The Pro Guide To Getting Acrylic Nails (And Getting Them Right)

Hannah Thompson
·6-min read
Photo credit: Instagram
Photo credit: Instagram

Few beauty treatments are as divisive as the acrylic nail. As contentious a subject as marmite, the mere mention of an acrylic nail causes some to recoil in fear, while for others the nail tech's chair is as reassuring as the arms of your best friend.

For many of us, our first experience of nail extensions came in our late teens, rushing down to the nail salon in preparation for a big event (cue prom flashbacks and questionable outfits), the sense of excitement overwhelmed only by the smell of formaldehyde.

Call it post-lockdown rebellion, call it nostalgia, but acrylic nails are having a comeback. Whether it's been a year or ten since you last had them done, we're here to give you a refresher course on all things acrylic with a helping hand from the pros.

Photo credit: Imaxtree
Photo credit: Imaxtree

What You Need To Consider Before Getting Acrylic Nails

Why should I opt for acrylics?

There are many reasons why acrylic nails make a good investment, not least because they make a super satisfying sound clicking across your keyboard.

'The main reason is usually to conceal nails that are not aesthetically pleasing to the eye, many of us find it hard to grow our natural nails and acrylic solves this problem,' says celebrity session nail artist and Colour Riot Nails director Tinu Bello.

'They provide you with your desired strength, length and shape along with longevity when maintained well. What's more, they can be a great help for nail biters.'

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Check your nail health

While the endless nail shape and design combinations of acrylics may seem like your biggest challenge, the health of your nails is the most vital part of preparation.

While acrylics might seem like a safe bet to hide already damaged nail beds, this will make them way worse in the long run. 'Applying nail enhancements to damaged nail plates can cause sensitivity,' says session celebrity manicurist and Essie ambassador Michelle Humphrey.

'If your nails are weak and brittle I suggest using a nail strengthener like OPI Nail Envy or Sally Hansen Hard As Nails a few weeks prior to having acrylic to make them stronger,' advises Bello.

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Do your research

While we don't always realise it, our nails factor into a lot of our daily activities, so it makes sense that you would want the very best for them, and that means finding someone that follows best acrylic nail practice.

'Make sure you find a reputable nail technician and look for someone that's qualified and insured. I'd always recommend checking out someone's work on their website or social media to get an idea of the potential outcome,' advises Humphrey.

'Avoid nail bars that are using MMA acrylic and opt for a salon that uses EMA. EMA is a much more flexible acrylic and of high cosmetic grade.'

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Plan ahead

There's nothing that induces a sweaty brow quite like being asked 'What do you want?' in the nail bar when you've not thought it through. Hundreds of nail polish swatches, a waiting room full of people behind you, and that's before you've even considered a shape. Do you feel the beads of sweat forming?

It's in the best interest of you and your nail tech to come to your appointment with an idea of what you'd like. Plus, choosing your design should be the really fun part. 'Most of my clients have nail art so I always advise them to save some inspo images to their phone or to make a Pinterest board of nails they love,' says nail artist and salon owner Alice McColm of Alice McNails.

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'It's so much easier to convey what you want through an image and less chance of crossed wires.'

If you're an acrylic amateur, resist the temptation to go talon-crazy on your first appointment. Practicality has to come into play as navigating life with long nails is no mean feat. 'Go conservative on the length, they will grow in time and you'll get used to them,' says Humphrey.

How To Maintain Your Acrylics

Consistency is key

You've had your nails done, you can't stop admiring your hands every five minutes and have approximately 400 photos of your new mani in your Instagram drafts. Now what?

Maintaining your acrylics won't only make them last longer but will also save you time and money in the long run. As McColm neatly puts it: 'treat them like jewels, not tools.' Avoid coming into contact with products that contain strong chemicals (such as paint stripper) which will tamper with your acrylics and where you have to, be sure to wear gloves.

According to Humphrey, if you want to keep your nails looking and feeling their best, regular nail appointments should be booked 2/3 weeks apart. 'This is crucial to rebalance the nail which avoids putting the nail bed under any stress,' she advises.

Top Tip: 'For the first 24 hours avoid having hot baths, swimming pools, saunas or hot tubs,' says McColm. 'The first 24 hours are crucial, as this is when your nail enhancements are hardening.'

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A little TLC goes a long way

In terms of keeping your nails looking their best aesthetic selves, McColm advises keeping a bottle of cuticle oil within reach at all times. 'It can make such a difference to the life span of your nail enhancements,' she says.

This is something echoed by Bello; 'Cuticle oil will help to hydrate and nourish the cuticle and the skin around the nails while also keeping the nails flexible to prevent breakage.'


Don't be picky

The most important factor in maintaining the health of your nails post-acrylics lies in how you get them taken off. 'It's so easy to damage your natural nails with improper removal,' warns McColm. If your nail extensions start to come away, despite how much you might want to, picking them should be avoided at all costs.

'If you've got any lifting, get yourself back to the salon,' says Humphry. 'Nails that need fixing or replacing are usually an additional cost as this can take longer and your nail tech can usually tell if you've picked your nails due to the nail plate damage.'

What's more, if you're getting another set from the same nail tech they will often remove them for free. No more excuses.

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