What is Nail Primer? How Do You Use It?

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If you’re a fan of getting acrylic nails done at your local salon or at home, then you’ve probably had primer used on them at some point, even if you have no idea of what it actually does.

Nail primers are used as part of the treatment to get your nails ready for applying acrylics.

So exactly, what is nail primer? Read on to find out…


What is Nail Primer?

Karlash Nail Primer

Nail primers are basically the liquid that provides maximum adhesion to acrylic-based nail applications. They help keep the nails on!

Primers can also extend the life of gel color. They are considered to be among the most important steps in acrylic application. They prepare the nail bed for the adhesion process.

Whether or not you need to use a nail primer very much depends on the type of product used and the nails.

For example, the latest generation of acrylics don’t require the use of a primer to prepare the nail for application. And if you’re having nail polish, gels, silk wraps or fiberglass applied to your nails, you’ll need to use a base coat, not a primer.

Nail Primer

Nail primers are a treatment for the surface of the nail that removes any natural oils or grease on the nail bed, allowing for the preparation of the acrylic application.

They also help to stop the acrylic from lifting by acting like a double-sided sticky tape that allows two surfaces that naturally won’t stick together to adhere. No Krazy glue involved!

Primers can cause havoc to your nails, however. They sometimes contain harsh chemicals, so they should really only be used when applying acrylics or if your nails are prone to chipping or peeling.

Nail primer is available in two different types:

Acid Primer

Acid primer contains very harsh chemicals, including methacrylate. This chemical is known to cause irritation to the skin, eyes and other mucus membranes, so less is more is the attitude to take when using this type of primer.

These are less and less common and have been largely supplanted by acid-free primers.

Acid-free Primer

Acid-free Nail Primer

Most modern acrylics use this type of primer, which contains an ingredient that temporarily changes the pH of the natural nail bed from slightly acidic (pH of 6-7) to highly alkaline, which allows the alkaline acrylic (which has a pH of about 11) to stick to it. 

Nail primers work by dehydrating the nails, which removes any moisture or oil that sits on the surface of your nails. They cover the surface of the nail and act like glue, which dries very quickly upon application.

The sticking action happens by the primer creating tiny microscopic tears and holes on the nail bed, which gives the acrylics the grip they need to stay on for longer.

Nail Primer Benefits 

  • Will extend the life of your color manicure by up to three days longer than normal
  • Application of acrylics will be smoother and easier
  • Your nails will be up to 20% more durable

Nail Primer Disadvantages

  • Older acrylics used in cheaper salons need acid primer to work
  • The harsh chemicals are corrosive and can cause damage to the nail bed

What About Base Coat?

Base Coat Nails

If you’re getting regular nail polish, gels, silk wraps, or fiberglass done on your nails, then you shouldn’t use nail primer. Instead, a base coat will do the trick to make your mani and/or pedi last longer.

Base coats are also a clear liquid foundation that is applied to nails before color application.

They can also help to make your nails stronger by forming a protective layer between your nails and the harsher chemicals included in gel or polish.

Plastic Fantastic

Base coats contain plasticizers that make them flexible. This allows them to bend to stop nails from breaking. Another ingredient, cellulose, makes them adhere to the gel and polish better.

Some brands of base coat will also include vitamins and moisturizers that will help improve the condition of your nails.

Some base coats even contain chemicals that stop your natural nails from being stained by the color dyes in gels and polishes. If you notice a yellowing of your nails after having color removed, then it would be wise to use a base coat before your next application.

Although it is possible to use a base coat along with a primer, it’s not advised if your nails are healthy. If they’re prone to chipping, however, then using both can help to make them stronger and more durable.


So now that you know what nail primer is, you can feel more confident about your acrylic application process the next time you visit the nail salon or do an at-home manicure.

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Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).