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What Is Monomer for Nails?

06 Sep 2023
What Is Monomer for Nails?

If reading about acrylic nails feels like reading a foreign language, you’re not alone. From figuring out abbreviations like EMA and MMA to parsing the distinction between tips and forms, there is a lot to learn.

For example, what is the liquid used for acrylic nails? And what is monomer for nails?

Acrylic nails don’t have to be confusing or frightening. In this blog post, the nail design experts at NotPolish provide a complete guide to monomer, the liquid involved in acrylic nails - what it is, how to use it, and how to buy a quality version.

A Bit of Chemistry

Before we can answer, “What is monomer for nails,” we have to take a look at what the term means in chemistry.

In chemistry, “monomer” refers to a molecule that can combine with other monomers to produce a polymer. Polymers are everywhere in our daily lives, from car parts to clothing to cash. They’re so prevalent because they’re stable, strong, and non-reactive molecules.

Polymers have different properties - some are stretchy, and others are quite slippery and make good lubricants. For your nails, we’re looking to make a polymer called Poly(methyl methacrylate) or (PMMA). Sometimes referred to as “acrylic glass,” PMMA is tough and lightweight.

All Monomers Are Not Created Equal

So, there are many different polymers and many different monomers that can be reacted to create them. There are even a few different monomers that can react to form PMMA.

One way is with methyl methacrylate or MMA. This chemical forms PMMA quickly and is used in a lot of engineering and even medical applications.

However, MMA, in its unreacted state, can be dangerous to the skin. In rare cases, it can result in loss of the nail plate or a loss of sensation in the fingertips. PMMA that’s been formed from MMA is safe - for instance, you can wear a PMMA nail shell that’s been made from MMA. But in its unreacted form, it can be dangerous.


Unlike MMA, ethyl methacrylate (EMA) nail products have not been associated with serious injury. They can still irritate skin and should be used in well-ventilated areas, but they don’t cause the damage MMA can.

While the FDA worked to remove 100% MMA products from the market in the 1970s, you can still find MMA for sale, especially on foreign discount sites. You should never use MMA for acrylic nails or go to a salon that uses MMA.

Nail Monomers

Nail monomers, along with the acrylic process used around the world, have an interesting history. Strangely enough, it took two dentists to get where we are today.

A Bit of History

Humans have been using artificial nails for a long time. Nobles in Ming Dynasty China (1368-1644) viewed long nails as the ultimate status symbol. Both men and women would protect their long talons with “nail guards” made of metal inlaid with precious stones - arguably the first false nails.

Acrylic nails were first invented by a dentist who had lost his fingernail. Experimenting with dental monomers made a pretty serviceable nail, and soon, Dr. Frank Slack had patented his process with his brother Tom. The two brothers started a company called Patti Nail.

It was another dentist, Dr. Stuart Nordstrom, who further refined the acrylic nail process in the 1970s. Nordstrom, too, moved into the nail business, founding the company CND.

The Nail Monomer Process

Nordstrom was the first to develop the acrylic nail process as we know it today, with a monomer liquid and activating powder. While there are a few ways to do it, the basic acrylic process involves a liquid monomer and an activating powder.

After prepping the nails, the liquid and powder are mixed on the brush to form a bead of polymer. While it’s still wet, the polymer can be brushed onto the natural nail (and tip, if used).

Once dry, the hard polymer can be shaped with a file or painted. The nails will last for 6-8 weeks or even longer with proper care and filling.

What Is the Liquid Used for Acrylic Nails?

As discussed before, the liquid used in the process should be made of EMA. Anything else isn’t safe.

While the basic chemical reaction used in acrylic nails is the same, different brands contain different ingredients. These chemicals can inhibit polymerization from happening in the bottle, help catalyze the reaction once in contact with the powder, and interact with UV light to prevent the finished nail from yellowing.

What is the liquid used for acrylic nails designed to do? Well, the liquid from one brand is optimized to react well with that brand’s powder. While you can use any powder with any liquid, the results won’t be as good. It’s worth it to stick with a brand you like!

Why Choose Monomers?

Advantages over Gel

Gel nails also involve reacting with a monomer liquid to form a tough, hardwearing polymer. But the process is a bit different.

The gel polish process involves using UV light and chemicals in the base coat called “photoinitiators” that are activated by it. Once activated by the UV light, they cause the monomers in the polish to polymerize - gel polish won’t harden without UV rays. Multiple coats are used as the light can only go through thin coats of polish.

Gel manicures take much longer than acrylic manicures, thanks to the repeated curing process. You should also take care to apply sunscreen to your hands and cuticles before sticking them under UV light.

The biggest disadvantage to gel, though, is that you can’t expand or lengthen your natural nails.

Advantages over Nail Wraps

Nail wraps are pliable nail polish stickers that can be fitted and applied to the natural nail. They’re much cheaper than acrylic nails and can be an easy way to get intricate nail art.

However, nail wraps aren’t particularly durable. And instead of chipping, the whole wrap tends to come off. And you’re restricted to your natural nail shape - you can’t add any length.

Acrylics vs Dip

Dip nails use a reaction between a powder and a liquid, you might be saying. So, what’s the difference between dip and acrylics?

It comes down to both process and goals. In acrylics, the chemicals are mixed on the brush and then applied to the nail - this creates a thin and slightly flexible layer. In dip nails, the liquid monomer is applied to the nail before the powder. This tends to create a thicker layer - dip is great for producing a bold opaque color or an ombre effect.

