Acetone and Acrylics: How Well Do You Know Your Nail Terminology?

Getting your nails done is a great way to pamper and express yourself. But have you ever thought about the knowledge and skill that go into the average mani-pedi? As any experienced manicurist will tell you, there’s a lot of information to know when it comes to the ins and outs of nail care. Like any new topic, this can seem overwhelming at first.

So let’s break it down. Here, we’ll go over all things nails and define basic terminology to give you a better understanding of the nail care world.

First Up: The Basics

We’ll start with the basics of your nails. Your nail has four main components: nail bed, nail plate, cuticle, and eponychium. The nail bed is what the nail plate sits on top of. Think of this as bone (bed) and skin (plate).

The cuticle and eponychium are the most common mix-ups in nail terminology. The eponychium is the visible “lip” of skin at the base of the nail; this area should never be cut, but gently pushed down. Cutting the eponychium can lead to harmful bacteria entering the nail bed and finger. The cuticle is simply dead tissue that sits atop your nail plate. It doesn’t really serve any purpose, so removing this is safe. Once the cuticle is trimmed or filed away, the technician can get to work! Going to your favorite salon every two weeks is good practice, but it’s also a good idea to supplement your own nail care regimen at home. Take some time each night before bed to give your hands and nails some TLC. Start by washing your hands and using a nail brush to clean out any dirt from your nails. After that, apply some moisturizer and a good cuticle balm; this will prevent dryness and cracking.

Key Terms Everyone Should Know

The next thing you need to know is some “this vs. that” terminology. Familiarizing yourself with these phrases will help you get what you want out of your next mani-pedi. And if you’re the nail technician, knowing these terms can help you educate and give your clients what they want.

Acetone vs. Non-Acetone Removers

Acetone-based removers are, like the name suggests, made with solvent acetone; this works quickly and effectively to remove polish—ideal in a salon setting—but it’s also drying. On the other hand, non-acetone removers contain ethyl acetate or methyl ethyl ketone as the active ingredient that breaks down the polish. Non-acetone removers are more natural, safe, and gentle when you’re removing old polish and making way for your new color.

Gel vs. Acrylic

Gel polish is separated into two categories: soft and hard gel. Soft gel is created with a thin resin-like substance and is removed by soaking the nails in an acetone remover. Hard gel is thought of as more permanent and durable. This type of gel is best removed with an electric file as it cannot be removed by soaking. Different types of gel polish include Gelish, Shellac, Bio-Sculpture, and Vinylux. These options vary in strength, longevity, color, removal process, and price. The curing process also varies between LED and UV lamps for each type of polish.

On the other hand, acrylic is a powder-and-liquid combination that creates a hard, plastic-like layer on the nail plate. It serves as an extension of your natural nails. Acrylic can be removed by soaking the nails in an acetone remover.

Longer-Wear vs. Traditional Polish

Longer-wear polishes combine traditional polish ingredients with a few of the favored gel ingredients to create a unique, best-of-both-worlds hybrid. You get both durability and an easy application. Traditional polish chips easier than longer-wear and are not generally used in salons. The real differences between these two polishes are dry-time and wearability.


You also need to know about the different nail shapes out there. Ballerina and coffin are the identical twins of nail shape; both long with a square tip. Almond and stiletto are similar—they’re also long—but almond has a rounded tip while stiletto has a sharp point. Oval means the nail is oval-shaped at the tip. Circle is rounded, making the tip of the nail look like a half-circle. Squoval is a square shape with rounded corners.

Easy Ways to Protect Your Health at the Salon

With the current public health crisis, you may be wondering: “How do I stay safe? Is it safe to go get my nails done?” These precautionary measures will help you, the nail technicians, and other guests stay safe while keeping your nails looking fabulous.

Here are some safety measures recommended by the CDC:

  • Frequently wash hands and cover all coughs and sneezes.
  • Wear a secure cloth face covering. Be sure to wash it after your salon visit.
  • Clean and disinfect your bag/wallet, phone, and keys after your salon visit.
  • Kindly ask your nail technician to clean and disinfect your manicure station and/or pedicure bowl and chair.
  • Monitor your health daily, and stay home if you exhibit any symptoms.

By using the above precautions, you can help prevent yourself and those around you from contracting and spreading this disease. If you’re immunocompromised, it’s best to avoid public spaces or to limit your exposure by avoiding busy times in your salon.

Questions About Your Nails?

Congratulations! You’re now (almost) an expert in nail terminology. You can confidently talk-the-talk at your next nail appointment. Craving more nail care information? Want to learn more than the basics of the trade? At Genesis Career College, we offer classes to teach you everything you need to become a nail technician. If you’re interested in turning your passion for beauty into a career, take a look at our program, and be sure to schedule a virtual admissions appointment to go over any questions you might have. We can’t wait to welcome you to Genesis!

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