5 Steps for Perfect Nail Prep

Alice Nali shares tips for prepping the nail for enhancements.
Alice Nali shares tips for prepping the nail for enhancements.

The preparation of the natural nail is an essential step for any enhancement treatment, whether it be shellac, gel or acrylic. In this article by Alice Nali, we will see some tips to better prepare the plate for a long-lasting nail treatment.

Why Prepare the Natural Nail?

Without good nail preparation, your client could have not only nail lifts but also breakage or the premature loss of the enhancement. There could be a detachment between the nail and the product, usually due incomplete preparation.

The surface of the nail plate is covered by oils that our body naturally produces and external substances, such as oils contained on moisturizers creams, soaps or detergents deposited on the top layer of the nail.

Our job is to create a clean and buffed surface without oils where the products on top can cling. Because any area still “shiny” (not buffed) will result in a lift and possible loss of the enhancement, it’s vital that every single part of the nail doesn’t contain oils.

It is important to also not let water get inside this space between the nail and the product. This water trapped is unhealthy and dangerous for the natural nail and could lead to superficial or deep molds and, in the worst scenario, even a rotted nail. It’s easy to understand how vital it is to carry on a perfect nail preparation! So, let’s learn how.

Cuticle Preparation

The first step to perfectly prepare for a treatment is to clean the cuticle area with a manicure. I prefer a dry manicure to a classic wet one, as the water could soften the natural nail plate. Then, if we apply the product on top of the soft plate, that could change its shape by getting dry, and this could lead to a separation and lift between the natural nail and the product.

A good dry or combo manicure would be the best solution to obtain the perfect plate and cuticle preparation. Use small gentle drill bits (diamond bits with red or blue band) to lift the cuticles, and buff and remove oils from the plate below. After this step, you can easily cut the cuticles to completely clean the area.

Nail Plate Buffing and Shaping

The second step is to remove all the oils from the rest of the nail plate. This needs to be done gently to avoid over-filing and ruining the natural nail.

Use a 180-240 file to shape the natural nail. In case of extensions, remove the free edge completely for better adhesion of nail forms or tips. In the case of overlays, file the nail on the desire shape, and check the lengths and directions of it. Use a very gentle buffer to remove debris from below the free edge.

With the same file, buff the rest of the surface without applying any pressure on top of the nail. Start from one side to the other, and remove any shiny parts.

Remove Dust

An underestimated step of the preparation is to completely remove the dust from the nail before you apply any product. The dust, if not cleaned, could create a bubble or lift and affect the lasting of the enhancement.

Before carrying on, use a rigid brush to remove the dust from all around the plate and below. Spray some cleanser on a pressed cotton pad, and wipe downward on the nail. If necessarily, use an orange wood stick wrapped in a pad to remove the dust from the cuticle and sides. Let the cleanser evaporate before applying primers.


There are a lot of different primers on the market, but they can be grouped in three main categories and combined to reach the better adhesion.

Dehydrator: Mainly made of alcoholic substances, a dehydrator helps to remove any trace of oils still on the plate. It dehydrates the superficial layer of the nail and, after the complete evaporation, shows if there are still shiny areas. Apply this primer over the nail, and it usually evaporates in around 30 seconds. Apply cuticle oil twice a day, keeping the area moisturized. This will avoid dryness of cuticles and breakage that could make product lift earlier.Apply cuticle oil twice a day, keeping the area moisturized. This will avoid dryness of cuticles and breakage that could make product lift earlier.

Acid primer: This very deep preparator is preferably only used in “extreme” cases of no-adhesion of product. Do not use if your client is pregnant or breastfeeding. This primer contains a small quantity of acid molecules that penetrates deeper on the nail plate and help the adhesion of product. Due to the acids, this product should be used in very small amounts (wipe the brush on tissue before applying). Completely avoid touching the skin. Leave it to evaporate completely before applying the next product. It takes around 2-3 minutes to evaporate.

Acid-free primer: This product has no acids inside, with the aim to create a soft sticky layer that connects the nail plate to the base or product we put on top. This primer doesn’t evaporate and has to be applied without touching the skin to avoid further lift of enhancements.


For the nail treatments that require a base, its application is very important. It’s crucial to avoid touch the cuticles with the product, as this could result in premature lifts. Also, it’s a good practice to “massage” the base into the nail using a brush — This will make your treatment last longer. Cure the base properly, and don’t remove the sticky layer before applying other products! Now that your preparation is done, you can carry on with your favorite treatment!

Aftercare Advice

To maintain the work we did in salon, we can give some suggestions to our client as aftercare. This includes applying cuticle oil twice a day, keeping the area moisturized. This will avoid dryness of cuticles and breakage that could make the product lift earlier. Tell them to avoid soaking the hands in water for 24 hours. Some products such as acrylic have a setting time of 24 hours. For this reason, it’s better to avoid an excess exposure to water to avoid modifying the shape of nail. Avoid aggressive soaps. These products could create lifts or complete loss of the extension. Use gloves to avoid that. With cooperation between nail tech and client, the result is guaranteed!

About the Author:

Alice Nali is a nail technician as well as the owner and an educator at AlyNails Italian Academy in London. Visit alynailsitalianacademy.com or @alynails.italianacademy for more information.

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