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How To Make Acrylic Nails Not Lift [The Reasons & Solution]

Having Acrylic Nails can be fantastic, especially when you struggle to grow out your natural ones. But sometimes, despite your best efforts acrylics can lift so its useful to know some tips and tricks to prevent them from doing this.

Lifting is without doubt one of the most frustrating and most common problems when you get your nails done. Today I’m going to break down why this happens and how to avoid it.

If you are new to wearing acrylics or need a little troubleshooting, this article will give you some helpful insights and “how to” instructions” for preventing your acrylics from lifting off, particularly in their first few days of wear.

Acrylics lift primarily due poor nail preparation, however it can also be down to medical reasons or chemical imbalances on the nail plate itself. Acrylics can be made considerably more secure and will ultimately last much longer if the nails are properly prepared prior to application. Other methods that help to prevent lifting include: using an effective Acrylic Nail System, using the same brand for your Dehydrator/Primer (like this) and ensuring that you are not unknowingly weakening the bond through behaviors and habits e.g. picking and biting nails.

So whether you are a nail technician in the salon, looking to start doing your own Acrylics at home, or you just want to overcome this issue, I suggest you read on!

What Causes Nails To Lift in the First Place

Not everyone’s Acrylics will lift and you may even find that they lift only from time to time. Chances are, if you are here you regularly experience this issue or have clients at the Salon who do. Maybe you have just experienced it for the first time, or maybe it regularly occurs and you want to prevent it from happening in the future.

Either way, there are three known causes behind Acrylic Lifting: Poor Preparation, Medical Reasons or Chemical Balances. It may be only one, or it may be all three. Depending on your health, and the health of your nails will ultimately depend on what you can actually do.

I’d like to outline some of the causes that fall into each category before moving onto some of the actionable things you should do.

At the end, I’ll run you through an entre tutorial of how to properly prepare your nails for Acrylics.

Improper Preparation

The majority of times the reason for Acrylics lifting is due to improper preparation at the time the nails are applied. Even the best primers cannot adhere the acrylic to the natural nail plate if the preparation is not correct or sufficient. Here are some of the things to watch out for:

  • Natural Oils – must be removed.
  • Moisture – prevents bonding.
  • Pterygium (overgrowth of the cuticle) – prevents primer from being able to adhere acrlyic to the nail plate.
  • Excess Dust.
  • Excessive Filing friction
  • Too much Heat from Nail Equipment

Medical Reasons

There are some medical reasons which may be a cause of poor adhesion and general lifting. These are typically rare but it is something to be aware of if your Acrylics do not adhere even with correct and stringent preparation/application.

  • Certain Health Conditions: Diabetes/Thyroid Disorders
  • Certain Medications e.g. Insulin (Diabetes), Thyroid Pills,
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive Nail Bacteria/Fungus
  • Sensitivities to specific compounds in certain products
  • Diseased Nail Plates

If you have any of these medical conditions then it is advised you seek medical support.

Chemical Imbalances

There are also certain chemicals that can interfere with the adhesion if they are to land on your natural nails. These are the ones to watch out for:

  • Using Tainted/ Outdated Products e.g. dust collected in Primer
  • Poor Air Quality; contaminants falling onto the nail prior to application.
  • Over-saturation of Nail Primer
  • Acids from fruits on the Nail
  • Chemicals from other products e.g. Household Cleaning

Behavioral Reasons

Finally there are some behaviors in which can weaken and cause your Acrylics to lift. Be careful and try to avoid the following:

  • Picking and Biting of Nails/Skin around Nails.
  • Nails being caught on items in your environment
  • Excessive use of nails due to occupation e.g. typing.
  • Using Nails to lift lids, pick off labels etc.

How To Properly Prepare The Natural Nail for Acrylics

Lifting is mostly caused by improper preparation. The following outlines the actionable steps that you can take that should completely eliminate lifting and make a lot of difference to the look and feel of the acrylics.

You always want to start with clean, clear natural nails. Make sure you remove any gel/enhancements/polish with a Nail Polish Remover (Personally, I love this 100% natural one).

You want to start with a new and clean Wood Cuticle Stick. Being wood, it is a lot softer on the natural nail bed. Sure, you can use metal and they are effective, but you do need to be extra gentle and careful.

With the wood stick, you need to just gently push the cuticle right back. Now, you’ll also want to ensure you wash your natural nails because they collect natural oils, contaminants, dust and debris through day to day living. You’re going to want to remove this all completely before you put on Acrylics.

One thing to note is that a common mistake is that people wash their hands just before they apply Acrylics. Now it’s obviously a good thing to do but soap can contain quite a lot of oils and it can prevent your acrylics from adhering to the natural nails correctly. This will cause them to lift if there are too many oils present in the soap and that are applied to your natural nails.  

So, if you, or your client have washed their hands with soap, you need to make sure that it is cleaned right off before you apply the acrylics.

For me, my cuticles are regularly pushed back so this isn’t necessarily as much of a priority as it may be for you. However, if you/your nail technician only pushes your cuticles back every two to three weeks, you are going to need to ensure you do this first and foremost.

Now there’s a range of opinions on cuticle nippers from nail technicians in the industry. Personally, I love and recommend them but you do need to use them properly to avoid causing long lasting damage to your natural nails.

A lot of the better nippers come with an in-built spring which is easier to use and open. (like this)

Now nippers are great if you have any little hangnails or cuticles – you can nip them off. At the proximal fold right down near the end of your cuticles it will look kind of dry, crusty and old. You are going to want to get rid of this. In fact, a lot of nail technicians will remove it when they see it. But this is where you need to be careful and is usually where the controversy comes from – make sure you do not cut too far and cut your finger.

