Acrylic Nail Maintenance

I receive a lot of messages from clients that have recently had an artificial nail service performed but for some reason, were not informed about how to maintain them! The following article will tell you everything you need to know about caring for and maintaining your beautiful new finger accessories, including how to handle chips or breaks between appointments.

Here are some of the messages I received and my responses:
“I just got them done four days ago and I was wondering how often I should get them filled?”
First of all, when you do get them filled, don’t go back to your original technician. You should have been informed about the maintenance and aftercare at your first appointment. The fact that you weren’t informed leads me to believe that you went to a discount salon where the staff are more concerned about turning tables than the welfare of the clients sitting at them.

Acrylic nails generally last 10-14 days before you’ll require maintenance (a fill-in/rebalance). If you notice more than an eighth of an inch of growth before those 14 days are up, or if you notice any lifting, chipping, or breaks in the acrylic, go back and get them repaired. A good technician will guarantee their work for the first week (unless you have a job that makes you prone to lifting or breakage, in which case, they’ll explain to you that you are less than an ideal candidate for enhancements and probably won’t offer complimentary repairs).

“I snapped a corner off one of my nails. I’m out of town and it’s catching on everything. I’m not sure if I should do something or leave it alone. I don’t want to cheat on my technician! What should I do? Should I cut it down?”
NO! Don’t ever try to clip your own acrylics! All you have to do is go out and purchase a 180 grit nail file. Gently smooth out the rough edge and (if you’re up to the challenge) attempt to shape it up so it doesn’t look quite so funky. You might also want to take the length down a little bit on the nail with the snapped corner. 
There’s no way to repair it yourself. Your technician will have to sculpt on a new corner at your next appointment and that’s nothing you can do on your own. 
Sometimes, the acrylic gets filed too thin on one side or the other of an enhancement and that’s when corners snap off. (Then again, sometimes clients are careless and slam their fingers into drawers or get them caught on suitcases while on vacation.) To determine whether your tech was a little heavy handed with her file or drill, look at your nails “down the barrel.” To do this, point at your face and make sure that the nail has a nice curve to it and that each side is even in thickness. The far sides of the nail should taper off into a point, but there shouldn’t be any dips or grooves in the enhancement. It should look like this lovely picture on the right that I found randomly searching the internet. That is a great c-curve. It’s a bit thicker than I usually do, but this client is probably a bit rougher on her acrylics and requires the extra strength. After each appointment, check out your c-curve to make sure the thickness is uniform. If it isn’t, point it out so that your tech won’t have to make any emergency repairs.
“Holy crap. I snapped my nail in half! It’s split right down the middle! It’s really painful and I think I cracked the natural nail underneath! What should I do?”
In this case, if you can’t get to your technician, it is a good idea to clip off as much of the acrylic as possible. Use gentle pressure and don’t do anything that is uncomfortable or painful. If you have broken skin, trying to soak the enhancement off will be painful, so you might want to wait a few days before attempting it. If you can bear it, use a 180 grit file, to smooth out any sharp edges. Apply a few drops of alcohol to cleanse the wound and bandage it up. Try to keep it dry and clean. Change the bandage every day and make sure to keep applying alcohol. In a few days, you should be able to have the enhancement soaked off with acetone. At that point, it will probably still sting, but it won’t be as painful. Talk to your nail technician about whether or not you can have a new enhancement applied. 
You might want to consider wearing your nails shorter. Breaks like that are usually caused by excessive length. However, breaks like this can also be caused by improperly balanced nails. Take a look at your nails from the side and view the profile of the nail. Are the nails curved naturally? Is the highest point of the nail (called the apex) located at the middle of the nail (called the stress point)? If your nails are flat or misshapen, your nails are weak and prone to breakage. You may need to find a technician that knows how to properly build a strong enhancement to avoid this problem in the future.

“One of my nails popped off (or ripped off) completely. Can I glue it back on?”
Can you? Yes. Should you? Absolutely not. Gluing your broken nail back on can serve as a quick fix if you’re unable to get to your technician and absolutely can’t bear the thought of going without, but it is not a long-term solution. You will want to remove the nail at the end of the day and have it replaced as soon as possible. Gluing on the nail yourself (especially if you don’t prep your nails properly) can cause bacteria to become trapped in between the enhancement and your nail bed, causing a nasty discoloration.

If you insist on gluing it back on, follow these steps to ensure a clean environment and reduce the risk of infection:
1.) Use a foam buffer to remove any debris from the nail plate. Try and buff the inside of the enhancement as well.
2.) Cleanse the nail plate and the enhancement with alcohol or 100% pure acetone.
3.) Use a glue that’s intended for use in nail preparations. Sally Hanson sells a great one at virtually every drug store.
4.) Apply the glue to your natural nail and to the artificial one.
5.) Use firm pressure to attach the artificial nail back to your nail plate.

This should hold up for a day or two. Don’t go any longer than that or trust me, the consequences you’ll pay will take months to correct.

“My nail tech is gone! She quit/went on medical leave/moved! I want to remove my acrylic nails myself since I don’t trust other nail technicians. How can I do it at home?”
Read this article, “How to Safely Remove Artificial Nails.”

If I get any more questions, I’ll be sure to post them here along with the answers. If you have any questions yourself (or anything to add that I may have overlooked), please feel free to send me a message!

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberino
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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  1. Hi!
    I fell down the stairs last week and my acrylic has dragged half of my natural nail with it. The acrylic is still fully intact (my usual nail tech wasn’t available and I went to a cheap place )
    Should I get the acrylic removed and see how bad the natural nail is? It’s my Chrismas do next week!
    I’ve been keeping it clean and wrapped with a plaster over the nail and surgical tape over that.

    • Hi Tracey! Depending on how badly your natural nail has torn, you may want to consider having a physician remove the enhancement for you. (Basically, if the skin is ripped, go to the doctor. You’ve opened yourself up to infection, so it’s better to have a doctor handle it. Nail salons aren’t sterile environments and if it’s a bad situation, you may need antibiotics for a bit.) If it literally dragged off “half” of your natural nail (there are still a few layers of nail plate remaining–however thin), you should be alright to soak it off without too much pain or risk. Just keep in mind–acetone burns like hell on raw flesh. Since you went to a cheap place, it’s likely they used MMA. If that’s the case, that explains why your natural nail ripped off instead of the enhancement giving way and popping off. MMA doesn’t give up without a fight, so the physician may need to cut it away (since filing or abrading it won’t be an option at all). Good luck!

  2. Hi, I got my acrylics on a few weeks ago, I was planning on getting them filled soon but the side of my fake nail just chipped off. If I go to get my nails filled in, will they fix the chip in my fake nail?

    • They certainly can. Whether or not they’ll charge you for the repair is up to the salon, but since it’s been a few weeks, you’re past the time when most places would do it for free.

  3. Hi two of my nails are lifting by my cuticle can that be fixed during a fill or they have to redo the whole nail? Sorry for the silly question 😊 I haven’t had nails in long time.

    • Yes. It’s important to get those enhancements maintained every 12-14 days. If you’re going longer than that, you’re going to experience product breakdown and lifting.


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