How to Trim Acrylic Nails Without Breaking Them

How to Trim Acrylic Nails Without Breaking Them

Picture this: a client comes in you haven’t seen in a while since the last time she came in a couple of months ago for her last acrylic in-fill and polish. She sits down at your station and puts her hands on the table, and oh my—they are long and grown out. She needs a trim, a fill, and a fresh polish. First things first—the big chop. 

This is a tricky situation because simple filing won’t do—you definitely need to pull out the clippers. But trimming acrylics is risky business. We’re going to walk you through it by filling you in on what to avoid, the bad things that can happen, and what to do to help you cut down the client’s nails with ease. 

What To Avoid and Why

Going in for the kill the same way you’d go about cutting a natural nail can cause big problems you should avoid for the sake of your time and effort as a busy nail tech and your client’s nail health. 

The Vertical Crack

The middle part of the nail is the most vulnerable. When you clip the nail straight across all at once, both sides of the nail flatten to match the pressure of the clipper, causing tension on the center of the nail. If the center of the nail undergoes too much pressure, it can cause a vertical crack. 

Vertical cracks can be both painful and a pain. Not only is your client going to feel it because the acrylic is attached to their real nail, but you are going to have to remove the nail and put an entirely new acrylic on. 

Vertical cracks can also damage the real nail and leave the client’s natural nail at risk for infection because the skin underneath may be exposed—making them susceptible to bacteria growth. 

Cutting Too Much

If you cut too much length off from your client’s nails right away—you will still have to file and shape them, which will make them even shorter. Cutting too much length off the bat is going to set you up for failure. 

Using Dull Nail Clippers

If your nail clippers are low quality or dull, you’ll have to press harder on the acrylic to break it—which will cause more pressure on the entire nail, making it more vulnerable to a vertical crack. 

What To Try Instead

Instead of risking ruining your hard work and having to start all over with a new set which is both time-consuming and easily avoidable, try the following tricks to ensure you carry out a seamless acrylic nail trim for your client. 

Cut From The Outer Corners

As mentioned, the middle of the nail is the most vulnerable to breaking, so you’ll want to start by trimming from the outer corners. Line up the clipper along one edge of the nail a couple of millimeters to centimeters in depending on how wide the client’s nails are and clip just the end. Then head over to the other side of the nail and repeat the process. 

After the two sides are clipped, you can go in and clip the entire edge of the nail off because there is no more resistance from either side of the nail.  

Cut in a V Shape

If your client wants a lot of length removed, another option is to cut the edges off entirely in an upside-down, reverse V shape and then go in and chop down the center. Alternatively, after cutting the reverse V, you can use an electric nail file to file down the center part to the shape your client wants. 

Cut a Little at a Time

Of course, you’ll ask your client how short she wants them cut, but when you go to snip them, always cut longer than she wants because you will end up taking off more length when you file and shape them to even them out to complete the final look. 

Opt For An Electric File

Your best, safest bet when acrylic nails need to be trimmed is to use an electric file. They operate with a power bit that spins to take the work off your wrist. Fair warning, they move quickly, so you’ll have to pay close attention whenever you’re using one.

Dealing With a Broken Acrylic

So you followed all the protocols and precautions for trimming your client’s acrylics without breaking them, but the process isn’t fool-proof, and accidents happen. So now it’s time for damage control.

If only the acrylic is cracked and the tip is not damaged, you don’t have to remove it and start from the beginning. Instead, you can file down the nail where the crack is to make it all level and put new acrylic on top. 


When you’ve got a vertically cracked acrylic nail tip, your only option is to remove the nail and start from the beginning. Use an electric file to file down the acrylic as close to the natural nail as possible. Then have your client soak the nail in 100% pure acetone to break down the hard acrylic. Then you can use a metal scraper to scrape off any remaining acrylic on the nail. 

Another option is to wrap the nail in an pure acetone-soaked cotton swab, then wrap it in tin foil to secure it and keep it in place. This way, you can get to work on the rest of her nails without her having to keep her finger resting in a bowl of acetone. 

If the natural nail is damaged or bleeding, you can not reapply a new nail and will have to wait until the nail heals and the client’s natural nails grow in fully healed. 

More Acrylic Nail Faux Pas

Let’s debunk some other popular nail care habits that are actually major no-nos. While you may have grown up thinking some of the following steps are key in a nice, luxurious manicure, we’re here to tell you why they’re not as great for the nails as you may think. 


Contrary to popular belief, when your nails are exposed to water for an extended amount of time, the nail absorbs the water. Wet nails are not only softer and weaker, but they actually bloat! If you soak your client’s nails in water (manicure) and then apply acrylic, the acrylic sticks onto the expanded, bloated nail, and when the nail dries out and returns to its normal shape, the acrylic can lift off. 

Cutting Cuticles

  • Manicurists often push back the cuticle and trim off the excess, be careful not to cut living tissue only loose cuticles they are there for a reason. The cuticle protects the nail and the area underneath the nail from attracting bacteria and is there to protect the health of the nail. When you cut that skin, you are exposing their body to potential infection. You may remove excess or loose cuticle but must not break the seal that protects.

Skipping the Base Coat

What may seem like a tedious, skippable task is one of the most important. Base coats protect the nail from the chemicals in polish, and if you skip this step, your client may experience yellowing resulting from staining by the nail polish. 


It’s one thing to do an initial quick buff to file away any natural oils lingering on the nails to help the acrylics stick to the nail better, but buffing and filing until the nail is smooth and shining actually thins out the nail, making it weaker and more prone to breaking. 

In Conclusion

There is a lot to know when it comes to being a nail tech and caring for your client’s nails properly. Stay away from the nail clippers whenever possible, and when you have no other options—take care to avoid vertical cracks and other mishaps. If a crack happens, don’t fret: it’s a small fix. 


  1. How to Remove Acrylic Nails at Home Without Damaging Your Nails 2021 | Cosmopolitan  
  2. Manicurist's Guide to Nail Repairs and Fills for Nail Technicians | Cosmetology License 
  3. Repair a Cracked Acrylic Nail in Two Minutes | Nails Mag