It is satisfying every time you finish a set of acrylic nails, whether you are a nail technician or a person who does it at home, because it takes a lot of work and dedication. However, just as happy as you complete an acrylic full set, you feel equally defeated if your newly acrylic nails keep popping off a few days later.
Acrylic nails keep popping off prematurely because of many different factors. Still, they can be grouped into four main areas: nail preparation, natural nail conditions, the acrylics themselves, and how they are applied.
Let look into detail how each of these areas causes the acrylic nails to pop off before their time.
Clean nail surface
All artificial nail enhancement products and acrylic nails are not exempt. They need a spotless nail surface to stick to. Acrylic nails are supposed to stay on for 2 to 4 weeks, depending on how hard they are used in daily activities.
Without a spotless nail surface that must be free from dust, oily substances such as cuticle oil, or hand lotion, the acrylic nails will not bond to the nails, and their longevity is reduced.
Pro tip: whether my customer has any nail polish on her nails or not, I always use a ball of cotton with some acetone to clean all the nail surfaces. This way, I will always be sure the nail surface is clean, especially along the cuticle lines, to remove all traces of cuticle oil, hand lotion, buffalo wing sauce, or salad dressing, to name a few. I make no assumption of how clean they are, even when the customer said she had no polish or just washed her hands.
The next step is necessary to increase the surface area of the nails.
The nail surface must be lightly buffed to improve the acrylic bond even better. This buffing action causes the nail surface to be rougher or creates tiny hills and valleys, creating much more surface area on the same nail.
This step looks simple, but it will increase the surface area, which improves the acrylic bond strength multiple times.
Before acrylic nail application, the hands should be washed with water and soap for sanitization purposes. This hand-washing step causes the nails to be wet, and it will take some time for all the water to evaporate completely.
Nails are porous because they consist of many layers, not just one solid piece. This means that even the nails look dry on top at first glance, the inside of the nails still contains some water. If this water stays where it is, it will make the nails soft and moist. This unfavorable condition will interfere with acrylics bonding which prefers a dry, hard surface over a soft and moist one.
That is why a dehydrator is needed to remove the remaining water on the nails.
Because this dehydrator is a liquid-type, it must be allowed to evaporate away from the nails. If any of this dehydrating solution is still on the nail when acrylics are applied, it will reduce the acrylic bond strength and cause the acrylic nails to pop off.
This happens to many good nail technicians. They thought that they do an extra step to further drying the nail surface before applying acrylics, thinking that they would have created a good bond. However, without giving this dehydrator enough time to dry, these nail technicians essentially reduce the acrylic bond.
Make sure you give the dehydrator ample time to dry off. A small desktop fan works great, but a heater fan setting at warm and low speed will dry this liquid much faster.
The dry nail surface is not enough to create a good acrylic bond. It also needs to be chemically balanced.
When all the nail chemists who worked in the labs to create the best acrylic nail system encounter this problem: not all the nails are created chemically equal. Some human nails are more acidic. Others are more basic.
The simple example of things being acid is lemon, and things being basic is soap.
They must choose a point of reference where they can use it as a perfect medium before creating their acrylics to stay on the nails optimally.
They decided on a pH of 7, the pH of water, which is neither acidic nor basic.
To make all different types of nails have a pH of 7, they created a new chemical solution. If used on the nails, it will cause any nail surface to have a pH of 7 or close to it, to be pH balanced.
And that was how pH balance solutions for nails were created.
To save a step in acrylic nail application, nail product manufacturers combine dehydrator and pH balance solutions into one bottle and market them as dehydrator/pH balanced products.
The well-known brand is BondAid from OPI. It is my favorite nail pH-balancing solution.
Make sure the brand you use has these solutions separate or combined.
Whether combined or separate, you must give them time to dry away from the nails because wet nails will cause the acrylic nails to fall off sooner.
Primer is a chemical substance that prepares one material’s surface to bond better to another. Think of putting paint primer on the wall before color paint to get the best paint result.
The main ingredient in a nail primer is methacrylic acid.
Methacrylic acid has a chemical structure that bonds better with the keratin in the nail and makes it more receptive to bonding with the acrylics.
Only when after the dehydrator/pH balance solution is completely dry, you then apply the primer.
A good primer brand is Young Nails. You can buy it on Amazon,
Pro tip: you must wait for the primer to dry. One visible clue is the nail surface looks chalky white.
One of the reasonably common mistakes a beginner or new nail technician make is forgetting to use primer.
What you can do is arrange all the little bottles on an imaginary line on one side of your nail station. After you use each one, put it on an imaginary line next to the first one. This way, you are always sure that you use all the nail bottles dehydrator, pH balance, and primer on your acrylic application.
Next, you should determine what conditions the nails they are in to apply the appropriate course of action.
Natural nail conditions
Nails that are more acidic:
As I mentioned above, all nails are not created chemically equal. You should be able to tell the condition of the nails that you work on.
In the beginning, as you hold your customer’s hands, you can tell whether the hands are normal, dry, or sweaty.
Human sweat is slightly more acidic with a pH of 6.3, lower than the neutral 7. Sweaty hands will also cause the nails to be more acidic. This means you need to apply a couple of coats of pH solution to dissolve all the acid in the sweat.
