grow out

3) make sure that you are sizing the tips correctly. Most new techs UNDERSIZE tips by a full size or so (ie using a 10 always on pinkies vs. most people actually need 9's and even 8's!)When an undersized tip grows out it will want to pull away from the natural nail. When between sizes use the LARGER size, and CUSTOMIZE the tip by filing sidewalls, etc, as needed!

4) try differant brands of tips. No one tip style will work for all clients---you must stock at least 2 differant brands (in addition to any French White tips you stock!)

5) poorly or improperly blended tips WILL LIFT 6) to aviod any possibility of the glue problem to begin with: learn how to sculpt on forms your new full-sets from the start....

7) check your acrylic application, you may be using it too thin and wet at the sidwalls in an effort to keep them thin looking. Thin is good, but TOO WET HAS NO STRENGTH! So then you are relying on the tip for strength instead of your acylic. If the acrylic here seems "SOFT"(where it's lifting at the sides) then that means it never cured properly because wrong liquid/powder ratios were used, a VERY common mistake.... so don't think it's just you, everybody has these types of problems, and you always need to be able to adjust your style!
OK more on "how to avoid the problem to begin with" later...What to do right now?! Do not glue the separated area, that will only postpone and increase your problems. I do NOT recommend sealing the backside with acrylic (that's a whole new conversation thread for later...)

What you need to do right now is file off ALL the lifted areas (a pain I know but worth it in the long run, first shorten the nails to reduce your filing time---I strongly reccommend shortening at this stage for better long term effects), and reapply straight to the natural nail (actually a very difficult technique, everybody seems to think straight natural nail overlays are EASY. Looks easy, but doing correctly so that the free edge doesn't start to curl away is very difficult, especially if the nail is already dry or damaged)so that's why I think you'd do better off at this stage with a FORM (I like paper rectangulars in the rolls of 500, check star nails or Nailite Supply)underneath to help encapsulate the free edge untill it grows out! ( and also to give strength to the probably too thin and too weak sidewalls!) Watch your product ratios, and resculpt

With polish...I load the brush with one of my 2 favorite whites ( #200 Off white, or #39 brite white) fron nailite. Starting at one corner of the "U" shaped smile line I want to create, I lay down the brush sideways and almost parallel to the nail, and then swip down the U and back up the other side to that corner, all in one swipe preferabbly (sometimes I use 2 swipes, one from right to centar, and other to meet in from left to center) Then I "Pull-Out" the polish the rest of the way over the free edge with the extra polish that was deposited ina line of "puddle" below the smile line I just created....float the brush now pointing toward the cuticle, but still parallel to nail (not up and down like a pencel) to drag this extra polish out and over the free edge, being sure not to disturb the smile line...add extra polish to your brush if needed for complete coverage all in one coat. Let this white set up for a while before proceeding to an overcoat color or just plain clear topcoat for a super natural look, w/ no grow out reminders!

For perfect smiles in backfills (with GEL)I like the medicool backfill bit---carves out a thin smile line that you can control (rather than a wide "trench" for optimime can trench out more w/ other bits later after you have made this perfect smile line w/ this precision bit (see medicool here in the beatytech site!)

I use then after the rest of my prep work, my first step is to lay down a line/string of white gel in the groove I just carved, and then as with the polish, pull it out over the rest of the tip for a consistent look and coverage!(cure white gel partially at this point) Then I add one coat of clear gel to only the bottom half of nail (not over new white), and cure for a complete cycle. Finally, one last coat (of clear again) w/ arches added over entire nail sevice, cure, wipe, and DONE!

I assume with acrylics you could use a similar technique w/ some revisions!

The key to gorgeous smile lines is to have them go up high into the nail bed corners, and not just be straight across or only slightly smiling because they don't get high enough into the corners.....exaggerate the U shapedness of the smile for the pretiest (and longest lasting---outgrowth wise)smile lines!