But a dip isn’t intended to change the shape or length of your nail. If you want to do that, you need the acrylic procedure.

Tips vs Forms

You can use either tips or forms for your acrylic nails, and each method has its pros and cons. Tips remain on the nail like a false nail would, while forms are removed after the acrylic polymer hardens.

While tips are easier for beginners and allow you to get a more uniform length and shape, they can also look thicker and less natural than fully sculpted tips. They can also put pressure onto the nail bed, and application can be time-consuming.

Forms are typically quicker and easier after you get the hang of them, but the learning curve can be steep and tricky to climb. And while the thinner forms may look more natural than tips, that means they are slightly less durable.

How to Use Monomer

What is monomer for nails used for, and how do you get the best results? The process for using monomers is much the same, no matter if you’re using tips or forms to achieve your desired nail shape.

  1. Prep the nails by removing old polish and pushing back cuticles.
  2. If using tips, glue them to the nail tips. Tips are great for those with shorter nails or those starting out with acrylics.
  3. If using forms, apply them to the undersides of the nails. Forms are a way to lengthen the nail without having to use tips; they’re removed once the nails are complete.
  4. Use a dehydrating primer on the nails (and tips, if present) to remove any moisture that could interfere with the polymerization process.
  5. Dip your brush into the acrylic liquid and then the acrylic powder. This will form a pliable bead of polymer on the brush.
  6. Apply the bead to the nail and brush down to the cuticle and up to the end of the tip or form. Take care to avoid clumps and ensure the surface is smooth.
  7. Wait for the nails to dry (about 10-15 minutes); heat will speed up the process. Your nails are done if they make a clicking noise when tapped.
  8. Once dry, you can shape, paint, and decorate your new acrylic nails!

Tips for Beginners

Some newbies to acrylics will apply a thick coat to the nail, thinking this will make the nails sturdier and longer lasting. However, a thick coat can actually weaken the natural nail and cause it to lift.

If you are using tips, you will want your acrylic to be slightly thicker where the tip meets the natural nail. Otherwise, you want a consistent layer over a whole nail.

Try to find a monomer that has a slightly longer drying time. The longer it takes for the monomer to dry, the more time you have to properly shape the nails.

There’s no secret to becoming an acrylic master, though. The more you do acrylic nails, the better you’ll get at it.

Does Monomer Work Better Warm or Cold?

Monomer dries faster in warmer temperatures. You can use this to your advantage - keep the room where you’re doing nails on the cooler side to allow yourself more time to shape the nails.

When you’re done, you can speed up your drying time by popping your nails under a UV light or heated drying lamp. Even if you don’t use any tricks, your nails should be dry in 10-15 minutes.

Can Monomer Touch Skin?

EMA liquid is much safer for the skin than MMA liquid, but it’s still not great for you. It can cause contact dermatitis or skin irritation. You can also become allergic to acrylates if you do nails or get your nails done a lot, which can make the reaction worse.

If you do get monomer on your skin, use a clean cloth to get it off immediately. The longer the monomer stays on the skin, the more likely it is to cause irritation.

Never use monomer on nails without the accompanying powder. It is the unreacted monomer that causes problems, so you want to complete the polymerization process.

Is Monomer Liquid Bad for You?

If used safely, monomer liquids don’t present an immediate danger. However, you can become allergic to acrylates through repeated exposure.

To avoid getting an allergy, you should make sure the space where you do nails is well-ventilated. You may also choose to wear a mask while working or getting a manicure.

Nail technicians can also choose to wear gloves to reduce their risk of skin-to-monomer contact. If you’re doing your own nails, you can wear one glove on the hand you’re working with. And always wash your hands well after your nails have dried.

If you suspect an allergic reaction, remove your acrylic nails and contact your doctor.

How Long Will Acrylic Nails Last?

After about 2-3 weeks, your acrylic nails will start to grow out. You’ll notice a gap between your natural nail and the acrylic. This can cause “lifting,” where the acrylic essentially pops off.

At this point, you should “fill” your nails yourself or have it done. This is just a quick touchup to extend the acrylic down to the cuticle again. Your nails will last a full 6-8 weeks with proper care and touchups.

While you can largely use your hands as normal after getting acrylic nails, you should still use rubber gloves when doing the dishes or other wet and messy chores. Keeping your hands and cuticles moisturized will also help extend the length of your manicure.

Choosing a Monomer Brand

There are plenty of nail brands out there - how can you find an acrylic nail system that’s safe and easy to use? There are a few things you should be looking for.


UV light can cause your acrylic nails to yellow, which is never on trend. Look for a monomer that adds UV absorbers to prevent yellowing.

Low/No Odor

Whether you’re a high-volume nail tech or just like to do your own, it’s much more pleasant when you have a low or no-odor monomer. Even with a no-odor chemical, you should still only work in a well-ventilated environment.


If you take nothing else away from this blog post, remember never to buy a monomer liquid that contains MMA. Only buy your nail products from reputable stores and websites, never from discount sites.

Complete System

A brand’s monomers and powders are designed to work together. Mixing and matching can lead to lower-quality nails. It can also leave potentially dangerous unreacted monomer on the skin.

Ready to Get Started?

Acrylic nails are a great way to improve your natural nails, get a long-lasting manicure, or simply express yourself. With a little knowledge and patience, anyone can get the nails of their dreams.

Whether you’re a beginner looking for a kit to get started or a salon owner looking for a high-volume solution, NotPolish has got you covered - our monomer is low-odor, MMA-free, and non-yellowing - check it out today!
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