In Defense Of Acrylics: Crazy Cat Lady Nails For Life!

Who says you have to have horrible, pointy, dragon-lady nails to get the benefits of an acrylic manicure?
Publish date:
March 11, 2013
shoppables, manicures, alison freer, acrylic nails, fungus

Some commenters on my post about what I spend every year to look pretty expressed surprise that my signature shortie manicure is actually the result of a lifetime of getting acrylic manicures.

I think everyone automatically associates acrylic nails with the actual plastic tips you can have put on to lengthen your existing nails -- and doesn’t realize that you can actually just have the acrylic powder overlay applied directly onto your own natural nails. Once it’s applied, just have the nail technician shape and file them down to any length you want!

Some nail technicians may say that you have to let them glue tips on to get acrylics -- they call it a “full set.” I say this is simply not true. (I think they insist upon it just because it costs more money.) It may actually be 5% easier to apply the acrylic powder to a longer surface as opposed to your existing short nails, but it can totally be done.

A good compromise may be to go ahead and get the tips applied the first time, have them file them down wicked short, and never have them applied again. The only maintenance you will need thereafter is your twice a month "fills." A "fill" is needed when your natural nail bed grows out, leaving an unfilled space near the cuticle where the original acrylic material was.

I got glue-on plastic tips the very first time I got acrylics, because I wanted the experience of having long-ish nails for once in my life. I’ve never had them since -- except for the time I slammed my finger in a car door, breaking not only my fingernail but also my entire finger. I had the nail tech glue a tip on it to camouflage the damage while my finger healed.

I’ve been getting acrylics applied to my nails every 2-3 weeks for almost 15 years. My natural nails are just BLECCHHH -- totally thin and peeling. They bend back at even the slightest breeze, and no matter how much I try to take care of them, they look ragged and sloppy ALL THE TIME.

The acrylic powder overlay hides the crappy nails I was born with, and your polish stays on forever because it isn't being applied to your real, oily nails. If you are like me and use your nails as tools, your polish will eventually wear off at the tips.

The number one secret to making acrylic nails look more natural? Make sure the nail tech grinds them down on top so that they are very, very, thin. Fat, gloppy acrylic is the number one dead giveaway. (If you live in LA, be sure to try South Lake Nail Design in Pasadena -- they are good+fast+cheap, which is a triple threat you don't often get! You'll also uncover my secret Yelp profile if you click thru to see all their reviews.)

I have always wondered how safe acrylic nails really were -- my tree hugging, cashew cheese eating, concern-o friends are always admonishing me about "THE CHEMICALS, ALISON, THINK OF THE CHEMICALS!!" So I did a little research into the health effects of wearing acrylic nail overlays for long periods of time. (I'm considering my 15-year acrylic nail career as long term usage in this instance.)

I could find almost NOTHING that would suggest any ill effects from wearing acrylic overlays on your nails except in cases of improperly applied or poorly maintained acrylics lifting from your natural nail and causing a fungus to grow in the gap.

Nail fungus is no joke -- just ask Paula Abdul. She almost lost a finger from the very nail salon on Ventura Boulevard that I used to frequent! Abdul claimed that she got the fungus after coming into contact with improperly sterilized tools. (The nail shop in question has since gone out of business.)

A great way to be dead sure you aren't coming into contact with unclean tools that have been used on a million different gross people is to bring your own. I do this, and I believe it's why I've never experienced any ill effects. Here are the exact tools I have in my personal kit that I bring to the salon with me every time I go for an acrylic fill:


This is a special pair of nail clippers meant exclusively for cutting down acrylic nails that have grown out in the time since your last fill.


A regular grit file is meant to shape your natural nails before you apply the acrylic overlay. If your natural nails are anything like mine, the softest grit file will do -- my nails are like notebook paper. Files are made of a porous material, which can harbor germs, so they are the most important tool you can bring yourself if you are interested in cleanliness. At $7.05 for ONE HUNDRED OF THEM, this may be the best money you can spend.


A good pair of cuticle nippers can be used for at least 100 different uses -- to cut stray cuticles, snip hangnails or dig gunk out from under your fingernails. I have a pair by my bed, in my bathroom, and in my desk at work. (I once opened a beer with them as well.)


This is what the nail tech dips into the acrylic liquid and powder to apply the resulting product to your nails. I don't want a nailbrush that's touched an untold number of people, and neither should you.


I am die-hard cuticle pusher/cutter. Some folks frown on this process, but if I don't cut mine, they are as thick as an orange rind. Très gross.

COARSE (180 grit) NAIL FILE:

This nail file is way too harsh to use on anything other than an acrylic nail. So your nail tech won't use it until he or she has applied the acrylic overlay to your nails.


This is the final tool your tech will use when giving you an acrylic manicure. I don't even know what the hell it does, but again, files all have porous surfaces so it's best to bring your own.


This $1.32 scrub brush is where the very grossest germs lurk. Don't EVER use the one provided at the salon -- you're just depositing germs from underneath everyone else's nails to your own.

All these tools are available on, so it's one stop shopping. (I am sooooo very lazy, it's in my blood. I can't be bothered to enter my credit card number more than once.)

A lot of salons these days also use electric nail drills. I love it, as it speeds up the "getting a fill" process to about 30 minutes flat. (I like to cram in a fill during my lunch hour.) I asked my nail tech about purchasing me a set of the tips she uses to do my fill, and she was happy to hook me up.

I couldn't find a vendor on the web who sold the set I bought from her, but the tips should run you $5.00-$10.00 each, and my manicurist uses 3-4 different tips on me in the course of a regular fill.

In addition to bringing my own manicure tools to the salon, I also obsessively check my acrylics for lifting, and go every 2 weeks like clockwork for a re-fill of the acrylic overlay. That way any hint of mold can be dealt with immediately before it gets vicious.

I think that acrylic overlays are far superior to Emily's beloved "gel nail" craze. For starters, you only remove your acrylics once in a blue moon -- you are mostly just adding onto the foundation you've already laid. Gel nails require that you soak them off in acetone every time you go! Not only is acetone insanely drying, some salons pick off the gel material that they can't soak off, taking the top layer of your fingernail with it.

When they exhume my dead body 100 years from now, I'm telling you that my "fake" nails are STILL GONNA LOOK REALLY GOOD. Old-school acrylics are where it's at, babykins.

I’m on Twitter: @IveyAlison.