I Just Saw My Nails After 10 Years of Acrylic Manicures and It Isn't Pretty

After almost a decade, what my nails look like after Acrylic manicures—it ain't pretty.
Publish date:
April 18, 2013
nails, manicures, acrylics

I’ve never seen my mother without nail polish, a manicure or the latest nail trend.

Whether it be super long nails in the 80s, nail art and studs in the early 90s, rounded nails in the late 90s or, most recently, gel manicures, she’s tried it all. I would like to say she's not vain, but that would be a lie. She’s a woman who takes great pride in her appearance.

I wish I could say that I emulate my fabulous and well-kept mother. Sadly, the only obsessive beauty habit that I’ve inherited from her are impeccably kept nails.

Well, at least they are impeccable on the outside.

Manicures and nail art are a relatively inexpensive beauty routine. Growing up in New York City and attending school on the Upper West Side, I was able to afford bi-weekly or once monthly manicures on my allowance starting in middle school.

When I gained the freshman 15 (read: 30) nails were a quick pick-me-up. However, my bi-weekly manicures soon became weekly and given that an acrylic manicure in Los Angeles is as inexpensive as a regular manicure in New York City, I decided to upgrade my activity.

Polish lasts longer on acrylic nails, my nails are always uniform and instead of weekly appointments, I only have to go every two weeks, even three if I get a nude color.

The problem is, it became addictive. I can no longer give myself the impromptu color change. I gave away all the polishes I had collected since I was child, from the Limited Too to Essie and OPI. When I'm traveling or just don’t feel like going to the salon, my nails look scraggly and unnaturally long. Not to mention the regrowth at the bottom of my nails or the dirt that gets trapped between the acrylic and natural nail. While for the most part my nails always look better than my friends', it comes at a cost. I am a slave to my local nail salon and acrylic-applying nail technician.

Applying acrylic to nails is practically an antiquated technique. There’s the silk wrap, which I did for a while, and the currently popular gel manicure. The process can take up to an hour, unlike a regular manicure, which takes 15-30 minutes. The fumes are strong and the necessary buffing with electrical machines is tough on the nail, nail bed and cuticle.

In case you’ve never subjected yourself to such a treat it goes something like this. Attach and apply a nail extension with glue, cut to desired length, apply a bonding agent, apply the acrylic powder, buff with three different types of electric buffers, file final shape, buff with a different electric buffer, buff with a hand buffer, apply oil, wash hands, apply lotion and apply polish and top coat.

For the first few hours after a new set, my nails are usually hot and itchy -- sometimes they're even painful. However, after they settle in, I have perfectly manicured nails, and because I’ve always kept my length relatively short, most people believe they’re real. The more my friends and colleagues have complimented my nails over the years, the more fanatical I have become.

And then one day, a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I have had acrylic on my nails for almost a decade. A habit that I started in my late teens has followed me well into my twenties.

Hence my experiment for xoJane: After almost 10 years, remove my acrylic nails.

The dangers associated with acrylic nails are wide and varied, from infection to fungus and possible nail and finger loss (okay, that would be a very extreme case). You can Google “acrylic dangers” and find hundreds of results. Of course, the nail salon and instruments need to be clean, just like with a regular manicure, but you also need to find a technician that really knows what they’re doing and won’t apply too much pressure when buffing.

The process of removing the nails, which I’ve done many times before, is tedious and a little painful. Nails can be popped off with a NYC metro card, soaked off in acetone or buffed off -- the first way is the most fun to watch, the second takes forever and the last is a little painful. When I told my faithful Beverly Hills nail technician, Sue, who I’ve been visiting for the past three years, she acted as if she didn’t understand me.

“But, Ms. Sade, you always do acrylic nails. Do you no longer like my work?”

"No," I reassure her, “I just want to let my nails breathe for a week or two.”

Exasperated, and a bit sad looking, she obliges and lets me soak my nails for 40 minutes. Since I can’t text or flip the pages of a magazine, the process seems to take forever.

Once the acrylic is wiped off, my nails look as sad as Sue. They’re fragmented, pale, jagged and just unhealthy looking. It's like they’ve been through some terrible chemical manipulation, which, in fact, they have. When I touch them with my raisin finger tips, I can feel the damage. I wonder to myself what would happen if I were to continue this until I die in 60 or 70 years. Would I lose my fingernails?

know that many women damage their bodies in the pursuit of vanity, however, I feel like I may have taken it too far. Did I really need acrylic on my nails 24/7 for the past decade?

My new nails after a regular manicure are shorter, a bit friendlier, but definitely not as glamorous. After a day and a half, some polish chips and after three days my “manicure,” which usually lasts a solid two weeks, starts to look tired.

I would love to say that I will never return to acrylic. That I learned my lesson, that that feeling I felt when the acrylic came off -- stupidity and a little shame -- is enough to keep me away from the noxious white powder. But it’s not. As I report my little adventure, I’ve already got a new set on.

They’re clicking loudly on my keyboard (something that irritated my sorority sisters in college) and looking more posh than ever. It’s not that won’t consider other options in the future. It's that I haven't hit rock bottom yet.