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What are Acrylic Fingernails?

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  • Written By: G. Melanson
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2016
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Acrylic fingernails or “acrylics” are artificial fingernails which come in a variety of colors and lengths, and are created from a mixture of a liquid monomer such as ethyl methacrylate (EMA), and polymer powder. After the mixture is applied to the fingernails, it begins to harden in about 30 seconds, and reaches a fully-solid state in roughly one hour. Acrylic fingernails may be applied professionally at a salon, or at home, using an acrylic nail kit. Acrylic fingernails should be removed by soaking the nails in a solvent consisting of acetone, a process which takes approximately half an hour. Acrylic fingernails should never be snapped off, which may result in breakage to the natural nail.

Acrylic fingernails have become a popular alternative to press-on nails and growing out one’s own natural nails due to their durability and variety of styles and colors. For those who prefer a natural, classic look, one of the most popular acrylic styles is the French manicure, which features a natural pink nail with white tips. In addition to oval, acrylic fingernails can also feature other shapes, including rectangular and diagonal contours. Acrylic fingernails are often applied for special occasions such as weddings and vacations, and serve a functional role as a deterrent to biting one’s fingernails. Acrylic fingernails can also act as a protective coating against nail breakage and splits.

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Acrylic fingernails require the application of a special oil once a day, in order to maintain their strength and finish. Gloves should also be worn over acrylic nails before using household cleaners, which may contain chemicals that cause the acrylic to discolor and weaken. The liquid monomer used in the acrylic nail mixture can affect whether or not harm is caused to the natural nail when applying acrylic fingernails. Liquid containing EMA is the gentlest option for nails; however it is more expensive than other liquids used in the process, such as methyl methacrylate (MMA), which can cause skin irritation, swelling, allergic reactions, and deformities in the natural nail’s growth.

Some popular alternatives to acrylic fingernails include UV gel nails, made of a polymer resin which hardens under UV light, as well as silk or fiberglass wraps. These wraps are created from pieces of actual fiberglass or silk, fashioned to the natural nail’s surface or tip and sealed with a glue or resin.

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