Dry hands have less sweat, so the nails are less acidic, so one coat of pH solution is needed.
Normal hands tend to have a pH close to 7, so they only need one coat of this pH solution.
Nails have extreme temperatures:
Why is temperature critical in an acrylic application? Let us go back to our beloved nail chemists. They came to a perfect acrylic nail system by working in an air-conditioned lab, usually set at 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
As you apply acrylics, you should try to have all your acrylic products close to that room temperature because they are created under this same temperature. Any deviation from this temperature will reduce the acrylic bond strength.
Pro tip: if your hands or your customer’s hands are cold because she just came in from the cold outside in winter, have your hands or your customer’s hand warm up first. A small heater fan will work, and your customer will appreciate your little attention to detail.
Acrylics will crystalize and solidify at the same time when it is cold, and it also becomes runny, so the optimal liquid/powder ratio will not be achieved.
The warm temperature will cause acrylics to solidify very fast. This makes you have to use more acrylic to compensate for the fast-drying acrylics. This excess of liquid will flood the nail surface, dilute the primer, and wash it away, thus reducing the bond strength and causing the acrylic nails to pop off.
Acrylic powder and acrylic liquid play a small role in the premature acrylic nail popping-off issue, but it is worth a brief moment of attention.
Acrylic nail systems are a matured product, meaning all the nail manufacturers already worked out all the bad stuff.
Unless you use a very cheap acrylic system or kit, you should have no problem with your acrylics’ quality. You should use well-known brands and stick with one because they are slightly different in terms of application.
It takes time to get used to a particular brand, and it also takes time for you to get comfortable with another.
Pro tip: buy a good acrylic brand that you like to work with and use it as your go-to acrylic set for most of your acrylic applications. You will have fewer problems.
If you are going to buy your acrylic nail kit on Amazon, pick the one that has the highest numbers of purchases.
Even having the most expensive acrylic system, your acrylic nails or your client’s acrylic nails will fall off prematurely if you do not know how to apply them.
How acrylics are applied
This is a whole new course itself, and it could take months to master.
For this short article, I like to emphasize the basic technique, the three-ball method.
The first ball should be placed at the nail tip, and you should try to flatten it evenly outward to the end of the nail.
The second ball should be placed halfway between the cuticle and the free edge, and you should use the nail brush to smooth it out toward the tip of the nail.
The last ball of acrylics should be placed close to the cuticle. Using the brush, press the ball downward and outward. These actions will cause the acrylics to cover the sides and make the acrylics flush at the cuticle line.
The whole time, try not to use too much acrylic liquid because it will wash off the primer on the nails.
Using this three-ball method, you divide the acrylic application into three manageable parts:
- Free edge.
- Apex on the thickest part of the nail.
- The cuticle area to minimize the chance of acrylic liquid flooding washing away the primer.
The cleanliness of your nail tools is essential in providing a good acrylic bond so your finished acrylic nails will not fall off prematurely.
Always use new or clean nail tools as you work on your acrylic nails. Anything that touches the natural nail must be clean. Otherwise, you risk contaminating the nail surface with oil, lotion transferred from the used tools. The two most common contaminated nail tools that are easily used multiple times are:
- Nail file
- sanding band
Using dirty tools on the nail surface before an acrylic application will cause acrylic nails to pop off but can be easily avoided.
The last factor that causes acrylic nails to pop off is the way you hold your new acrylic nail to file them into the desired shape.
Shaping and filing step
All new acrylic nails need a final rigorous filing to give them the best-looking shape.
The acrylic nails that you just finish need time for the bond to be fully set.
However, as you eagerly jump on this filing step to turn the raw acrylic nail shape into a beautiful one, you might compromise the newly formed acrylic bond because it is still weak.
If you do not know this fact, you will hold the nail the wrong way as you try to file it away.
In doing so, the nail will be pushed from side to side, bent up and down. These actions will interfere with the bond, which needs to be left still to set.
This is the last mistake that you unknowingly weaken the acrylic bond.
Pro tip: gently hold the nail at the side of the first knuckle and shape it with a nail file using light strokes so the nail will not move freely. If the nail is long, you can support it with your other fingers to prevent it from moving around too much.
As long as you try to keep the whole acrylic nail and the finger from moving side to side or from bending up and down excessively, you will be able to let the acrylic bond alone set and ensure its integrity.
If you were to reduce the acrylic bond a little bit on each step above, factor in all those steps that you might do to your acrylic nails, the acrylic bond has no chance to adhere to the natural nails, and they will not stay on as long as they are supposed to.
You thought you just want a quick answer to this question as to why your acrylic nails pop off. But if you read it all the way down here, you already know many things about acrylic nails.
If you reach the end of this article, you can pat yourself on the back that you learn a lot in this short article.
And I hope you find this article helpful because it is a short summary of my experience in doing acrylic nails for so many years.
You deserve a break. Maybe you can make some popcorn for a quick snack.
In all, the next time you do acrylic nails, I think you will be more confident than before because you already know what you can do to make your acrylic nails last as long as possible.