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Katie’s Day at the Spa

The Chemistry of Nail Polish



Co Authors:

Kathleen S. Rein
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Florida International University
reink@fiu.edu

Jeneissy Comas
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Florida International University
jcoma001@fiu.edu

Abstract:

This case study examines the chemistry of nail polish. Traditional nail polish is made from nitrocellulose whereas the new process of shellac manicure involves acrylic polymer. The "polish" is actually a mixture of methylmethacrylate and oligomers. The mixture is applied to the nail and exposed to UV light to "cure" the polish. The process is a free radical polymerization of methyl methacrylate using benzoyl peroxide as the free radical initiator, which is activated by UV light. The case provides an example of the central role that organic chemistry plays in many of the consumer products that students encounter on a daily basis, how these consumer products are derived, and how their chemical and physical properties lend them to specific applications. Originally developed for an organic chemistry survey course for non-chemistry majors, the case could also be used in a general/organic/ biochemistry survey type of course or modified for use in the first or second semester of a two semester organic chemistry sequence.

Objectives:
  • Understand the mechanism of esterification, which produces Arnel from cellulose.
  • Understand the difference between monomers, oligomers and polymers.
  • Recognize the differences in the process of producing regular nail polish and shellac polish.
  • Understand and explain the reaction mechanism which forms the shellac polish.
  • Predict the solubility properties of molecules based on their functional groups.
Keywords: Consumer products; nail polish; free radical; polymerization; nitrocellulose; shellac
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Directed, Student Presentations
Language: English
Subject Headings: Organic Chemistry  
Date Posted: 2/16/2016
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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