Cause and treatment of pocket lifting

‘Pocket lifting’ is often found in the centre of the enhancement when infill and maintenance procedures aren’t performed correctly or damage occurs. There are many things that cause lifting, including improper prep of the nail plate or application, poor natural nail health or client abuse and lack of care.

It can be expected to experience a minimal amount of lifting over the weeks due to wear and tear and growth but if your client is experiencing regular or substantial lifting, you need to investigate and address the reason for this.

‘Pocket lifting’ is a term used to describe when an enhancement gets a ‘bubble’ in the middle of the nail plate but the area around it is still sealed down.

There are several causes for this kind of service breakdown: incorrect mix ratio; insufficient infill and maintenance procedures or damage. 


One of the most common causes of pocket lifting with L&P enhancements is incorrect mix ratio. The more liquid you use, the more the product will shrink, so if the mix ratio is too wet, this will slow the polymerisation process and cause shrinkage, which in turn will cause pocket lifting. This is not evident upon the client leaving the service and therefore the client will often get the blame. While the enhancement may appear fully polymerised, the full curing process occurs over the next 24-48 hours and this can be even longer the more monomer used. In this time, the shrinkage occurs and lifts the product from the nail plate, leading to pocket lifting.

The more curved the natural nail plate, the greater the effect of shrinkage and the more prone to pocket lifting. This will be focused to the highest point on the nail, the apex and in the centre of the plate which is naturally the most curved area. The more product you use, such as on longer nails or larger fingers like the thumb, the more the shrinkage can occur. Therefore, the most likely nails to form pocket lifting are large, curved nails.


If you are experiencing pocket lifting with gel, one likely cause is under cured product. This could be the layers of gel being applied too thickly, therefore preventing the UV from penetrating to the bottom of the gel layer and therefore not adhering to the nail plate adequately. Another cause of under cured product could be the bulbs on your lamp. In a UV lamp, the bulbs may need replacing and a LED lamp, the strength may have greatly reduced over time. It may also be something as simple as the bulbs need cleaning from cured product. 

On the flip side, this can also be caused by over curing or curing too quickly. When your lamp is not matched or too strong from the product it is curing, the curing process can occur too quickly. This can sometimes be recognised by heat spike or you may not notice until the client returns for their infill and present this lifting.

To prevent this, do a slow cure with the nails facing downwards outside the lamp for 30 seconds, then place in fully. This will prevent the gel from curing too fast.

It is also important when working with builder in a bottle, than you use a gel base coat, not a gel polish top coat. This is required for adhesion because the builder gel is too hard to go directly on the nail plate. This can cause separation of the product from the nail plate, presenting as pocket lifting.

Also consider using a primer when working with enhancements products, especially on the free edge if you are experiencing breakdown.

Your working technique with your brush is also important to consider. As well as ensuring the correct mix ratio when working with L&P, you must pat the product down to help it bond to the natural nail and not just let it run into place. Again with gel, a slip layer is important and again, ensuring your product is well adhered to the nail plate.

If this lifting has any seals broken towards the edges, it will be exposed to the outside world, allowing bacteria to get in this area. This can be the ideal breeding ground common bacteria such as pseudomonas, often referred to as ‘greenies’. Asabove, this lifting can occur the day after the service is performed. If the client has had a colour such as gel polish applied over the enhancement, this lifting is likely to be undetected until they return for their infill service several weeks later and a problem can go for weeks undetected. This is why thorough infill and maintenance procedures are paramount, especially if working over another tech’s work.


If lifting is not removed sufficiently and new product placed on top, this can trap bacteria inside and cause even further lifting and potential problems. If you have any concerns regarding the product or you know the client has bumped the nail in- between services, it is paramount that you ensure you file down the product sufficiently to check for pocket lifting. If this lifting has occurred, it is essential to fully remove all of this before performing an infill service.

Sometimes, it will be trial and error to get to the bottom of the cause of lifting and you will need to work with your client to get the the cause.


  • Vicki

    Great informative read! Thank you for your work! I feel theirs such a huge gap when it comes to accurate and update education for the nail industry. Always still learning..

  • Emma

    I find this happens with clients who have deep verticle ridges in their nails (usually older clients) any thoughts on how to combat it?

  • Asia

    Great article! Good short read

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