The Science Behind: Crackle Nailpolish

I ran down to the mall last week, and while shopping around for a care package, I found this on sale:


Upon first seeing this nailpolish art category in photos, I thought “this is a horrible 80s-esque fad!” It just came across as counter-intuitive. Usually a good manicure and pedicure job is classified as even, smooth, dried coats of vibrate color on your nails. However, curiosity got the better of me, and I bought a golden bottle of the crackle formula to experiment.

Methods and Materials:

1) Apply the base coat. It is recommended to use a highly contrasted color from the actual crackle nailpolish for best results. Make sure the basecoat is completely dried by the time you apply the crackle polish or else you will have a goopy mess on your brush! I used a mildly shimmery deep purple.

2) Apply the crackle layer. Thin layers of paint yield many, delicate cracks, while thicker coats will give you less number of cracks, but more significant and bold cracks. My crackle polish was a shiny, bright gold.

3) Apply clear glossy coat! Nothing makes or breaks a nailpolish job than a shiny coat of clear gloss to bring it all together.


I tried to take photos of the outcome, however they can be difficult to see 😛 Overall, I liked it a lot more than I originally did! After trying thin and thick layers, I have concluded I prefer thinner layers of crackle polish to produce more tiny cracks. It creates kind of a distressed or antiquated effect on the nails (which is a nice change of from supremely bright colors for the summer).

The Science: How does it work?


According to TheBeautyBrains, ethanol is added to the regular nail polish formula. If you ever used rubbing alcohol, you notice that it evaporates quickly when exposed to air because of its lower boiling point (due to weaker chemical bonds). Typically, you want your nail polish formula to be not too viscous and to dry slowly to create even layers of color. However, in crackle formula, the ethanol underlines the pigment polish layer, and the nail polish layerrs shrink because it dries so rapidly. This creates the crackled style look.



15 comments on “The Science Behind: Crackle Nailpolish

  1. improperintegirl says:

    this makes me wonder if adding rubbing alcohol to normal nail polish and then giving it a good shake will make me cheap crackle in whatever color i want… though it will probably ruin it XD

    • yea i dunno if isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) would work. maybe some strong drinking alcohol like everclear or pure grain alcohol (which i dont think is even legal to sell unless you are a laboratory/science affiliate. bad for people to drink such pure stuff!) since those fall under the diluted ethanol category 🙂

  2. […] called 'cracked' nail polish, I think it must be the same thing. In this article: http://chubbyriceball.wordpress…. they say:They’ve added a solvent (ethanol) to the polish that makes the film dry quickly and […]

  3. rubber duck says:

    hey, im doing a project on Crackle Nailpolish and i cat seem to find anywhere as to why you have to have a coat of nailpolish under it and why it doesn’t work without and it can you help?

  4. rubber duck says:

    hey, im doing a project on Crackle Nailpolish and i cant seem to find anywhere as to why you have to have a base coat of nailpolish under it and why it doesn’t work without it can you help?

    (ps, any other scientific info would be useful too) thanx

    • hey there rubber duck! are you sure that crackle nail polish doesn’t work without a base coat? i would assume the base coat is just so that it looks aesthetically appealing but I’m pretty sure the crackle part happens because of the actual composition of crackle nailpolish formula. I’ll do a search and will let you know if I find anything 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

      • angel says:

        I did a layer of crackle only on a bare nail and it didn’t crackle… something about the other layer has to do something.

      • I think angel that the other layer kinda varnishes the nail to make it a smooth surface, not porous like a bare nail. A porous nail may suck up extra alcohol so that it doesn’t evaporate and crackle the polish.

  5. rubber duck says:

    ok thanks, yes i tried it and it doesn’t work without a base coat :(, if you find anything please let me know i will be extremely grateful 😀

  6. karen says:

    I would love to know why you have to have a base coat? It will not crackle with out it…why???

    • Hey Karen,

      If I were to take a guess of why there is a difference of crackle nail polish with and without a base coat it would be this: The basis that crackle nail polish works is that it has alcohol in it so it evaporates quickly. However a nail without a base coat is somewhat porous (made up of dead cells), and the alcohol doesn’t get to evaporate as quickly. It’s just a guess, but it would make a great science project idea!

  7. Sazzielou says:

    It needs a base coat of nail varnish as the ethanol in the crackle polish has a chemical reaction to the normal polish giving it the cracked effect.

  8. Katychla says:

    I dunno, I used crackle today on a bare nail and it worked. It was kind of ugly but it worked.

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