People love acrylic nails. A well-installed set can last for 2 months without lifting, giving you perfect nails and protecting your natural nails in the process. But one of the main problems with acrylic nails is precisely premature lifting or peeling, when the acrylic doesn’t attach to the nail base properly.
In order to learn how to keep acrylic nails from lifting you need to know why acrylic nails lift in the first place. Here are our top 10 reasons why acrylic nails peel and how to avoid them.
Incorrect Prepping Of The Cuticles
One of the most important things to remember when applying nail treatment – whether it’s acrylic nails or gel nails – is to not simply ignore your cuticles. Proper prep is key!
If you are wondering “Why do my acrylic nails keep lifting at the cuticle” this is most likely the reason: you forgot to push the cuticle back and the acrylic bonded to the remaining cuticle instead of the nail plate. Besides ´possibly causing the dreaded acrylic allergy, acrylic won’t adhere to skin and cuticle nearly as well as to the nail base, which means it will lift sooner.
There are people who like cutting or filing the cuticle down, and this is sometimes called a Russian manicure. However, the cuticles play an important role in keeping your nail healthy and stopping bacteria and fungus from entering the delicate area around the nail. For this reason, it’s much better to gently push the cuticles back using a cuticle pusher instead of using more aggressive methods.
Chemical cuticle removal is usually ok as well, because you are just removing the dead cells and not harming the actual live cuticle which is what’s protecting your nail. However, it’s better to do this on a day when you aren’t planning to do at home acrylic nails, as you would need to do a lot of nail prep afterwards to ensure a perfect application. And on that topic… let’s look at reason #2 of why acrylic nails lift.
Incorrect Prepping Of The Natural Nail Before Acrylic Application
In order to get the perfect acrylic nail application at home, your natural nails must be perfectly clean and prepped. After you have soaked and pushed your cuticles back it’s time to file them very carefully.
Filling your nails before acrylic nails application improves the bonding with your natural nail plate. It removes any leftover cuticle skin of the skin, and removes the naturally occurring oily layer on the nail plate. Those two things, skin and natural oils, are the worst enemies of getting acrylics properly bonded. As an added bonus, GENTLY filing your nail roughs up the surface of your nails a bit, which makes it easier for the acrylics to stick. Imagine trying to glue sometimes to a perfectly smooth surface vs one that is a bit rougher and more porous.
In order to file and clean your nails for acrylic nails prep you should:
- Use a medium grit nail file to buff your nails gently, focusing on the base of your nails to remove dead cuticle skin.
- Wipe your nails with a cotton pad soaked with rubbing alcohol or acetone.
This video will show you the process of prepping your nails for acrylic manicures in more detail, including cuticle pushing and filling.
Weak Natural Nails, Or Nails Are Too Short For Acrylics
If your natural nails are very weak or short, the acrylic mixture won’t have enough surface area to bond with, and the nails will likely lift much sooner than you would expect. If this is the case you are better off skipping your acrylic manicure and using cuticle oils and lots of love to nurse your nails back to health.
If you apply long acrylic nails on a base that is too weak or short you risk making the problem worse. As the nails lift and peel, you may end up snagging them and breaking or pulling them off. This will damage your natural nail plate and may even force you to cut your nails short, which will make them even less suitable for acrylics.
If your nails are not healthy enough, choose a different type of manicure such as gel or even a japanese manicure so they have time to recover. You’ll be back to your acrylics in no time!
Installing Acrylic Nail Extensions That Are Too Long
If your acrylic nails are too long, and your natural nails are too short, the laws of physics will cause them much sooner than expected. The longer the section of the nail that is just acrylic the bigger the strain, and the higher the chances of acrylics peeling off. Very long acrylic nail extensions are also more likely to snag or break, which can be fixed but can be painful and damage your natural nails.
If your acrylics are prone to peeling or lifting, it may be necessary to look at using slightly shorter ones.
Skipping No Lift Primer And Dehydrators
Once you have prepped your nails properly it’s time to start applying the acrylic mixture right? Not yet. Nail primers and dehydrators create the best base for acrylic nails applications and are a step that should not be skipped. They are essential to avoid acrylic nails lift and ensure a long lasting manicure.
