Everything You Need to Know About Getting Acrylic Nails

Once synonymous with thick French tips, acrylic nails have evolved in recent years.


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If you remember the ‘80s, ‘90s or early ‘00s, you probably have acrylic nails imprinted in your mind. Long before gels, dips, and socially acceptable press-ons gained popularity, acrylics were truly a staple of the times. Typically associated with either thick French tips or dainty flower designs, the OG of “fake nails” has come a long way. 

Now seen in an array of colors and designs all over TikTok (the #acrylicnails hashtag has currently been viewed 15.6 billion times!), acrylic nails have evolved into a manicure staple for anyone who wants long nails but can't maintain their ideal nail length or shape on their own. Whether you want a your-nails-but-better look or all-out claws, we asked experts everything you need to know before getting acrylic nails for yourself.

What Are Acrylic Nails?

If you’re new to the world of artificial nails, you might not even use the word “acrylics” in the first place. CND co-founder Jan Arnold says it’s an “old-fashioned” term for what’s presently called “nail enhancements.” The formula is a mix of powder and liquid monomer that is combined into a clear dough, shaped onto your nails with a brush, and air-dried. 

“This is a two-step monomer and polymer liquid and powder system that elongates and adds shape for nails needing enhancement,” Arnold says. “Just like hair color, they require bi or tri-weekly rebalancing to maintain their strength and beauty as nails grow. They serve as a great base for color, art, and embellishment.”

This manicure is ideal if your nails need a strong protective shell. “They’re great for nail biters or people who are rough on their nails because they provide a hard surface that’s difficult to bite through or chip when done correctly,” says nail technician Dylana Do. “They’re also incredibly versatile and can be used for nail art, sculpting extreme lengths, experimenting with shapes, covering broken nails, and accommodating a wide range of styles.”

How Long Do Acrylic Nails Last?

Acrylic nails do require maintenance every two to three weeks to get them filled. However, as long as any lifting of the acrylic is filled in, a set can be worn for up to six to eight before they need to be removed.

What Is the Difference Between Acrylic Nails and Dip Nails? 

Acrylic nails are often confused with dip nails given that they both require powder application. “They’re actually the same product, just applied in different ways,” Do says. “Dip powder is a more finely milled acrylic powder that typically involves dipping (hence the name) the nail in powder, which will attach to a resin-based glue that was applied on the nail. Acrylics are created with a liquid monomer and don’t require resin. Both nail enhancements can be used to lengthen your nails, but dip powder requires tips to do so, while acrylics can provide length with tips or by being sculpted on top of nail forms.”

Dips are stronger than acrylics, and therefore typically last longer (up to four weeks). But Do recommends acrylics to people who want nail art, extreme lengths, or experimental shapes. 

Are Acrylic Nails Damaging?

“If not done well, acrylic nails can harbor bacteria and cause fungus,” says SpaRitual founder Shel Pink. “They can also deteriorate the health of the nail over time and compromise the integrity of the nail plate if left on too long. This weakens and dehydrates the nail, causing splitting and cracking.”

There’s also some studies that show certain chemicals in acrylic nails can cause some breathing problems for nail technicians exposed to it often during the application process, although this would take a lot of exposure to have an effect.

While not as common, there are also cases of people having a reaction to the acrylates from acrylics. “This can result in a severe rash, your nail detaching from the nail bed, intense itchiness, redness around the fingers, and flaking of the skin,” Do says. 

She goes on to say that for a number of reasons, iIt’s important that people only go to a trusted licensed professional for acrylic nails. Do not do acrylics at home because it requires great skill to handle the product safely and correctly.”

How to Remove Acrylic Nails

Although you may be tempted to rip them off (especially when one already bites the dust), Do says that’s the ultimate nail sin. She adamantly advises leaving the process to professionals.

“Acrylics should be removed by soaking the nails in acetone, or taking an acetone-soaked cotton ball and wrapping the nails in tin foil to soak them,” she says. “The process can be sped up by e-filing (drilling) a majority of the acrylic off before soaking them in acetone, but this process shouldn’t hurt and shouldn’t be rushed. Acrylics should never be removed by slipping a card or nail tip underneath the product and ripping them off, as this is extremely damaging and painful.”

How to Care for Nails After Acrylic Removal

“Using moisturizing products designed for the hands and nails can be key to your nails holding up well,” says nail artist and educator Hilary Dawn Herrera. “Be sure to use ingredient-conscious products.” She recommends VOESH Mani in a Box Waterless 3 Step Vitamin Recharge or VOESH Vegan Collagen Gloves.

Pink is a big proponent of cuticle oil application twice a day (she recommends SpaRitual Cuti-Cocktail Vegan Nail & Cuticle Oil). She also advises use of a nourishing nail strengthener as a 14-day treatment, such as SpaRitual Nourish Nail Vegan Strengthener.

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