Artificial nails

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Artificial nails
Artificial nails and glue

Artificial nails, also known as fake nails, false nails, fashion nails, acrylic nails, gel nails, nail wraps, nail tips, nail extensions or nail enhancements, 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, however they may last up to about one month.[1] 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.

Acrylic nails[edit]

Acrylic nails are made out of acrylic glass (PMMA). When it is mixed with a liquid monomer (usually ethyl methacrylate mixed with some inhibitor) it forms a malleable bead. This mixture begins to cure immediately, continuing until completely solid in minutes.[2]

Gel nails[edit]

Gel nail extensions and gel nail polish. Below are various manicure tools including a UV lamp for curing gel nails.

Gel nails can be used to create artificial nail extensions, but can also be used like nail polish. They are hardened using ultraviolet light.[3] They last longer than regular nail polish and do not chip. They have a high-gloss finish and last for two to three weeks.[4][3]

Gel nails are strong, although not as strong as acrylic or fiberglass nails, and tend to be more expensive.[3]

Acetone does not dissolve gel nails, so they have to be removed at a salon by buffing.[3] Repeated buffing can lead to thinning of the nail plate.[5]

Nail wraps[edit]

Nail wraps are formed by cutting pieces of fiberglass, linen, 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. They provide strength to the nail but are not used to lengthen it.[6] It can also be used to fix broken nails.[6] The treatment is however more expensive.[6]

Nail tips[edit]

Nail tips are attached to the natural nail to extend its length.[7] They only last for 7–10 days.[7]


Historically, artificial nails were common symbols of status all across the world:

  • 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.[citation needed]

"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."[8]

In 1878, Mary E. Cobb opened the first manicure salon in Manhattan. This came after studying nail care in France and marrying podiatrist, J. Parker Pray.[9] During the 1920s, short well-manicured round nails were a symbol of wealth.[10] Revlon made their first appearance in 1932 with only one single product, long lasting formula nail enamel.[11] 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.[citation needed] 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.

Health effects[edit]

Perceived benefits[edit]

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. With improper removal, acrylic nails often damage natural nails. An experienced nail technician should assist with this to ensure nail health.

Health risks[edit]

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. Many hospitals and healthcare facilities don't allow employees to have long fingernails, fake or real, due to the risk of said nails harboring microbes that could transmit diseases to patients.[citation needed] Infection can also be a risk when nails are applied by a disreputable nail salon that doesn't follow sanitary practices.

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.[12] Nail salon workers also face exposure to other chemicals used, such as toluene, dibutyl phthalate, and formaldehyde.[13][14][15] The products used to make acrylic nails may also be flammable.[16]

Exposure to methyl methacrylate (the precursor to acrylic glass) can cause drowsiness, light-headedness, and trembling of the hands,[17] and so it has been banned for use in cosmetology in the majority of US states.[18] Some signs that a nail salon is still using MMA might be prices that are significantly lower than most other nail salons.[verification needed] 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.[17]

See also[edit]

  • Fingerpick, placed on fingers to play stringed instruments


  1. ^ Tan, Sara. "Acrylics 101: 5 Tips to Make Your Fake Tips Last". Bustle. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  2. ^ "Secret Ingredient: Acrylic Liquid". NAILS Magazine. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d Janet Simms (2003). A Practical Guide to Beauty Therapy for NVQ Level 2. Nelson Thornes. p. 396. ISBN 978-0-7487-7150-9.
  4. ^ Whitbread, Louise (2019). "Gel Manicures Look Good, But What's The Damage To Your Nails?". Huffington Post.
  5. ^ Kang, Sewon (2018). Fitzpatrick's Dermatology, Ninth Edition. McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 978-0-07-183783-5.
  6. ^ a b c Simms (2003), p. 397.
  7. ^ a b Simms (2003), p. 398.
  8. ^ Newman, Marian (3 April 2017). The Complete Nail Technician. Cengage Learning EMEA. ISBN 184480139X.
  9. ^ Sciacca, Noelle. "The Nail Files". Mashable. Mashable. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  10. ^ Sciacca, Noelle. "The Nail Files". Mashable. Mashable. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  11. ^ Sciacca, Noelle. "The Nail Files". Mashable. Mashable. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  12. ^ "CDC – NIOSH Publications and Products – Controlling Chemical Hazards During the Application of Artificial Fingernails". NIOSH. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  13. ^ "Health Hazards in Nail Salons – Chemical Hazards". OSHA. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  14. ^ "At Some Nail Salons, Feeling Pretty and Green". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  15. ^ "CDC – Nail Technicians' Health and Workplace Exposure Control – NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic". NIOSH. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  16. ^ "Product Information, Nail Care Products". U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Archived from the original on 6 June 2009.
  17. ^ a b Symington, Jan (2006). "Salon management". Australian nail technology. Croydon, Victoria, Australia: Tertiary Press. p. 11. ISBN 0864585985.
  18. ^ "The Methacrylate Producers Association's Position on the Use of Methacrylic Acid and Unreacted Methacrylic Monomers Liquid Form in Artificial Nail Products" (PDF). Methacrylic Producers Association. Retrieved 14 December 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Chase, Deborah. The New Medically Based No-Nonsense Beauty Book. Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1989.
  • Schoon, Douglas D. Nail Structure and Product Chemistry. Milady Publishing, 1996.
  • Symington, Jan. Australian nail technology. Tertiary Press, 2006.
  • Anthony, Elizabeth. "ABC's of Acrylics," NailPro Magazine, October 1994.
  • Hamacker, Amy. "Dental Adhesives for Nails," NailPro Magazine, June 1994.