Much as you would use a primer before you paint a wall, you need a primer to increase the adherence of the acrylic mixture so it bonds evenly with your natural nail. Before using a primer, however, you need to make sure the nail base is 100% dry and free from oils that would get between the acrylic and the nail and cause uneven bonding. That’s what the dehydrator is for.
While some people swear by acetone or rubbing alcohol as a dehydrator, and it may work if your nails aren’t naturally very oily… a dedicated product works best.
Glueing Nail Tips With Nail Glue Incorrectly
Nail tips are an easier and at-home friendly way to create acrylic nail extensions, and many people prefer them to forms. They are fine, as long as you make sure they are properly glued to your nail using nail glue. If the nail tips aren’t glued properly, they will separate from your nail and take the acrylics with them. This also applies to press-on acrylic nails, which are just nail tips prepared with adhesive.
If you have prepared your nails for acrylics properly, the nail glue should also be adhering to your base nails well. However, it is often difficult to avoid small bubbles of air underneath the nail and it takes practice to get them perfect.
If your acrylic nails lift or peel often, consider learning how to use nail forms for your next acrylic manicure. It takes a bit of practice, but the results are definitely worth it.
Using The Wrong Powder To Liquid Mixture
When mixing acrylic powder with liquid monomer you start the polymerization process, which is basically making the acrylic nail a hard unit. Using exactly the right amount of liquid monomer when creating the acrylic bead will affect the quality of the end result. Poor quality acrylic nails can lead to lifting, and even more frequently peeling.
An improper mix can also cause allergic reactions as the excess liquid can flood into the cuticle, which is a living part of your skin, and eventually form a reaction.
This is one of the main obstacles to learning how to do acrylic nails at home, as it takes practice and a good chunk of flair. But it can be learned (nail techs learn it) and proper technique will get you the best results. The recommended ratio is 2:1 liquid to acrylic powder, but always follow the instructions of the manufacturer and above all, avoid beads that are too wet because that’s where the problems start.
Learn to visually identify the right wet-powder balance and keep testing at intervals during application. If the acrylic bead is too runny, oozes or melts, then it’s too wet. If it’s grainy and powdery, you used too much powder. You want a bead that stays round on the nail for long enough to sculpt and shape it, flexible and movable but not runny. You can see the differences in this video, starting at the 4 minutes 20 seconds mark:
Skipping The Top Coat (And Not Capping Your Edges)
Once you have applied acrylic nails, you should seal them off with a top coat. A clear gel top coat protect the nails from moisture and environmental damage, and act as an extra layer of protection for your acrylic manicure.
For best results and to make your acrylic manicure last the full 8 weeks you should apply a new layer of UV gel top coat weekly. This will keep your nails strong and glossy and your manicure looking like new until you need an infill.
You should also make sure to cap your edges when you use the top coat. What does that mean? Apply gel top coat to the free edge of the nail (the bit that is outside your fingertips) on all sides, to increase the protective effect from all angles.
Natural Nail Growing Quicker Than Expected
As your nails grow about 3.5mm per month, you will need infills to fill in the area between your acrylic extensions and your cuticle. Otherwise there will be a gap and after a few weeks, your nails will pop at the base near the cuticle due to strain. Some people’s nails grow much quicker than others, and so infills may be required more often than the usual 2-3 week gaps.
Always go with what you see. If your nails have a gap at the bottom near the cuticle that you can see, it’s time to do a fill-in even if technically you thought it would take longer. Just be happy, nails that grow very quick are often a sign that you are healthy and your diet is good 🙂
Exposing Your Nails To Mechanical Stress Or Environmental Factors
While acrylic nails are very strong and durable, they are likely to pop if you have too much mechanical stress on them. Using your nails to pop open a can of coke, doing the washing without gloves, all those things can lead to acrylic nail lift and breakage.
Living with long nails, acrylics or naturals, requires some adjustments. If you want your acrylic nails to last for longer pay attention to the following:
- Do not use your nails as a tool, however tempting it is: no typing with them, no opening things with them, no lifting things with them. The law of levers is not kind to long nails, and acrylics can be a victim.
