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Artificial nails, also known as fake nails, false nails, fashion nails, nail enhancements, nail wraps, or nail extensions, are extensions placed over fingernails as fashion accessories. Some artificial nail designs attempt to mimic the appearance of real fingernails as closely as possible, while others may deliberately stray in favor of an artistic look.
Unlike most manicures, artificial nails require regular upkeep; it is recommended that they are attended to, on average, every two weeks. Nonetheless, their versatility in terms of shape and design and comparatively high durability are some advantages they hold over other types of manicures.
Artificial nails are an extension, not a replacement, of natural nails. There are two main approaches to creating artificial nails—tips and forms.
- Tips are lightweight "nail"-shaped plastic plates glued on the end of the natural nail.
- Forms are shaped sheets with a sticky edge that is effectively wrapped around the tip of the finger.
Atop these, either acrylic, hard gel, or any combination of both may be applied. Tips are available in many different designs, ranging from solid colors like gel or regular nail polish to graphic designs such as animal prints and metallic colors. Artificial nails can be shaped, cut, and filed into a variety of shapes, including square, squared oval/"squoval", rounded, almond, ballerina/coffin, or stiletto.
One popular material used to create acrylic nails is poly methyl methacrylate acrylic (PMMA). Mixing said polymer with "liquid monomer", usually ethyl methacrylate mixed with some inhibitor, forms a malleable bead. This mixture begins to cure immediately, continuing until completely solid in minutes. Another common material is acrylic gel, which contains photoinitiators that prevent its curing until exposed to either ultraviolet light within a certain wavelength. Some new techniques, too, have been invented, attempting to make obsolete the two outlined above. Dipping, for instance, involves painting nails with special primer and base coats, then repeatedly painting the nail with a clear coat and submerging it in powder. Nail products are available in a variety of colors and can effect certain details such as contours, sparkles and the very popular French manicure.
Another popular alternative to acrylic or gel are fiberglass or silk nail wraps. These are formed by cutting pieces of fiberglass, silk fabric, or another material to fit on the surface of the nail (or a tip attached prior), to be sealed onto the nail plate with a layer of resin or glue. Those allergic to chemicals present in the aforementioned materials find a possible alternative in nail wraps. They may also be used to protect a nail if it breaks; the silk or fiberglass overlay acts as a false layer of nail, protecting the nail plate from splitting or becoming damaged.
Typically, these methods require the assistance of a trained professional. Cheaper, less rigid tips that can be quickly glued at home are an option to those unwilling to enlist one. Another inexpensive option are stick-on nails, the durability of which ranges from one day to two weeks.
Historically, artificial nails were common symbols of status all across the world:
- During the Ming Dynasty of China, noblewomen wore very long artificial nails as a status symbol indicating that, unlike commoners, they did not have to do manual labor.
- In early 19th century Greece, upper-class women often wore empty pistachio shells over their nails, slowly spreading the artificial nail trend across Europe.
- Egyptian women wore nail extensions made from bone, ivory and gold as a sign of status as these materials were luxuries available only to the wealthy.
"The earliest experiments and resultant artificial nails used a monomer and polymer mix applied to the nail and extended over a supporting form. This structure hardened and, when the support was removed, was then shaped to look like a natural extension of the nail plate. These dental materials were chemicals that came under the 'family' name of acrylics: thus the acrylic artificial nail was created. All materials subsequently used also belong to the acrylic family, but the term 'acrylic nails' has stuck to the method of using a liquid monomer and powder polymer."
In 1954, Fred Slack, a dentist, broke his fingernail at work, and created an artificial nail as a realistic-looking temporary replacement. After experiments with different materials to perfect his invention, he and his brother, Tom, patented a successful version and started the company Patti Nails. Fred Slack used his dental equipment and chemicals to replace his natural nail, but over time the process has significantly changed.
In the late 20th century, artificial nails for women became widely popular all over the world. In today's time there are even nail styling competitions. Judges of these nail competitions look for consistency from nail to nail. They also judge whether or not the nails complement the model's hands. If the nails are beautiful, but too long for the model's hands, the judge will count off points. The competitors will be judged on how neat their work space is and how organized they are.
Acrylic nails help conceal or fix broken, damaged, short, or otherwise considered "undesirable" nail appearance. They also help prevent nail biting, breakage, and splits. They are used when people are not able to grow the length and strength of natural nails that they desire. This problem can be solved by using certain nail techniques such as nail tipping, sculptured nails, nail wrapping, or acrylic overlays. Acrylic nails often make natural nails thin when removed though are rather durable during wear.
If fitted properly, artificial nails are usually not problematic. However, long term use and poorly fitted nails can seriously damage the nail bed and hamper natural nail growth. The most common problem associated with artificial nails is a fungal infection that may develop between the false and natural nail.
When artificial nails are applied to the natural nail surface, minor types of trauma to the artificial nails which can happen from something as harmless as scraping a nail against a firm surface can cause separation of the nail from its nail bed. This allows bacteria and fungus to potentially enter the separated area setting up an infection. In fact, most hospitals and other healthcare facilities won't allow their employees to have fake fingernails due to the risk of harboring infection which could be transmitted to patients. Several deaths of premature infants were blamed on an acrylic nail infection transmitted to the babies by a nurse in the late 1990s. Epidemiologists who have studied the outbreak of the bacterial infection at a children's hospital in Oklahoma City, found that half of the sixteen deaths from January 1, 1997 to March 12, 1998, were due to the contamination from the long fingernails. Infection can also be a risk when nails are applied by a disreputable nail salon that doesn't follow sanitary practices.
There is concern over the flammability of ingredients used to make acrylic nails. It is suggested that they be kept at a distance from hair straighteners, dryers or curling irons, as well as from heat and flames when cooking, in order to avoid potential flame hazards.
From an occupational health standpoint, there could be hazards to nail salon workers who are exposed to the chemical fumes from artificial nails during their entire work shift. Ethyl methacrylate can be used for artificial nails and can cause contact dermatitis, asthma, and allergies in the eyes and nose. Nail salon workers also face exposure to other chemicals used, such as toluene, dibutyl phthalate, and formaldehyde.
Although the chemical methyl methacrylate (MMA) has been outlawed for Cosmetological purposes in 30 states, some nail salons still use it. Some signs that a nail salon is still using MMA might be prices that are significantly lower than most other nail salons. There will be an unusually strong and fruity odor. Also, the manicurist will often be wearing a mask to keep from breathing in the harmful chemical. Over time, exposure to MMA could cause lasting effects such as drowsiness, light-headedness, and trembling of the hands.
Musicians who play stringed instruments may wear artificial nails as an aid in playing. Some guitarists like Don Ross, Doyle Dykes and James Taylor are known for doing so. Many intermediate and advanced classical and finger-style guitarists use varieties of fake nails to obtain a consistent, clear and bright tone with each pluck. The players of many ancient Chinese instruments, like the guqin, pipa, and ruan, also commonly used artificial nails. Even the Indian instrument sarod requires nails for tipping, so many players resort to artificial nails to prevent wear and chipping of natural nails.
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