5 important things to know before your next manicure

Manis are amazing. They turn our nails into works of art and serve as one of our favorite accessories. But not all manicures are created equal. This popular nail treatment varies from salon to salon. It’s helpful to fully understand the treatment process and options so you get results, and an experience, you love. Here’s 5 important things you need to know before your next manicure, that even the most seasoned nail fiends can benefit from.

1) Salon cleanliness is a priority

When it comes to a manicure, salon cleanliness and hygiene are top priorities. Arrive 10 minutes before your appointment to check out the salon and their cleaning practices. The salon floor and bathrooms are good indicators of hygiene. If these areas are clean, it’s likely that the salon takes hygiene seriously. Is the salon well ventilated or does it reek of acetone? It’s not fun (or healthy) to sit in a room full of chemicals. Also, pay close attention to the tools being used. Are they cleaning them between customers or re-using them?

Metal tools should be cleaned in disinfectants, UV light boxes, or ideally in an autoclave, a machine that uses steam to completely sterilized. Paper nail files can not be sanitized. Therefore, nail technicians should never use a paper nail file on more than one client. Ask for a fresh tool if they look dirty and don’t be afraid to ask how they are cleaned. This is your health after all!

2) Cuticle care has options

Your nail cuticle, technically named the nail fold, is the piece of skin at the base of your nail that guards against bacteria. It is common for the cuticle to be trimmed during a manicure. This is done to make the nail look longer and for polish to better adhere. Beauty and medical experts argue that trimming is dangerous because it can cause infection, especially if tools were not properly cleaned. They rather recommend cuticles to be pushed back or moisturized with cuticle oil. In my many years of manicures, my cuticles were almost always trimmed. Most of the time it was fine, but there were a few cases when my nail beds felt a bit sore and looked red.

A year ago, I treated myself to a particularly luxurious nail salon and they passionately refused to cut the cuticle. They preferred moisturizing the nail area with a rich cuticle oil, and explained that this keeps the skin healthy and naturally flexible. Plus, it reduces hangnails! After this experience, I always pass on cuticle cutting. Remember, you are in control of your manicure. If you see a technician reaching for the trimmers, don’t hesitate to ask for a cuticle push back instead.

3) You get what you pay for

Manicures can range from a quick 20-minute in-and-out service, to a 2 hour long pampering spa sesh. When you read salon service descriptions, you may be surprised that they differ dramatically. Although not always true, if you pay more for a manicure you usually get extra perks and a more relaxing environment. Some budget salons have a high customer turn over rate. This means they are busy, noisy, have less time to clean, and you may have to wait even if you already had an appointment. If you just want a no-frills nail service, then you may be fine with this. But if you want a little more luxury, choose a more expensive salon.

When you visit a luxury salon, you are seen immediately, experience a tranquil atmosphere, and often receive nail aftercare tips and advice. They often pair manicures with hand massages and hand scrubs free of charge. When I book at higher priced salons, I also notice that I’m offered a free drink, either wine, tea, or water. In some cases, higher priced salons use better quality polishes and don’t skimp on polish coats, but it really depends. Reading customer reviews ahead of time can help you get a feel for the salon. Once you know what you want out of a mani, it’s easier to find your perfect service.

4) Not all polish is created equal

With polish, the sky is the limit. If you get annoyed with polish chipping, then opt for a gel or shellac manicure. These two treatments are essentially the same, but gel is a generic polish term and shellac is a specific brand. Both give long-lasting color because nails are cured with either a UV or LED light. You will notice no chipping for up to 3 or 4 weeks. You only need to return for new polish once your nails have grown out.

A manicure with normal polish is not light hardened. It can chip and is less durable, but is also much cheaper than gels and acrylics. To reduce chipping and smudging, a fast drying clear top coat is applied to normal polish. It’s a good option if you want to change your nail color often. No matter your preferred polish, all can be customized. You can choose multiple colors, chunky or fine glitter, and even detailed nail art. These services are either free or can be added for an extra cost. Ask your nail technician about pricing ahead of time so you’re not surprised with added charges!

5) Multiple drying methods exist

As the saying goes, a woman is only helpless when her nail polish is drying. I could not agree more. Superwoman must have a gel mani! If you opt for gel or shellac, the nail technician will use a light machine to harden the polish. In no time, wet polish is instantly dried and strengthened. Magic! What some people don’t know is that not all light machines are the same. They either use UV or LED light.

While both machines have the same effect, LED dries the nails much faster than UV, in seconds rather than minutes. UV machines can cure any type of polish, while LED machines only cure LED-specific polish. This means that there may be a larger variety of polish colors if the salon uses UV light.  Also, some people who are concerned with exposure to UV light may prefer the LED method. Although keep in mind, you receive much more UV rays walking outside in the sunshine than you do from a nail drying machine!