So if you’re going to use nippers make sure that that the skin is completely dead. Use nippers only for hang nails and dead skin around the cuticle. If you don’t have any of this then you don’t need to worry about this step.

Here’s a good tip – an excellent time to do this is just after you get out of the shower. This makes the cuticles soften and you can gently push them back.

Its now time to buff the nails and remove any oils from soaps or other products like hand sanitizers or creams.

The best thing to do is to use Acetone as it can remove almost a 100% of oils from all sources.

You want to get an Acetone, like this, that’s cosmetic grade or otherwise you’ll be putting a load of extra oils in there which are going to stop it from working effectively. A lot of the cheaper and common Acetones are actually full of ingredients you want to avoid to prevent lifting acrylics.

With the cosmetic grade acetone clean your nail plates so that there are no oils left.

If you acrylics have lifted in the past then it is likely that you had oils on your nails that were not completely removed. Even a small quantoty of oil can completely prevent successful adhesion. So cleaning with acetone in itself will make sure acrylics adhere last a lot longer so its a key step you should not avoid or rush.

Once all your nails are thoroughly cleaned you are going to want to remove any marks and blemishes from previous nail designs or styles that you had on.

If you have little marks they are going to show especially if you are looking for a clear or light design. They also magnify when they get wet so its a good idea to completely remove these marks.

E-files are great for this and are ideal in general for prepping the nails. Remember, if your nails are not prepped properly your acrylics are likely to lift off.

Now if you don’t have an electric nail drill/file its important you use the right hand file. When I troubleshoot nail prep with my students or with any other nail technicians that are experiencing issues with lifting the number one thing I find is that they’re using the wrong file.

So if you are using a file that is too smooth to touch its ineffective for prepping – you never want to smooth the nail first before putting on your products and putting on application. This is perhaps the number one reason why they’re lifting.

You also don’t want to have a file that is so rough and strong with grit that you’re just chewing up the natural nail- that’s not good either. The more we break down the foundation of that nail plate the harder it is for the acrylics stay on and can cause long-term implications for your nails.

Instead, I recommend you use this file which is perfect for the task. Essentially you want a hand file that has around 180 grit.

If you’re going to do this with a hand file you just want to gently go in circles when you’re buffing the nails. I recommend you use the round corner of the file. If you miss one little spot the acrylic could lift so make sure you buff right up to the cuticle every last little bit.

Make sure you are pushing up the cuticle at the same time – I find that very effective. Circular motions work well for buffing and remember not to go too hard or fast either because if you do you could burn the natural nail plate. You just want o buff up and take away the shine on the natural nail plate. The idea is not to dig through layers of nail.

So having the proper grit on your file is essential.

If you’re using a drill I highly recommend you use these little sanding bands which come in fine, medium and coarse.

In my opinion the course version is too coarse and if you’re heavy-handed on the drill you’re going to chew up the natural nail bed so I suggest using the fine or the medium (80-150 grit are both quite sufficient for buffing up the natural nail surface).

When you turn your drill on you want to do it at a relatively low speed, there is no need to go top fast at once. If your machine has a slider or digital setting just put it on a nice low speed.

Now filing is a whole other topic that I have written about in other articles. But I will quickly go through it here.

You want to use a nice gentle back and forth motion when you’re prepping the natural nail and then when you go around the cuticle you don’t want to dig into it but you want to make sure that you’re buffing the cuticle.

You don’t want to press too hard just focus on the back and forth motion, just as you would with a manual hand file.

With gentle filing you can hit the skin (not your goal of course) but it’s not going to hurt.

That’s the number one thing to remember – you don’t want to buff the surface of the natural nail too hard. You want to do it very gently and if it hurts stop right away. If the filling is hurting that is not a good thing it means you’re filing too fast. If it’s burning then it’s also too deep. Avoid this!

So you’ve prepped and you filed and you’ve gently buffed all the nails. They’re now rid of all the oils and contaminants and now you’re ready to dust them off.

Once dust free your nails are ready to go.

Now comes your product and its good to use an Acrylic Prepping System.

Now most acrylic brands sell a dehydrator and a primer and they are often sold separately. So you can use a dehydrator from one company and use the primer from another. However if you want the optimum performance out of your product you want to stay within the same line and brand. Its best to get a complete package like the Mia Secret Professional package here.

You just want to gently put it on the nail but be sure that you cover the whole nail. If you get the skin it’s not a big deal but try to focus on the nail.

Most prepping products are alcohol-based to cleansers that are made to go with the primer.

You will notice how fast it dries and how clean it makes your nails – this is because of the alcohol in the solution. Now you’ll be ready to use the primer.

You have to be a little bit more careful with the primer but again you want it to cover the entire nail. If the primer doesn’t cover the entire surface area it could cause lifting and this may be one of the reasons you experienced lifting before.

When you put the primer on you’ll notice it spreads out a little so be careful not to also over saturate the nail. If this happens it can spread right underneath into the matrix which can cause a chemical burn. So start with a little and then use more if required until your nails are covered in the primer. This will ensure you acrylic sticks properly.

At this stage you’ll be ready to apply your acrylics and that is how to properly prep!

Final Words

As you can see, there are many reasons why your Acrylics may lift short after getting them done. Sometimes it is out of your control and there is little you can do, i.e. medical conditions, but for the most part lifting acrylics is down to behavioral habits and poor preparation prior to application.

With the strategies and recommendations presented above, you should be able to ensure your acrylics last a lot longer!

And if you are fed up of having to pay expensive Salon prices, or just want to be able to do your Acrylics at home, then I would thoroughly recommend this Acrylic Nail Kit which comes withe everything you need to get started.