Proper PREP with Fee Wallace

Posted by Fee Wallace on 8th Sep 2021



  • Technical terminology used by Nail Professionals
  • Short for ‘preparation’
  • Refers to the product specific procedure used to prepare the surface of the natural nail and surrounding skin prior to the application of a professional nail coating.
  • P.R.E.P. as an acronym was coined by CND’s education department over 30 years ago and stands for P- perform a manicure, R – remove shine, E – eliminate pathogens, and P – purify the nail plate.

We all know that PREP is important. It’s usually the first thing we learn about on training courses, the 1st chapter of the textbook, the first step to creating beautiful nails that last. PREP is the most basic of procedures, fundamental to the success of the service. But do we completely understand what we are doing during PREP and why? Do you feel confident adapting your PREP procedure to best suit the needs of the nails in front of you? Or do you stick to the textbook procedure, exactly the same for every client?

The purpose of PREP is to ensure the natural nail is in the perfect condition for the chosen coating to adhere as it was designed to. PREP procedure therefor varies depending what product is being applied. Whether it’s gel polish, traditional polish, hard gel or liquid & powder, meticulous PREP, customised as needed, is a key to long lasting results.

It’s true to say that the better condition the natural nails are in, the more successful the nail service will be. Considering our business is done on a repeating basis, it is in our interest to keep our clients’ natural nails as healthy and robust as possible, even if the client is committed to nail enhancements 24/7 for the rest of her life. They will in fact, only be able to do this, if their natural nails are cared for properly. PREP is a stage of the process where nail pros like us can unintentionally cause damage pretty easily to those natural nails, giving our clients and ourselves, problems in the future. As professionals, we work with tools that need to be used according to our training. Whether it’s an e-file or a soft padded buffer, approaching the natural nails with caution and care must always be a priority.

To Buff or not to Buff?

A key differentiator between PREP procedures, is whether the natural nail requires to have its surface roughened with a file or buffer prior to product application. For natural nail services, that is, a coating that overlays the existing natural nail with colour and light protection, this removal of surface shine is not always necessary. For many gel polishes and for enhancement systems that add length to the nail, removal of shine from the nail plate surface is required in order to ensure we have proper adhesion to the natural nail.

Nail products bond to the nail plate using a combination of chemical and physical processes, and vary from brand to brand. For this reason, I recommend always following the specific instructions for the brand and product you have chosen. Don’t make the mistake of thinking just because one PREP method works fine with one brand, it will be fine with any.

If the system you are using does require shine removal, use a file or buffer with the grit number recommended. For example, across all CND systems, the lowest recommended grit number to be used anywhere on the natural nail is 240. Any lower than this is considered too rough, and likely to cause unnecessary damage to the natural nail. 

As a general rule, if you are going to be removing and replacing the coating completely at every appointment, it’s best not to remove shine. If the client’s nail coating will be maintained by rebalancing, removing shine is absolutely ok. Removing the shine from the surface of the nail is perfectly fine when if it’s not done repeatedly appointment after appointment. It’s worth remembering that an enhancement client will only be having the shine removed once, because when they return for a rebalance, it’s only the new, exposed natural nail that has grown up since the previous appointment that will be having the shine removed this time around. A good comparison to consider is hair colour. When you return to the salon to have a root touch up, your colourist will treat the new root growth differently, to the lengths and ends that have already been processed previously.

The Client’s Responsibly

We already know that natural nails, properly cared for, equal better results for the professional nail service. What needs to be done by you the nail professional, will vary, depending on how the client in question is carrying out their homecare. Removing non-living cuticle tissue during PREP will always go more smoothly if the client has been using their cuticle oil at least twice daily. There is an extensive list of enormous benefits to this homecare routine, outside of improving the efficiency of your PREP procedure. So I recommend ensuring every single client is reminded at each and every appointment, to use that oil at home minimum twice a day. My favourite oil is CND Solar Oil, but for those clients who don’t love the marzipan smell, I retail Light Elegance Cuticle Oil, which has a beautiful lavender scent. Twice a day people, it’s not too much to ask is it? The difference is night and day.

The Best Way to Perfect Your Procedure

If you have a client who begins to have problems with their nails not lasting, one of the first things to consider is your PREP procedure. Go back to the original step by step instructions for the brand and product in question, and revise your procedure. Treat those nails like a beginner, thinking about every little step of the process. It’s quite incredible what we can catch ourselves doing, or not doing, when we bring mindful awareness to a procedure we may have been carrying out on auto-pilot for years.


As an educator, I have facilitated more troubleshooting with existing, experienced nail professionals around the stages of PREP, than any other aspect of the nail service. It’s common for nail pros to book a one to one session with an educator (whether in person or online) to work on PREP, learning how and when to adapt the procedures, to achieve better results for every client, no matter the condition of their nails when they arrive.

To find an experienced educator, who specialises in the nail brands you love from Sweet Squared, you can visit my.sweetsquared, or give the customer experience team a call.

If you have comments or questions, or would like to share your experience of PREP, I would love to hear from you. You can catch up with me, Fee Wallace over on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

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