Usually, I’m the one introducing my friends to the next big thing in beauty — I do have a lot of insider information being an editor and all. But when it came to dip powder manicures, they were the ones that put me on to the trend. My girls in Georgia, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., couldn’t stop talking about SNS, which is a specific brand of dip powder.
But, when I set out to try it for myself, it was nearly impossible to find a salon in NYC that offered the service. So I rode an Uber 20 minutes into New Jersey where I found a small hole-in-the-wall salon specializing in dip powder nails — all in the name of research. And while the process took nearly an hour and half (after the dipping, there is a good amount of filing and buffing involved), I was immediately impressed. The color was bright and vibrant, and my nails were shiny and had the hardened feel of acrylics.
And, as I lived my life for the next month, the manicure never flaked, peeled, or cracked. The only thing that signified it was time for my next nail appointment was the new growth at the cuticle. But when I wanted to remove the polish, I realized I’d have to go back to the same salon (and foot the bill for another Uber ride) because no NYC nail tech I asked would take it off. And the removal was the real test.
Whenever I’d get a gel manicure, the scraping during the removal process would leave my nails weak and cracking for weeks. For SNS removal, my technician used an electronic file to take off some of the top layers, then I had to soak in foils and acetone for about 30 minutes — which is so much longer than gel. But in the end, the color slid off my nails like warm candle wax. And my nails were just as strong as before, as if I'd simply removed regular polish.
Once a month for the last six months, I’ve been riding an Uber to and from that same salon to spend damn-near two hours in the chair for an SNS manicure. I’ve had to budget $100 a month for this adventure because my natural nails have grown so long that people assume they are fake tips. And I’ve only had my SNS crack once. Safe to say, I’m hooked.
But while dip powder was something new to me, it’s been infiltrating the U.S. manicure market since the '90s — and SNS, in particular, is especially popular in states like Florida, Texas, and California where dip powder is replacing acrylic as the go-to nail solution. Even though NYC salons haven't fully jumped onto the trend (more on that later), brands like OPI and Gelish have professional dip powder systems and there are even at-home kits available at Ulta. If you’re interested in trying dip powder, I'm breaking down everything you need to know — including whether it’s safe for your nails — ahead.
What Is Dip Powder?
Dip powder isn’t new. It’s actually yet another beauty trend doing a boomerang from the ‘90s. “These are very old-school and were invented back in NYC in the ‘90s,” says Doug Schoon, a chemist who's worked on several nail products. Just like classic acrylic systems, there are two crucial parts to a dipping system: the liquid hardening agent and the powder. “In a dip system, the liquid is based on cyanoacrylates,” says Schoon. “They are used for suturing wounds in the body and eyelash glue. When they react with moisture in the air or the nail, it causes them to harden.”
The powder is made of colored pigments and acrylic polymers that make the powders strong. “Cyanoacrylates are very weak and would break without some kind of reinforcement. The powder makes it resistant to cracking, resistant to solvents and resistant to removal,” says Schoon.
What Makes It Different Than Gel or Classic Acrylic?
Dip powder falls into that middle ground between gel and acrylic. It’s harder to soak off than LED gels, which are formulated for easy removal. But it's easier to remove than acrylic, which is generally filled in every two weeks instead of being completely removed each time.
Yvonne Venage-Mohl, owner of Nails on the Boulevard salon in Hurst, Texas, says she’s completely stopped using acrylics in her salons after discovering SNS. Her clients like the fact that their nails grow longer and stronger with SNS — and she’s happy to have the acrylic fumes out of her salon, which can pose a risk to workers according to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. “I was getting tired of the unhealthiness of acrylic nails — the odor, fumes, the dust," Venage-Mohl says.
How Is It Applied?
In dip systems, after the nail has been prepped with a base coat, a technician sweeps an activating liquid onto the nail. Then, the nail is dipped in powder (hence the name), or the powder is sprinkled over the top of the nail. The activating liquid goes on again and the nail can be dipped multiple times for a more opaque color. Then the powder is buffed and filed to smooth out the shape. The final step is a shiny top coat to seal everything in place. The entire process takes about 45 minutes.
Can You Do Designs With Dip Powder?
Yes, you can do nail art and add nail tips using dip powder. Companies like SNS provide different kits that help you achieve the traditional pink-and-white, French manicure. Venage-Mohl adds rhinestones, real flowers, and even foil to her clients manicures, and you can also layer gel on top of dip powder to get more intricate designs.
How Is It Removed?
As with any artificial nail treatment, the removal is the part where the most damage can happen. The removal of dip powder is very similar to gel nail polish, as the product is soaked off with acetone. Unlike gel, dipping powders don’t flake away; they melt and wipe away. “Typically what people will do is file them off or rip them off, which can damage the nail. You can file them down thin and leave a thin layer of color then soak off the remaining product,” says Schoon. “If a nail technician takes something underneath and pries them off, leave and never go back.”
Is It Natural?
Some dipping systems claim to be “natural” or “healthy,” but Schoon says it’s all marketing. “To say that they are organic is a deceptive statement. Every powder is organic. Baby poop is organic. They are insinuating that products are organic certified, and they are not.”
Schoon also says the vitamins listed in the ingredients can’t do much for the nail. “Vitamins are nutritional substances. When you say a cosmetic has a vitamin, you’re claiming that it has nutritional benefit. These powders have no ability to add any nutrition to the nail.”
Is It Safe?
There hasn't been any definitive research on the hygiene of dip powder. According to New York State Division of Licensing Services, “all fluids, creams, and powders must be dispensed with shakers, dispenser pumps, spatulas or sprays to prevent contamination.” And Schoon says most states have similar double-dipping laws that make dip powders questionable as far as safety. This could be the reason it was so hard for me to find a salon in NYC that offers it.
Schoon says that bacteria and infection can pass from client to client if the nail is being dipped into the original packaging. “Some people use the benzoyl peroxide and say it’s in there as an antibacterial, which is bogus. There is nothing in the powder that can prevent the transfer of bacteria,” says Schoon. “If you dip a contaminated nail in the powder, that infection is going to be put into the powder, and the next person who dips in could pick up infected powder. It’s not very hygienic.”
While dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic & clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, agrees that reusing product with multiple clients is a contamination risk, he says powders are less susceptible to bacteria because they are dry. "Pure dry powders are not likely to be contaminated because they don't provide an optimal environment for bacteria or viruses to grow. However, if the powder becomes wet or if any blood gets into the powder, the risk certainly increases."
Venage-Mohl says she takes precautions to prevent the spread of bacteria at her salon. “Anyone who comes in has to wash their hands with antibacterial soap. Then, you’re cleaning nails and sanitizing hands again at the station. If someone has a cut on their finger, you don’t put their finger in there.” Venage-Mohl, who has been trained by SNS, also says that you don’t have to dunk the nail completely. “You can sprinkle it with a nail brush or use a spoon. Or, you can pour some into individual glass pods for that one particular client.”
When looking for an SNS salon, make sure to ask which application method is used. If the technician doesn't have a fresh jar to use, you can ask that they sprinkle the powder over your nails using a brush instead of dipping them completely.
Have any other burning questions about dip powder manicures? Leave them in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer them.