Bionic’s dictionary of finger nail terminology

by Bionic Beauty on 02.Dec.2010 · 6 comments

Beauty, makeup and skincare tips from the Bionic Beauty blog
Many years ago, I was a nail polish newbie, and I know from personal experience that some of the odd nail terms can be confuzzling. So here’s my handy little cheat-sheet to nail tech terminology…

Acetone: Solvent used to break down and remove nail polish and acrylic nails. A chemical in the ketone family. Acetone is neither better nor worse than non-acetone polish removers.

Acrylic nails: Two-part system of liquid (monomer) and powder (polymer). This type of product can be applied with one color of acrylic, pink and white acrylic for a Permanent French look, or can be applied with colored acrylic, glitter acrylic or in any combination. Commonly called “fake nails”.
Scientific details on Acrylic: Hardened and cured coating that comes from a precise mix ratio of liquid monomer and powdered polymer. Most acrylic monomers are made primarily from Ethyl Methacrylate (EMA). Polymers contain approximately 70% EMA and 30% MMA (Methyl Methacrylate), and a very small percentage of initiator, such as Benzoyl Peroxide. Note: MMA is not harmful when it is a solid (powder/polymer), but is considered harmful in its’ liquid form (monomer). Nail techs should avoid acrylic systems with MMA monomer.

Almost-black: a polish color that looks black or very, very close to black in normal light. In sunshine or bright indoor lighting you can typically see some hint of navy, purple or other dark color tinted in the polish.

American Manicure: A variation of the French Manicure (FM) where more a more natural white (i.e. not as bright as the white used in a French Manicure). The nail bed itself is typically colored in a more sheer manner (versus a more opaque nail bed in a FM).

Base coat: Typically a clear nail formula that is applied under colored nail polish. Base coats help prevent yellowing/staining of the nails, ease in polish removal, and can help increase length of wear. For best results, match your base coat to your polish – if your nail polish is Big 3 Free, use a base coat that is too; if it’s Big 3 polish, use a base coat that has formaldehyde. Popular base coats include CND’s Sticky and Dermelect’s Launchpad.

Big 3 Free: Refers to nail polish formulas that do not contain toluene, formaldehyde, and DBP (dibutyl phthalate). Acronym – B3F. For further information check out All Lacquered Up’s guide to the Big 3 Chemicals.

Chevron: In nails, refers to a style of French Manicure. Instead of following the natural curve of the nail tip with white or colored polish, an precise ^ (an inverted V) is used.

Bionic Beauty's diagram of parts of the fingernails

A diagram of fingernail parts

Cream or creme: A nail polish, lacquer, or enamel that has absolutely no glitter, shimmer, metallic properties.

Cuticle drag: Term used when a nail polish applies thinner, more translucent, towards the cuticle area. The color “drags” away from the cuticle area towards the main part of the nail bed. It can take several coats to cover this, or with some polishes- it never really covers.

Duochrome: A nail polish color that appears one color under a certain light, but when shown in another light or at a different angle, another color “flashes”. Common duochromes are pairs brown/green, purple/green (example: Rescue Beauty Lounge’s Scrangie).

Flat nail beds: What Jami (aka me, aka Bionic Beauty) suffers from and why my nails don’t grow more than a few millimeters past the nail beds before ripping or breaking. I’ve learned to love mine and if you have flat nail beds, I recommend you do the same. There’s no way to change ’em. If you get Acrylic nails, be SURE to point out your flat nail beds. Otherwise your nails will be very sore for a few days until your fingers shape around the tough acrylic. Trust me.

French manicure: Nail polishing technique where the natural free-edge of the nail (tip) is painted white, and the nail bed is painted pink, beige, or clear, to mimic a healthy looking natural nail. Sometimes the moons (lunulas) are painted in as well.

Frost: Nail polish loaded with micro-shimmer particles. Frosted polishes are notoriously difficult to apply although they are getting better. Be sure to apply frosted polish in straight swipes with the polish brush… otherwise the frost particles look squiggly and messy.

