Artificial nails, also known as fake nails, false nails, fashion nails, nail enhancements, nail wraps or nail extensions, are coverings placed over fingernails as fashion accessories. Some artificial nails attempt to mimic the appearance of real fingernails as closely as possible, while other designs may deliberately stray in appearance from real fingernails. Artificial nails are made from a wide variety of materials.
The artificial nails are not a replacement, but an extension for natural nails. There are two main approaches to creating artificial nails—tips and forms. Tips are made of lightweight plastic plates that are "nail"-shaped. They are glued on the end of the natural nail and acrylic or gel or a combination of both is then applied over the entire nail. Tips are now available in many different colors and designs, ranging from simple colors such as yellow or blue to flamboyant designs such as animal prints and mixed metallic colors. Forms are fitted over the nail and then an artificial nail is sculpted out of acrylic or gel and the form is removed and then properly shaped and buffed to a shine.
One popular material commonly called "Polymethyl methacrylate acrylics" is a mixture of a polymer powder and a liquid monomer (e.g. ethyl methacrylate). The mixture starts to harden in 20–30 seconds after application and continues to harden to final hardness typically within fifteen minutes. Powder and liquid acrylics can be removed by using a variety of solvents (usually acetone is used). Usually it takes 20 to 30 minutes to remove the nail while using a nail file to help take off each layer of the artificial nail.
Another material, commonly called "UV Top Coat" (in correct chemical terms a polymer resin) cures under ultraviolet light. Depending on brand these can show a broader variety of quality and properties (flexibility, strength, etc.) but may be more expensive. They generally cannot be removed by organic solvents, but only be removed by filing (or left to grow out with the natural nail). There are, however, a variety of soak off UV gels which can be quickly and easily removed using acetone.
Another popular alternative to acrylic or gel preparations are fiberglass or silk wraps. They are done by cutting pieces of actual fiberglass or silk fabric to fit on the surface of the nail or tip and then it is sealed down with a resin or glue. These are a possible alternative for those who are allergic to chemicals used in the acrylic or gel process. These sort of treatments are commonly used to protect the nails if they have been broken. The silk or fiberglass overlay acts as a false layer of nail and thus protects the nail plate from splitting or becoming damaged any further.
Other materials can be used, as well as combinations of them. There are also temporary, cheaper flexible tips that can be quickly glued at home without help from a professional.
Acrylic nail powders are available in a variety of colours and can use "special effects" such as contours, sparkles and the very popular French manicure (pink or tan and white appearance)
During the Ming Dynasty of China, noblewomen wore very long artificial nails as a status symbol indicating that, unlike commoners, they did not have to do manual labor.
In the early 19th century in Greece, many upper-class women wore empty pistachioshells over their nails, slowly spreading the artificial nail trend across Europe.
In 1954, Fred Slack, a dentist, broke his fingernail at work, and created an artificial nail as a realistic-looking temporary replacement. After experiments with different materials to perfect his invention, he and his brother, Tom, patented a successful version and started the company Patti Nails.
In the late 20th century, artificial nails for women became widely popular all over the world.
Acrylic nails help conceal or fix broken, damaged, short, or otherwise considered "undesirable" nail appearance. It also helps prevent people from biting their nails, breakage of nails, and protect splits. They are used when people are not able to grow the length and strength of natural nails that they desire. This problem can be solved by using certain nail techniques such as nail tipping, sculptured nails, nail wrapping, or acrylic overlays. Acrylic nails often make natural nails thin when removed though are rather durable during wear.
If fitted properly, artificial nails are usually not problematic. However long term use and poorly fitted nails can seriously damage the nail bed and hamper natural nail growth. The most common problem associated with artificial nails is a bacterial infection that may develop between the false and natural nail.
When artificial nails are applied to the natural nail surface, minor types of trauma to the artificial nails which can happen from something as harmless as scraping a nail against a firm surface can cause separation of the nail from its nail bed. This allows bacteria and fungus to potentially enter the separated area setting up an infection. In fact, some hospitals won't allow their employees to have fake fingernails due to the risk of harboring infection which could be transmitted to patients. Several deaths of premature infants were blamed on an acrylic nail infection transmitted to the babies by a nurse in the late 1990s. Infection can also be a risk when you have nails applied by a disreputable nail salon that doesn't follow sanitary practices.
There is concern over the flammability of ingredients used to make acrylic nails. It is suggested that they be kept at a distance from hair straighteners, dryers or curling irons, as well as from heat and flames when cooking, in order to avoid potential flame hazards.
In an occupational health standpoint, there could be hazards to nail salon workers who are exposed to the chemical fumes from artificial nails, during their entire work shift. Though the usage of methyl methacrylate has been outlawed, ethyl methacrylate is continued to be used for artificial nails, and can cause contact dermatitis, asthma, and allergies in the eyes and nose. Nail salon workers also face exposures to other chemicals used, such as toluene, dibutyl phthalate, and formaldehyde.
Musicians who play stringed instruments may wear artificial nails as an aid in playing. Some guitarists like Don Ross and James Taylor are known for doing so. Antoine Dufour, a fellow Candyrat records artist, has also stated in his interviews that he uses fake nails to aid in his tone production . Many intermediate and advanced classical and finger-style guitarists use varieties of fake nails to obtain a consistent and bright tone with each pluck. The players of many ancient Chinese instruments, like the guqin, pipa, and ruan, also commonly used artificial nails. Even the Indian instrument sarod requires nails for tipping, so many players resort to artificial nails to prevent wear of natural nails.