The dip powder nail technique involves dipping the nail into colored powder (or brushing the dip powder onto the nail), then using a clear sealant on top. The result is a longer-lasting manicure that can remain chip-free for up to a month.
Whether you’re getting your nails done at the salon or doing them yourself at home, Aaron says that the process takes special care and attention. Each salon varies slightly in technique, but you can expect the following steps to be true of most nail salons (and at-home dip powder kits):
The nails are prepped: “Before starting any manicure you must make sure the nails are prepped by cleaning and freeing the nail plate of any dirt and oils,” Aaron says. This is also where you should push your cuticles back and clip any hangnails, and buff the surface of the nail plate.
Bonder is applied: Once you’ve cleaned and prepped your nails, Aaron says you may apply a bonder so that the product can adhere to the nail plate and lessen the chance of lifting.
Base and powder are applied: “Brush on the base just as if you were polishing your nails,” Aaron instructs, noting to go one nail at a time. Once you’ve applied the base coat to a single nail, dip the nail in the dipping tray of powder and repeat on each nail, making sure to brush off any excess. Based on your desired opacity and color intensity, you may want to re-dip your nails two to three times.
Wait a few minutes, then apply topcoat: “This step is to dry and harden the product,” Aaron says. “You should wait two to five minutes before beginning to shape and file nails after applying activator. After you shape and file your nails to your desired look, apply a topcoat.”
If you’re getting your dip powder done at a salon, your nail technician shouldn’t actually “dip” your nail into the powder pot. While this was the technique when this trend initially launched, hygiene concerns over different clients’ nails being dipped into the same pot have put this practice to a stop. Instead, your nail tech should brush the powder directly onto your nail or pour powder from the pot into a Dixie cup for single-use (this is wasteful, so most salons use the brush-on method). Here’s a video demonstrating the dip powder nails process:
Aaron says that some dip powders are thicker than others and may only need two dips per nail, with a new coat of base between each. “Normal length nails may be dipped two to three times,” she says. “For nails with more length, you may dip the nail three to five times. For longer nails, your first dip should start at the apex (the weakest point of the nail where you would like the arch).”
The Benefits of Dip Powder Nails
If you’re someone who values their time and loves a long-lasting nail look, dip powder nails will be right up your alley. “The benefits of dip powder nails is that they are more durable, last longer than gel polish, and can easily be done at home,” Aaron explains. “I have found myself telling clients that if you can polish your nails, then you can easily do the dip system.”
No curing with UV lights: Once you finish your dip powder nails with a layer of top coat, you don’t have to cure your nails with harmful UV lights (as is the case with gel nails).
Easy to do at home: There are a number of complete at-home gel nail kits available for use at home, and the manicurists we’ve tapped agree that if you can paint your nails with polish at home, you can do dip powder nails at home.
Lasts up to a month: Dip powder nails last a long time. When done properly by a professional, you should expect your nails to remain chip-free for up to a month. When you DIY your dip, you can expect your mani to last for about two to three weeks.
Endless color choices: With the boom of dip powder nails, companies scrambled to provide a wide array of color choices, just as you would have with traditional nail polish. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding powder shades to replace your favorite lacquers.
Here’s where things get a little tricky. Depending on who you ask, the drawbacks of dip powder nails vary greatly.
Can look bulkier than regular polish: If too much powder goes onto the nail, you can quickly find yourself with a very thick, bulky look. This can be avoided by tapping the excess powder off of your nail before applying sealant.
Hygiene issues in some salons: While this isn’t a problem for DIY dips, if you go to a salon, you want to ensure that they place some of the powder into a separate bowl for each client’s application (or use the brush-on application method), as dipping everyone’s nails into the same jar of powder could be a means for infection and other sanitary issues.
Some people are allergic to dip powder: The bonder used for dip powder nails is often a monomer, and according to Stern, monomers are common allergens and can cause irritation along the nail beds.
Removal can damage nails: Lastly, removal can be a pain. While Aaron says that a simple soak-off should do the trick, Stern says that if 10 to 15 minutes of soaking isn’t doing it, then damage is more likely to occur to the nail, as filing will be necessary.
Dip Powder Nails vs. Gel Nails
Aaron, while a lover of all things dip powder, doesn’t think that it’s any better or worse for your nails than gel. Gel nails and dip powder nails last roughly the same amount of time (some manicurists argue that dip powder manicures last longer, but it depends on the client). “The most important thing to remember when it comes to nail care is how you go about taking the product off,” she says. You never want to pick or peel your dip powder off, since you’ll rip away layers of keratin from the nail plate. “Instead, gently file the top coat of your nails with a classic nail file and then soak them in pure acetone (not nail polish remover) for 15 minutes,” says nail technician and nail health expert Evelyn Lim.
Removal aside, Aaron does point out that there’s a difference in application, as gel nails require a UV lamp. “My selling point to upgrade clients to dip from gel polish is that unlike with gel polish there will be no bending to the nails which cause cracks to gel polish and sometimes even breakage to the nails,” she shares.
Dip Powder Nails vs. Acrylic Nails
Before using the dip system, Aaron always likes to know what her client’s long-term care wishes are for their nails. “Does the client wish to be as natural as possible or would they care to extend the nails with tips?” she muses. “Are they okay soaking off with every visit? Do they want natural colored nails or a color polished look? These questions determine whether dip or acrylic is best.” For clients that are accustomed to gel polish on their natural nails, Aaron says that an upgrade to the dip system is perfect. “These clients are already used to soaking off every two to three weeks and with dip powder, it would be no different,” she explains. “For clients that are used to acrylic nails, I only suggest dip powder to them when it’s time for a new set. So when soaking off for a new set I begin the consultation by first looking at the condition of the clients’ nails and asking: Do you want to keep your natural nails and if so at what length?” Depending on their answer, Aaron will recommend dip powder, as it’s typically gentler than classic acrylic.
How Long Does a Dip Powder Manicure Last?
Get excited: As Aaron points out, dip powder nails can last anywhere from two weeks to a month depending on how hard you are on your nails (and how willing you are to deal with your nails growing in a bit at the base). If you do your own nails, this is great because it means less time dedicated to a gorgeous nail look. And, if you get your dip powders done, it means less money in the long run because they don’t require as much maintenance.
How Do You Remove Dip Powder Nails?
Again: You never want to pick or peel your dip powder off. Instead, “gently file off 85 percent of the product with a 180/100 grit file and then soak your nails in pure acetone for 15 mins,” says Lim. “Use an orange wood stick and buffer to remove product. Repeat if necessary.”
If the dip doesn’t easily flake off from there, don’t force it. Picking and peeling at your dip powder is a recipe for disaster and can cause serious damage to your nails. See our complete guide to removing your dip powder at home here
Is Dip Powder Safe For Your Nails?
Overall, yes. As mentioned in the drawbacks section, there are pros and cons to every nail treatment. In addition to what was mentioned there, Aaron says that the one thing she strongly recommends when considering dip powder is to evaluate the health of your nails first. When DIY-ing, you never want to dip into a fresh pot if you have any sort of nail fungus going on. What’s more, she says not to share your powder with other people in your household unless you’re pouring it into their own separate container. This will nix the likelihood of any infections arising as a result.
There’s just something about having a fresh manicure that makes me feel so put together. Whether I’m opting for Hailey Bieber-inspired glazed donut nails, some spooky season nails, or just a regular nude set, every two to three weeks, I march into my local nail salon, ready for my nail tech and I to create magic. I’m an acrylic full-set girl through and through. But, after spending hundreds of dollars each month on full sets and gel manicures, my love affair with the services left me with cracked, fragile nails.