Stronger than gel and kinder than acrylic, SNS and dip powder nail systems helped one of our team’s nails come back from the brink, but are they for everyone? Here’s your ‘need to know’ on dip powder nails

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Nail lingo can be pretty baffling for the uninitiated- from IBX  to UV curing  and a VTCT Level 2 Certificate (the minimum nail technology qualification your nail technician should have according to expert manicurist Sabrina Gayle ), there are acronyms aplenty and a fair bit of mystery as to which process does what. Take SNS , which, like Shellac , is a brand name but has come to signify the dip powder manicure phenomenon owing to its spearheading of the dipping powder method in 1990. SNS stands for ‘signature nail systems’, which is probably as ambiguous as it gets, so if you’re unfamiliar with the dip powder manicure, how it works and its pros and cons, I hope you’re sitting comfortably. Let us begin…

What are ‘SNS’ nails?

The original purveyors of the dip powder manicure, SNS is a US based company that’s the most well known distributor and educator where the ‘dip system’ is concerned. The process essentially involves applying a resin adhesive to the nail plate before using fine layers of coloured acrylic powder, which the nail is ‘dipped’ into, before buffing and shaping the powder and topping with a ‘sealant’ that acts as a hard, glossy top coat to keeps nails chip-free for at least two weeks. Our in-house SNS fan Alex gets at least three weeks’ of smooth and opaque wear out of her usual SNS manicure, returning to have it redone mainly down to cuticle regrowth.

What to expect during a dip powder manicure appointment

The SNS process takes around 45 minutes, depending on whether you’re going big on nail art , ombré effects or any other add-on, most of which are possible when using acrylic powder. First your nails will be painted with activating base coat, which is similar to the adhesive used in eyelash glue but nowhere near as stinky.

The nail is then dipped into a white ‘base’ polymer powder, after which the activating liquid is painted on again before proceeding to dip nails in the coloured acrylic powder of your choice.

The amount of ‘dips’ depends on how vibrant you’d like your colour but our resident SNS reporter generally has two colour dips before the hardening top coat is applied. SNS nails dry and harden very quickly, with the powder and sealant forming a strong bond over the nail plate that’s unlikely to flake or chip, and also you won’t smudge it when scrabbling around for change in the salon.

As for removal, this is sometimes where you can become unstuck (more on that later) but acetone is your main player, a solution you’ll be familiar with if you’ve had a gel manicure soak off. Nails are wrapped or ‘bathed’ in acetone for around 30 minutes before the SNS ‘melts’ away from the nail. It can then be cleanly wiped off. Sometimes the powder polish will be buffed first to thin it and reduce soaking time, but if a technician is going about removal in a hanger and tongs manner or tears the polish layers away, run like the wind.

Dip powder pros

I’ll let my SNS correspondent colleague kick off with some personal pros here:

“An addiction to acrylic nails in my late teens meant that I was left with nails that were extremely weak and prone to breaking. It was impossible to grow them long without them tearing. After about six months of growing them and cutting them back, they were at a point where a lot of the damage had grown out but they were still quite brittle. I started getting SNS on top of my natural nails to help to give them a stronger barrier and to allow me to grow them even more without them breaking.

“I’ve found the service to be quick and it dries immediately, which for me is honestly a life changer. There’s no UV lamp involved either as there is with gel polish and the colour choices available now are amazing. I will never go back to normal nail varnish.”

Quite the SNS endorsement there. Additional benefits include the fact that, unlike in the case of acrylics, you won’t need to return to the salon for infills or repainting and they’re less peel and chip prone than gel manicures can be. The fact that, once soaked, they slip off rather than need to be jabbed away is another plus in terms of avoiding injury to the nails and they’re less bulky looking on the nail than acrylics tend to be (the technician will shape the powder to your nail plate). The pigmented powder also tends to deliver greater colour intensity than acrylic, gel or regular polish.

The dip powder longevity element is also clearly a huge draw, as is the fact that the SNS brand claims to be ‘5 free’ and doesn’t contain the dreaded formaldehyde, toluene and DBP toxins  that are thought to cause long-term health problems when used cumulatively.

Dip powder cons

Despite the fact that brands such as SNS boast healthy formulas containing a roster of vitamins and calcium, the therapeutic action of these nutrients applied externally and when combined with resins and adhesives is likely marginal. Not damaging, just something to be aware of.

What could be more pressing is the fact that, like acrylic and gel polish, dip powder tends to contain  methacrylate chemicals  that have been linked to allergic reactions (although cases are relatively rare). If you’re looking to avoid toxins within solvents, glue and hardeners SNS obviously isn't off the hook there either.

Other detractors relate to the professionalism and hygiene standards of your salon and technician. Double dipping is a sanitary no no - your powder should be administered from a clean pot that’s separate to the main colour pigment container to avoid contamination and the spread of infection. The removal process can also be inherently dehydrating for your nails as they’ll need to be soaked in acetone for even longer than they would with gel polish, but the fact that you’re not cleaving polish from the nails does help to minimise physical impairment of the nail. Step up the  cuticle oil  usage and hand cream slathering if you are on the SNS train and scarper if your nail therapist brandishes a drill or torturous looking tool to aid removal - the powder polish should slide right off post-acetone submersion.

All things considered, while dip powder manicures are highly unlikely to cause long-term damage, you’ll need to balance your mani priorities and lifestyle factors alongside the possible dipping powder impediments. If you’re curious, check out the best rated SNS salons on Treatwell  before dipping in and always take the lay of the land before you commit. If you spy a communal dip powder trough, beat it.

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