UV Gel nail sealing and curing process

The UV Gel curing process in action...

Gel nails: Gel acrylic is a one-part system consisting of the application of a thick viscosity gel acrylic. Gel is normally cured under a UV light. Do not confuse gel with traditional acrylic. Even though the two products are actually acrylic, they apply and wear differently. Gel applied over acrylic to seal the surface does not make your nails “Gel Nails”. Gel nails are a type of acrylic nails since they are made from the same class of acrylates, but with different molecular structures, appearance, application procedures and different curing methods.

Glimmer: Micro or mini glitter or shine particles. Added to polish colors for depth and a tiny bit of sparkle. In almost-black polishes, glimmer can be barely noticeable but allows the polish to show the undertones instead of appearing as plain, solid black.

Glitter: Larger chunks of metal pieces to add shine and shimmer to polish. Larger glitter flakes can make polish harder to remove since they snag the cotton remover pads. Glitter polish can also feel chunky after application. It’s typically best when paired with a thick top coat such as Seche Vite.

Holographic: Nail polish colors that are loaded with a special micro-fine shimmer (or diamond dust in the case of OPI’s DS polishes) that throws rainbows in the sun. My favorite polish of all-time is a holographic: OPI’s Designer Series in Glamour. Milani also released a very nice line of Holographic polishes in Spring 2010.

Moon: Small curved area just above the cuticle, typically a lighter color than the rest of your nail bed. Also called the half moon. Scientific term – lunulas.

Non-Acetone: Solvent used to break down and remove nail polish and acrylic nails. Non-acetone polish removers are made from MEK – methyl ethyl ketone, also a member of the ketone family. If you have acrylic nails and wish to remove your nail polish (and not your acrylic nails), then you should use a non-acetone based polish remover.

NOTD: Nail Of The Day. Acronym often used by nail bloggers.

Polish thinner: Not the same as polish remover. Thinner is the same (or similar) chemical solvent found in the polish that evaporates as it dries (and evaporates from the open bottle thus causing the polish to thicken over time). Polish remover breaks down the chemicals in polish, hence why it is not a good thinner.

Primer: Typically a liquid brushed on your nails before fake nails are applied. The primer dehydrates nails which will improve adhesion and help to prevent growth of yeast, bacteria and fungi.

Seal edges: Done by filing with a glass or crystal file. File lightly by swiping the file perpendicular to your nail edge at a 45 degree angle. It helps remove any roughness and helps your shape last longer.

Shimmer: See Glimmer above.

Smile line: The natural curve of the nail tip once it passes the nail bed. Some people have straight smile lines, others are more curved.

Tip buildup (also referred to as edge buildup): During application, a certain nail polish color, formula or brand may coagulate or “bunch up” at the edge/tip of your nail causing a thick lump. This is generally a sign of a poor applying polish.

Tip pull or Tip shrinkage: Commonly occurs with super-quick dry top coats or polishes that have a higher alcohol content. The fast drying causes the polish to shrink and pull away from the tip of your nail leaving the edge showing.

Top coat: Clear polish that is specifically designed to apply over colored nail polish or your manicure to increase wear and help prevent peeling/chipping. Commonly available in gloss, matte, shimmery, glittery, holographic. Popular top coats include Seche Vite and INM’s Out the Door.

Vampy: A very dark nail polish color.

Did I miss something you nail-related you wonder about? Please post in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer and keep this “Nail Dictionary” updated!


1 Robyn @ Hawaii December 2, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Wow ! I think you covered it all….
Thanks for the definitions !
Are you going to do an article on Pedi’s?

2 Bionic Beauty December 4, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Hi Robyn, That’s a great idea! I’ll add it to my “to be drafted” list of articles. 🙂 Thank you!!

3 Tracy December 5, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I’m a nail newbie too and I’ve learned from your post that I have flat nail beds! So thank you!

4 Bailee December 13, 2010 at 2:00 pm

So helpful! Tanks so much 🙂

5 Bailee December 13, 2010 at 2:03 pm

So helpful! Thanks so much 🙂

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