Understanding Acrylic Chemistry & Mix Ratio

To get the best out of your nail products and make them work for you, it is important to understand the chemistry behind them.

Let's look into the chemistry of acrylic.


More commonly known as ‘Liquid’.  A monomer is a molecule, which binds chemically to other molecules to form a polymer.  Nail liquid is a monomer made mostly of ethyl methacrylate (EMA), sometimes also including other monomers and additives.  The liquid is prepared and synthesized from the petroleum.  The nail liquid monomer should have a purple tone to it – this contains UV Inhibitors and helps to prevent the acrylic from yellowing.

Inhibitors in monomer

Ingredients for this are typically hydroquinone, hydroquinone monomethyl ether or butylated hydroxytoluene.  These keep the monomers from joining into polymer chains before they are mixed with the powder, which would cause premature hardening.



More commonly known as ‘Powder’.  It is synthetic and consists of large molecules made up of a linked series of repeated simple monomers.  At the manufacturing facility, the monomer is placed in a large mixer and water is added to dilute it.  Since monomer is hydrophobic (doesn’t like water), it does not dissolve but remains suspended as tiny beads.  While mixing rapidly, the initiator and catalyst are added, making the liquid monomer convert to polymer.  The water is drained away, the beads dried, and additives like pigments are blended in.

Inhibitors in polymer

A molecule that absorbs extra energy and uses it to cause chemical reactions to occur; in acrylic powder, it’s benzoyl peroxide, which breaks in half when exposed to the heat of your salon or your client’s finger.


Polymers that are made of two or more different types of monomers.  A mix percent of ethyl (Soft) and poly – methyl (Hard) methacrylate monomers. 

Catalyst: a substance that makes the chemical reaction occur faster than it otherwise would. (It speeds up breakage of the initiator in the powder).

Polymerisation is the process of combining many small molecules known as monomers into a covalently bonded chain.  The combination between liquid and powders creates an entanglement of polymer chains.  This technology is called Chain Entanglement Technology (CTE). When the product is applied to the natural nail, it weaves itself into the keratin structure creating an entanglement of polymer chains.

This process will ensure you have enhanced strength; superior adhesion and greater flexibility providing the best structure for your nail enhancement.

Acrylic Setting Times


  • Approximately 1 minute 30 seconds before product cannot be moved.
  • Approximately 4 minutes 30 seconds before product is ready to be filed.


Fast setting

  • Approximately 1 minute before products cannot be moved.
  • Approximately 4 minutes before products are ready to be filed.


Temperature can greatly affect the setting process of Acrylic.  Cold temperatures can set the products slower whereas heat can set it faster.  If the temperature is too cold, make sure you bleed the excess liquid out of the belly of the brush to prevent it from running.  If the temperature is too warm, more liquid can help slow down the quick polymerisation.  Finding the perfect consistency is paramount for the strength and durability of your nail enhancement.  A controlled application can prevent the product from running or drying too quickly.  If there is too much liquid, press the back of the brush onto the paper towel for 1 second to remove any extra liquid.  The bead should not have any dry powder around the edges before application.  If the bead is too wet, the product will stick to the brush while pressing it into place, this will also clog up your brush.  You should be able to press the product perfectly into place without the product sticking to the brush, running into the cuticles or drying before bonding to the natural nail.

Mix Ratio 

Creating the perfect set of L&P acrylic enhancements is often considered an art, but the foundation behind it is in the science.  In this blog, I will break down the chemistry behind getting the perfect bead. 

When the monomer (liquid) polymerises, it surrounds each bead of polymer (powder). This powder works to stop cracks and reinforces the enhancement. When you work with the correct ratio, you will create a strong – yet flexible – enhancement.


Bead too wet 

What if your mix ratio is too wet?

If you use too much monomer, then your mix ratio will be too wet. As well as this being likely to flood the skin and cuticle while revealing your client to overexposure, you can also create a weak nail structure. When the monomers link to each other during the chain reaction, they knit to each other tightly, causing the nail enhancement to shrink.  When you work with too much monomer, all of that extra monomer links together and you have excessive shrinkage of the enhancement, which in turn can make it prone to lifting and breaking.


Bead too dry 

What if your mix ratio is too dry?

If you use too little monomer, then your mix ratio will be too dry.  When it polymerises, the monomer holds everything together. When you don’t have enough, it’s like trying to make a cake with not enough milk.


Fast setting L&P sets quicker as it contains more initiators and/or catalysts.  Don’t be tempted to use a too wet mix ratio with these products to slow down their setting time as the above rules still run true. Coloured acrylic powders include additional finely ground colorant powders or pigments which sometimes causes them to need a slightly wetter working ratio.  However, always check with the manufacturer’s instructions first, as each product will vary. 

Bead Pick Up

  • Fill dappen dish with monomer.
  • Place the acrylic brush into the dappen dish in a gentle ‘L’ position in the bottom of the dish. This will load the body of the brush with monomer and remove air bubbles, which could comprise the strength of the enhancement and lead to service breakdown.
  • By pressing the tip of the brush against the side of the dappen dish, the monomer will drain from the body.
  • Use this touch with different pressures to determine how much monomer the brush will hold. The more monomer in the body of the brush, the larger the acrylic bead you will pick up.  The less monomer in the body of the brush, the smaller the acrylic bead you will pick up.
  • To pick up the acrylic powder, lay the flat tip of the brush to, not into the flat surface of the acrylic powder. The less monomer in your brush, the shorter period of time you hold in the acrylic powder.
  • Whatever the size of the bead, it should have the appearance of a wet pearl. When it is placed in its sculpting position, it should start to flow but hold itself without running into the skin and cuticle.

Practice makes progress

The practice of creating acrylic beads may sometimes seem tedious and frustrating at time but time spent practicing the perfect mix ratio is a good investment of time and developing important acrylic skills.

Knowledge of how much monomer is required in the brush to pick up specific sizes of acrylic beads to work with will be the key to working successfully with acrylic.

1 comment

  • Lisa a May

    Thank u very useful

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