When you step into the nail salon, you're greeted with so many options that offer more than just a basic manicure. There are gel nails, acrylic nails, and more recently, dip powder nails (frequently referred to as SNS nails). While the lingo for the latter can be pretty confusing, this manicure method comes with some pretty enticing perks.
To learn more about SNS manicures (short for signature nail systems, BTW), and overall nail tips we chatted with Elle Gerstein, a celebrity manicurist based in New York and Los Angeles. Having painted the nails of celebs like Jennifer Lopez and Blake Lively, we'd say she knows a thing or two about nailing the perfect manicure.
To chat nail health, we also enlisted the assistance of Donna Charloff, a veteran nail tech of over three decades, as well as MiniLuxe service director and head of product innovation.
Before you head to the nail salon to freshen up those nail beds, continue reading below to understand exactly what you’re getting, what to expect, and how it will affect the health of your nails.
About the Experts:
A dip powder manicure is a manicure technique in which the nails are coated in color by being dipped into a pigmented powder rather than by being painted with nail polish. Most nail technicians apply SNS dipping powder the same way.
1. “You [begin] by applying glue to the nail with a brush, like applying a base coat of nail polish, then you dip the nail with the glue into the colored powder,” explains Gerstein.
2. Then, the manicurist will “pull it out, shake off any excess, and then apply more glue," she says.
3. "The last step is spraying the activator—what hardens your nails and dries the colored powder—over the glued powder nail to make it dry.” This sealant is what's used in place of a UV light.
SNS refers to a specific brand (just like OPI or Essie), whereas dip powder refers to the technique as a whole. While SNS is one of the leading brands for this type of manicure, there are also dip powders made by many other nail brands.
So, now you know what it is and how it's applied, but should you make it your go-to manicure type? Here are a few of the biggest benefits of dip powder nails:
Unlike a gel manicure, you don’t need a UV light to cure the dipping powder. As UV light can result in premature signs of aging, this makes it a great alternative for those who are nervous about the UV-ray exposure potentially damaging the skin around the nails and on top of the hands.
Another thing people love about dipping powder is the lack of smell. SNS nails (and all other dip brands, like Kiara Sky) don't have the same acrylic smell that usually comes with nail polish. If you’re sensitive to smells, dip powder could be a good option. If you have specific allergies, however, it's a good idea to check in with your doctor first.
Just like gel or traditional polish, dip powder comes in a variety of different shades. You'll never suffer from a lack of choice here. Plus, you can still easily create trending nail art and beautiful nail designs with this technique or even get a classic french manicure.
While traditional gel usually needs to be removed around the two-week mark, Charloff says dip powder is “long lasting and cures very hard, so will generally last up to five weeks.”
Gerstein explains that the biggest way a dip mani differs from a gel mani is the application process. “The SNS manicure uses the glue, powder, and the accelerator process, whereas gel manicures use [gel polish] and a UV light to adhere polish to the nails." Dip powder also tends to be a bit more durable than gel polish, usually staying in good shape for somewhere between three to five weeks. (There’s that long-lasting power!)
But because it's so durable, dip powder nail removal does tend to be a bit more intensive. While dip nails and gel nails are both removed by filing off the top coat and soaking the nails in acetone, it may take longer for dip powder to come off. And because that means your nails will be exposed to acetone for longer, it could result in more brittle nails over time.
Dip powder nails and acrylic nails have a lot in common. However, the biggest way they differ is in the bonding agent used. Dip powder adheres to the nail via a super strong glue, whereas traditional acrylic adheres via liquid monomer. While dip powder is technically acrylic powder, the texture of dip powder is much finer than what is traditionally used for acrylic application and is designed specifically to work with dip powder glue.
As far as which one lasts longer, it's a close call. Traditional acrylic nails will likely last a bit longer than dip nails. However, both dip nails and acrylic nails can be refilled with color when the growth gap between the cuticle and the painted manicure begins to show.
Like gel nails and dip powder, acrylic nails are also removed using acetone. However, because acrylic nails are the thickest and most durable of the three options, they will require the longest soak time, which may ultimately take a larger toll on your nail health.
As with any artificial nail process, there will always be some form of repercussion or damage to your nail. It’s like constantly applying bleach to your hairor chemically straightening your strands: At some point, damage is bound to happen, but it might not be exactly how or where you’d think.
“The actual product is not bad for your nails as long as it’s applied correctly,” Gerstein says. “The removal process is what’s actually worse for your nails than the whole dipping and gluing process.” That’s why you never want to peel them off, no matter how long it’s been!
“Gel, dip, and acrylic all have the potential to damage your nails if not applied and removed appropriately,” Charloff adds. “The key is to find a nail specialist who is gentle, patient, and an expert in nail care.” She recommends using a nail strengthener and cuticle oil at home in between salon appointments.
Be sure to always use caution when removing dip powder nails because they tend to be thicker than gel manicures. You can get them taken off at the salon (usually for a small fee), and that’s more likely to keep your natural nail healthy. If you do want to DIY this process, here's a full tutorial on how to remove dip powder nails at home.
When properly applied to healthy nails, a dip manicure tends to stay looking sharp for about three weeks, says Gerstein. However, some report it lasting even longer, closer to five weeks. The durability of this mani will depend largely on how much you care for them. To keep them chip-free for as long as possible, try periodically re-applying a top coat. You may also want to avoid applying hand sanitizer directly to the nails, as the alcohol content can damage the top layer of the manicure.
So, even if it costs a little extra at the nail salon, the length of time your nails last is often worth the splurge. If you’re looking to save money or just want to take control over your own look, you can DIY a dip powder manicure at home with the right dipping system. However, getting that smooth salon finish may take a bit of practice. But once you get the hang of it, you can easily become a dip powder pro.
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