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Why does vinegar make nail polish stick better?

edited January 2014 in Ask the Beauty Brains
Why does vinegar make nail polish stick?

I thought this was sort of an internet myth, but I recently tried it (using exactly the same nail products I've used for years). I wiped my nails with apple cider vinegar and let it dry, then applied base coat, two coats of polish, and top coat. Usually, I get 6-7 days wear out of a manicure. But it's been 11 days, and while my nails aren't 100% perfect, they're certainly fine for work. I put an additional layer of top coat on a couple of days ago, once again wiping with vinegar before applying. (I always do this at least once during the life of a manicure, but without vinegar.)

I'd read on the internet that this works because the vinegar removes any extra oils from nails. However, I have long used either acetone or rubbing alcohol before applying polish as a dehydrator/oil remover, so I doubt that's it. I suspect it has something to do with pH... Maybe the vinegar roughs up the nail surface slightly?


  • Color me intrigued, SuziL! I've never heard this trick before but I'll certainly look into it and see what I can find out. I agree that degreasing is an unlikely reason though. pH could play a role but I'll have to look into what possible mechanisms might be at work. 
  • Thank you! I'm a little science-minded and can usually figure something out, but this has me stumped!
  • Randy,

    One of my friends who is a cosmetologist (but specializes in hair, not nails) says that a "pH adjuster" is the first step in applying long-lasting light-cured nail polish (Shellac, etc.). Maybe the vinegar is doing something similar?

    My last manicure, using exactly the same products I've used for years (an Essie base and top coat and two coast of OPI polish) lasted 15 days with a single chip. That is crazy long! The only difference was that I dipped my nails in apple cider vinegar and allowed them to air dry before applying the base coat.

    I don't think the vinegar damages or roughs-up my nail surface, at least not that I can detect.
    I know there is a lot of cystine in the keratin that makes up fingernails and sulphur in apple cider vinegar. Is it possible that the vinegar is creating some sort of molecular bond with the cystine in my nails? Could this be the link that is making my polish stick like magic?
  • I haven't forgotten about your question, SuziL! 

    I found a couple of papers on nail chemistry that I've been reviewing. I'm also planning a couple of quick proof of principle experiments to try to understand what's going on here but I haven't gotten to them yet. 

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