- Use gloves when gardening, doing the dishes, using chemicals for DIY or anything involving solvents or acetone. You use acetone to remove acrylic nails so you really don’t want to accidentally soak them off.
- If you are using nail tips, hot water or steam can loosen the glue and make the acrylic layer lift.
- Keep your nails dry: water and moisture are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. Dry your hands well after washing and avoid wearing acrylic nails if you know you’ll be in the water. A gel manicure is a better option for your beach holiday.
How Do You Fix A Lifted Nail?
There are several things you can do when acrylic nails lift, but if the damage is too great you are better off removing and applying them again.
- Use a small bead of nail glue if you can see where the nail tips are separating from the nail plate. Apply even pressure and see if that fixes it. Sometimes the nail tip is just not the right curvature and will pop back again, at which point you should remove and reapply.
- Use a small bead of acrylic mixture for the same purpose as above if you did acrylic tips using forms.
- Do an infill to support the base of the acrylic if it’s lifting because of nail growth.
What Do You Do When Acrylic Nails Lift Real Nails?
First of all, ouch! Second, the best thing you can do is keep the area clean, and wrap it with a bandaid until the nail has grown past your fingertip again. Removing the remaining bits of the acrylic nail at this point would be too painful, so it’s better to just wait until your finger recovers.
Taking Care Of Your Natural Nails If Acrylic Nails Damaged Them
Damage to the nail plate happens often when acrylic nails lift. The acrylic nail or nail glue will take off some of the nail plate surface, and can cause nail thinning and a rough texture. You can also get fungal infections if water got under the acrylic extensions. Thankfully your nails will heal though it will take time.
It’s very important to remove acrylic nails which are lifting unless you catch the problem early enough to fix it. Proper removal of acrylic nails won’t damage your nails nearly as much as peeling or ripping them off by accident. Fix broken acrylic nails quickly as well to avoid them breaking away from your nails.
While you are taking a break from acrylics to let your nails become healthy again you can help them by doing the following.
Use Cuticle Oils To Help Recover From Nail Damage
There are many different oils you can use to keep your nails and cuticles looking and feeling their best. It’s a good habit to use a good cuticle oil while and in between wearing acrylic nails. Try to use it at least 3 times a day, or even more often if you wash your hands more often than usual.
A cuticle oil pen is really practical when on the go, but you can also find good cuticle oils with a brush or a dropper. The important bit is for it to be easy, so you use it regularly.
Keep Damaged Nails Short For A While
Nails are pretty much like hair, they are not living tissue and as such you can’t “fix” damage. Instead you need to wait for it to grow out. If your nails are very damaged, you should keep them short to avoid them breaking while the damage grows out. Keep them round and snag free by using a nail file carefully to remove any sharp edges.
Check Your Diet And Consider Supplementing
Your nails grow at a certain pace that is mostly defined by your genetics. However, you can help them grow to their full potential with a rich and varied diet. If you aren’t sure about your vitamin levels, consider a supplement. A regular multi-vitamin will work as long as it has Biotin and Iron, but you can also pick from a variety of dedicated hair and nail growth vitamins.
How Often Should You Take a Break From Acrylic Nails?
You should take a break from your acrylic nails every 4-6 weeks. This is to allow your natural nails to grow out so they aren’t damaged by the chemicals in the fake nail products. If you don’t, your nails can become weak and brittle.
If you are going to take a break from acrylic, it is important that you remove the acrylic in a way that doesn’t cause further damage, so avoid the temptation to just peel them off while you are distracted. You can remove your acrylic nails at home if you don’t want to get a booking at a nail salon.
What Is The Cause And How To Stop Acrylic Nails Lift: Conclusion
As you can see there are many reasons why acrylic nails lift, but you can fix them by changing how you do nail prep and application. Acrylic nails should last you for at least 6 weeks, so if you are doing them at home consider your technique. If your nails lift after a visit to the salon, get your nail tech to take a look or find another nail tech that is more skilled.