A blog for fashion, beauty, hair, cosmetics and lifestyle

16 Jan 2012

How crackle nail varnishes work

Our favourite scientist, Natasha from The Science Informant is back with another edition of the Science Behind Beauty Project. This week she's investigating the science behind crackle nail varnishes.


One of the fashion crazes that took over the cosmetics market last year was crackle nail polish. In all colours and from various different brand, this cool new nail look took has become an overnight hit! But how it work? Here’s a how to on the best way to apply and a simple explanation on how the magic works!

How crackle nailvarnish works

First apply a base coat – I use CHANEL BEAUTÉ DES ONGLES Manicure Base Protectrice – it works great as a protector, my nails are now never stained by dark colours and reds.

Second apply your base colour (you want this coat to be a very different colour to your crackle as that will give the best effect) – I’ve chosen black as well nothing contrasts better with white than black! Plus I’d rather the slightly subtler version of the crackle look and i think monochrome black and white achieves that! The polish I’ve used is Barry M Black (might as well all the way with Barry M on this one).

Then apply your crackle nail varnish – I wanted to try out the Barry M range so used Barry M Crackle White Frost. I’ve found that applying a relatively thick even coat is best as it covers the base colour better and cracks more evenly. Watch it shrink before your eyes – it’s quite cool and surprisingly easy to do!

Lastly apply a top coat to protect your new nail look – I use Sally Hansen Double Duty Base Coat – it’s not particularly expensive but really tough – I work in a lab so my hands and nails undergo pretty rough treatment – this makes my colour last much longer!



So now for the science! How does this miracle of the makeup world work?

It actually all stems from one key ingredient: ethanol (which is a type of alcohol) often used as a solvent for substances intended for human contact like medicines, flavourings, or the alcohol that ruins my nails in the lab!

Adding ethanol to the normal formulation of nail varnish actually makes it do something we all try to avoid with our normal nail varnish: dry unevenly. This is achieved by the two main properties of ethanol:

1. Ethanol evaporates very quickly

2. Adding even a small percentage of ethanol to a liquid reduces its the surface tension

So when the crackle varnish is applied, the ethanol in it evaporates quite quickly. This lowers the ethanol content in the varnish, leading to an increase in surface tension which makes the varnish bead up and dry unevenly instead of as a smooth layer.  And voila! Crackle-tastic nails every time!


Thanks for that Tash!


Does anyone have a beauty product they'd love to know the science behind? Let us know in the comments and Tash will endeavour to find out how for you!



  1. wow , i always wanted to know the fact behind shatter polishes , thanks for sharing ..!

  2. Excellant, love this post, so informative and different to other beauty blogs. It's always good to know how products work.
    Keep up with the post :)

  3. i like this nail art, it's pretty cool! and how amazing it turns out.


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