Manicure 101: Everything You Need to Know

Going to the salon for a manicure is a relatively affordable indulgence that can amp up your style. Whether you’re new to the experience or just want a new idea for the next time you go, here’s what you need to know.


Although your manicure is endlessly customizable to fit your style, here are the most common options:

– Basic

A basic manicure starts with softening your cuticles in a cream or oil and soaking your hands in water for about five minutes. Your manicurist will ask you to choose the shape, length, and color you want for your nails. Next, she will clip and file them into the desired shape-either square, round, somewhere in between, or pointed (also called stiletto). She will massage your hands and push back your cuticles. Healthy cuticles will enhance the finished look. Finally, she will paint your nails with a base coat, followed by one to two coats of the colored polish you have chosen, and then a clear top coat. Usually, the manicurist will direct you to the nail dryer to set the polish.

– French and American

A French manicure is a classic, elegant look that is appropriate for almost any occasion. The nail is painted in a clear, pale pink, or neutral color with a white tip. The American manicure is similar to the French style, but the tips are rounded and given a neutral or off-white color for a subtle look.

– Nail Art

Some may choose to embellish their manicure with airbrushing, stickers, 3-D elements such as tiny bows or flowers, or rhinestones and gems. The embellishments may be added to just one finger or all of them. This look has become especially popular in recent years, and the options to create your style are endless.

– Gel Polish

Gel polish combines monomer liquid and a polymer powder to create a hard resin when cured under a UV light. It lasts longer and chips less than regular polish. Since it can form its own shape, gel polish can extend past the length of your natural nail, giving you the length you want without the expense of acrylic nails. To remove gel polish, you must soak your fingertips in acetone until it dissolves.

– Tools

The tools a manicurist uses are very important. Make sure that your artist is licensed and uses proper sanitizing procedures on all of her tools. For the cuticles, she will usually need a softener cream, a stick to push the cuticle back, and a knife or scissors. She will also have fingernail clippers, a file, cotton balls, towels, polish remover, and the creams and polishes mentioned previously.

Now that you know what to expect, pick the manicure that best suits your personal style!