How to Create Durable Nails with Perfect Structure

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Beauty and endurance are the top two qualities clients look for when it comes to their nails. Clients don’t want to be burdened with additional “fix-it” appointments—and that’s where attention to nail structure comes into play.

The strongest nail is the one that displays an even and smooth surface from side to side, and from free edge to cuticle. There’s an even, gradual ascend from the cuticle area to the apex or arch of the nail, and then down to the free edge. The apex is the highest point and thickest part of the enhancement; that’s where much of the nail’s strength is stored. The high point should be visible from every angle. A properly built arch will allow the free edge and lateral structure to remain as thin as a credit card yet unbreakable.

The lateral nail folds are another important part of this equation (the skin on either side of the actual nail plate that protects the nail bed from infection or injury) and are often referred to as the sidewalls. However, what I’m referring to here are the sides of a nail extension from the nail bed all of the way to the free edge. These “side walls” are correctly called the lateral structure. Each side should extend straight out from where the nail plate leaves the nail bed. Regardless of the shape—stiletto or oval or square—the point where the nail extension leaves the nail bed should be free of notches that could catch on something and cause a fracture in the nail. Taking out these sides with a file in hopes of making the nail look narrower will only cause weakness. Without a strong lateral structure, the enhancement will be weak, plain and simple. As a competition judge, the most common mistake I see is compromised sidewalls. Several things can cause this: improper form placement, bad filing techniques, improper mix ratios (if using acrylic), thinly placed product and undersized tips.

Finally, the last element to nail structure is the C-curve. Without C-curves ranging from 30 to 50 percent, you can pretty much count on structure breakdown. The curve allows for beauty, stability and support, and it guarantees a strong lateral structure.

Components of Proper Nail Structure

Proper Form Placement
Forms should be aligned perfectly with the sides and the middle of the finger, regardless of the nail shape. The form should never cut into the free edge. Sometimes alteration of the form with scissors is necessary to allow for free space to add product. The form should come up under the nail and meet the free edge, or meet directly with the natural nail if it’s very short.

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Tip Fit
Tips should also be aligned with the middle of the finger. Adhere them completely flush to the free edge of the natural nail. Never leave a gap between the natural nail and the tip. Tips should always be oversized rather than undersized. The minute an undersized tip is glued to the nail surface, the lateral structure is compromised, not to mention weak C-curves and the probability of future cracks.

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The highest point of the nail should be placed where the nail would break if it were firmly hit head on. Sometimes a new style or fashion will dictate placing it near the cuticle or closer to the free edge, but for good structure placement should always remain at the stress area. Of course, as the nail grows it will move; at the rebalance appointment it is crucial to adjust it accordingly.

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Lateral Structure

A strong nail begins and ends with lateral structure. A nail tech can build a strong sidewall and then ruin it with improper filing techniques. Files are intended to smooth and shape the nail surfaces; wrong angles and a heavy hand can weaken the best structure. Ideally, you should sculpt the nail with your brush and then use a file to level the product. Talking or not paying attention while filing can also do severe harm to the precious structure you’re trying to create. Live by my salon motto: Talk to the part. Keep your head down, eyes focused, and let your clients do the talking—even if it means that they’ll be talking to the part on the top of your head. Examine your work from all angles to ensure that those lateral structures stay intact.

“Sidewalls support the structure of the nail extension,” explains Jewell Cunningham, competition director of the NAILPRO Nail Competitions. “First, a sidewall must extend straight out from the cuticle to the free edge on both sides. When you look at the nail from the side or the top, the sides should be straight.” This means that you can’t favor one side or the other if you’re right- or left-handed; both sides must look the same. Believe it or not, many expert nail techs have problems with their structure. “Most sidewalls we see [in the competition arena] have glitches in them and angle up,” says Cunningham. How is it that even the nails of competition pros suffer from improper sidewall structure? The answer may be surprising: because of the way a nail technician sits in her chair. “It is impossible to have straight nails of any sort if you are not sitting straight,” Cunningham stresses. After proper seating, the next important aspect is understanding the correct angle of the file. “Nail extensions consist of all angles; when the angles are not accurate, the finished nails look ugly and uneven. It is necessary for the nail enhancement to have straight sides for longevity, and the key to achieve that is to maintain a straight file at the sidewalls when filing,” she says.

As we discussed, C-curves can make or break a nail (no pun intended!). Even an accidental bump to a nail that is flat can cause it to crumble. Creating strong, symmetrical C-curves will bring durability to your nail enhancements—and it all begins with the correct form. Using one that is thicker and fairly stiff, roll the form into a C shape between your fingers before fitting it to your client’s nail. After the application of acrylic, gel or fiberglass and before the enhancement is completely set, gently “pinch” the nail using even pressure on both sides of the nail to obtain the perfect curve. There is an array of tools available to assist you in creating a C-curve, such as pinching tongs, tweezers and C-curve sticks. Don’t worry if you don’t sculpt nails; these tools can be utilized when using a tip, too. The key is to blend the tip and thin it to the point of almost tissue paper (without taking out the sides, of course). Once your product is in place, it can be slightly pinched in the same way you would with a sculptured nail. A word of warning: Do not press or pinch the C-curve into the nail before it is ready, as you will smash the product and annihilate your lateral structure. On the flip side, don’t wait too long because once the product has hardened, you can severely damage the natural nail by pinching and pressing when the product is already set, not to mention cause your client discomfort.

Creating enhancements that are beautiful, wearable and long-lasting will only bring new clientele and income to your salon. And if you ever make your way into the competition arena, it may even bring you a trophy or two!

-Carla Collier 

[Images: Caesar Lima, Hannah Ross]

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