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What is Acrylic Nail Powder?

By Nychole Price
Updated May 21, 2024
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Acrylic nail powder is a substance used to create acrylic nails. It is not used alone, but rather is combined with a liquid chemical that makes it harden. Commonly applied both in salons and at home, it is easy and relatively inexpensive to buy. Generally considered safe, it can provide some temporary protection to the nails and improve their appearance, but the way that acrylic nails must be removed means that using it has some risks.


The main ingredient used in acrylic nail powder is polyethylmethylmethacrylate, commonly called PMMA, which is a combination of two different monomers, ethyl methacrylate (EMA) and methyl methacrylate (MMA). It also usually contains substances such as benozophenone-1, which help keep the powder from discoloring when exposed to ultraviolet light. Benzoyl peroxide is included, as well. To meet the fashion demands of consumers, manufacturers also produce versions that have pigments added, usually at a concentration of around 2%, which lets people choose from a wide range of colors. Some even have additional ingredients such as glitter.

How It Works

When used for nails, people mix acrylic powder with a monomer liquid, which usually is EMA plus some additional ingredients that keep the molecules from joining together too soon, prevent yellowing, provide color or affect flow and spreading. During this process, the benzoyl peroxide in the powder acts like a catalyst, causing the liquid monomer to form very strong, net-like bonds called crosslinks between each powder particle. The result is a hardened resin.


Normally, salon technicians apply mixed acrylic nail powder and the liquid monomer with a clean, soft brush designed for use on nails. They usually work from the bottom of the nail up to the tip, moving from the center outward. The fact that the chemical reaction that causes it to harden begins as soon as the two substances come in contact with each other means that technicians cannot premix them. Over time, individuals who apply acrylic nails learn to eyeball how much of each they’ll need so that they aren’t wasteful.

Applying the powder at home is a viable option for people who do not want to spend the time or money to go to a salon. Many individuals find that it is convenient to do this because when their nails grow out, they can easily fill in the gap that forms at the base of the nail with more acrylic. They also can take care of their nails whenever they have free time, rather than needing to worry about getting to an appointment.


To remove the resin that forms from mixing the acrylic nail powder and the liquid monomer, people must soak or wrap their nails in solvents. The most common one used is acetone, which many people do not like because of the potentially hazardous side effects, such as irritation of the respiratory tract, dizziness and nausea. The removal process usually takes at least 20 minutes, and many people file down the nails first to speed things up. To prevent the drying out of the skin that acetone can cause, individuals often apply petroleum jelly around the nails before starting and again when they’re done.


This product is standard in modern nail salons. People also can buy it in beauty or cosmetic supply stores and departments. Some individuals prefer to buy it from online retailers, which is often cheaper despite having to pay shipping costs.


There is widespread confusion regarding the safety of acrylic nail powder, largely because it contains MMA, which has been banned by agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These bans, however, deal with the liquid monomer form of the chemical, not the solid, polymer form that appears in the powders. The latter version is said to be safe because the molecule is so much larger, making it unable to penetrate the skin. It is easy to tell when a manufacturer has used the monomer type of MMA because it has a very strong smell, doesn’t soak off easily and is hard to file.

Although acrylic nail powder by itself is not thought to pose a health risk, it requires solvents to remove. These chemicals often produce fumes that can be toxic, and they can cause irritation when they come in contact with the skin. They also have been shown to reduce the thickness of the nails by up to 50% when used in conjunction with standard scraping tools. There is also the risk of nail infections, which usually occurs because the skin or cuticle around the nail is damaged.

In general, experts say that people who do their own acrylic nails or visit a salon occasionally are under minimal health risks. Technicians, however, are exposed to a much greater degree to the chemicals and dust particles associated with nail care and art, so medical professionals and certification agencies usually advise them to take additional safety precautions. This includes basic steps such as ensuring the salon is well ventilated, wearing a dust mask and not eating or drinking at the work areas.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon294131 — On Sep 29, 2012

What is the chemistry of fiberglass?

By anon255672 — On Mar 18, 2012

I have also had that fainting experience, last week actually. I have been getting acrylic nails for over 10 years, and just last week, I was getting a pedicure and acrylics at the same time, and I started feeling an anxiety attack coming on. Usually I can ignore it and it will go away, but then everything started turning white and my ears felt plugged. I was taken to the hospital as well.

They had me lie down on the eyebrow waxing table in the back and I felt better immediately, but still weak. The paramedic took my blood pressure and said it was low. Probably because I was about to faint if I didn't lie down. The only thing I could think of, was that I was fighting a cold, and couldn't really breathe through my nose. I went to get my nails done today, because I'm pretty much back to normal except for a cough. I wanted to "conquer" my fear. I went to a different salon, one that was much bigger (so maybe it would be more ventilated than the other place, which was very small.) When he started putting on the tips, which is how far I got the last time, I started feeling the anxiety. It got stronger, and I didn't want to have to leave, so I called my boyfriend.

I was on the phone with him the entire time, but he was keeping me calm, I wanted to just get them done and get over my fear so I know it might have been rude but I stayed on the phone. I hope this helps.

Were you having a cold or nose issues when you went? Do you have anxiety?

By anon136390 — On Dec 22, 2010

What's that nail powder and the purple liquid called?

By anon118829 — On Oct 15, 2010

I been doing nails for a while but i have noticed after three days the powder on my nail starts getting discolored almost a faded color. my question is whats the brand of powder i should be buying?i have looked every where!

By anon107419 — On Aug 30, 2010

maybe you can help me with this. For months now, I've been getting my nails done, acrylic nails, and i have had no problem.

Recently, I just passed out while sitting down in the nail salon getting my nails done, and the next time i went to get a fill, i almost passed out again and had to leave the salon! I was brought to the hospital the first time i passed out. I have no heart problems or known allergic reactions to anything. What is going on?

By anon48719 — On Oct 14, 2009

i've had acrylic nails for several years and just love the look and durability. but now, all of a sudden, i'm allergic to the products used. my fingers become very red, itchy and my skin starts peeling. i've gone to the doctor and he of course suggests not having my nails done with acrylic products. is a good alternative silk wraps for me, do you think?

By anon36393 — On Jul 12, 2009

Hi, my question is, can acrylic resin 'buff or polish up to become shiny? And if so, what sort of powder would you recommend? --Geoff.

By gbaldacc — On Jul 03, 2009

Hi, y question is, can acrylic resin 'buff or polish up to become shiny? And if so, what sort of powder would you recommend? --Geoff.

By RNDChemist — On May 14, 2009

I want to clear up some of the misinformation that is common about nail enhancements.

-The chemical reaction is called polymerization, crosslinking only occurs in certain systems designed for it.

-Benzoyl Peroxide is present in nail enhancement powders because it is what initiates the reaction, it has no effect on the color

-Gel nails made by most reputable companies actually are more flexible than liquid and powder enhancements

-Fiberglass nails are generally made of fiberglass with cyanoacrylate nail glue over the top, and they are anything but strong.

-Finally there is little "vapor" produced from the reaction. It is an exothermic reaction giving off some heat, but little or no vapors. Also, the little vapors that are released from the monomer are not harmful when used in a normal manner.

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