If you’re anything like me, a manicure is one of those necessities which you can’t do without. If you look across the world of beauty treatments, you might notice that there is quite a price difference between manicures in different salons. Some are completed in 20 minutes, while others take over an hour – and the price of one manicure can be more than double what other manicures cost. Salons offer many choices regarding what materials and techniques they use, resulting in a wide range of prices catering to every budget. The choices and options can be overwhelming, so let’s take a look at what differentiates a good manicure from a great manicure.

Quality Takes Time

Probably the most obvious difference from one manicure to the next is the length of time it takes. Some salons offer a full manicure in 20 to 30 minutes. In other salons, a good manicure takes anything from 45 minutes to over an hour. With a quality manicure, the added time comes mainly from the preparatory work done. Before the first layer of polish or gel ever touches your nails, a lot of work is done on the cuticles, and preparing the nails for the application of colour. Many salons also offer nail-nourishing and strengthening compounds like IBX, to help strengthen your natural nails.

Cuticle Work

Do a casual search online about cutting cuticles and you will soon see that it’s a contentious issue. The question many people ask is: Is it advisable to cut the cuticles? Some say it’s okay, while others say you definitely should not. The answer to this comes down to definitions. What most people refer to as the “cuticle” is actually not the cuticle. The layer of dead skin cells on the base of the nail itself is the cuticle. There is also a fold of skin which is not dead, at the base of the nail, called the proximal nail fold of the eponychium (seriously). And it’s quite true that it’s not good to cut the proximal nail fold of the eponychium (I see why people just call it cuticle!) as this is not dead skin, but is actually very much alive. For a good quality manicure, the cuticle itself (the dead skin on the nail) needs to be gently removed, because gel and polish won’t stick well to a nail that has dead skin on it and it will chip or come off prematurely one way or another. There’s no harm in removing dead skin cells. The proximal nail fold of the eponychium sometimes needs to be gently pushed back. Sometimes it has tiny pieces of dead skin in places, and it’s okay to carefully cut off this dead skin. The eponychium has a biological function to protect the “matrix,” where the nail cells are created. So it is important to not cut the eponychium, but to gently push it back during manicure. Careful cuticle work is done for three reasons: It keeps your nails healthy and strong, it looks better in the end, and it allows the gel or polish to stick to the nail for longer. The perfect manicure should last as long as it takes for the colour to grow out. It should not chip, break, lift or do anything at all other than making your nails look beautiful.

Removing Gel

If your nails still have the remnants of your last manicure on them, your beautician has to remove the polish and prepare your nails for the new manicure. Polish is removed with polish remover, and this is something many people just do at home before their new manicure. Gel polish doesn’t come off as easily, and usually it is better if it is removed in the salon. Acetone is the usual agent used to remove gel polish. Acetone is quite abrasive, and should be used with care. Good salons usually work with a combination of acetone and a nail drill. If you do not want to use acetone at all, it is possible to remove gel polish with the drill alone, though this process can take a little longer. Or if you do not like the drill and want to get your gel polish removed only with acetone, it is best to get your nail technician’s help to do that. She has the appropriate tools and foils and will apply the acetone for only the necessary time, to avoid nail and skin damage.

Base Coat

Putting polish directly on the nails can potentially discolour the nails. A base coat is a barrier between the nail and the polish. It also helps the polish to stay on longer, and helps the polished nails to have a smoother look. A good quality manicure always uses a good quality base coat. Your basecoat professionally applied will also smooth out any unevenness of the nail plate.

Attention to Detail

Good manicurists have a range of brush sizes with which to apply the polish to the nail. If you’re too quick, you can get polish on the cuticles (sorry, the proximal nail fold of the eponychium) or on the skin on either side of the nail. It takes that extra attention to detail to keep the application neat and straight. Some manicurists use the technique of painting over the edges of the nail, getting polish on the surrounding skin and wiping it off afterwards. But doing it right in the first place is much more professional and results in a more sophisticated final look.

Damaged Nails

Many clients have damaged or weak nails. It’s a lot more common than you may realise. Getting acrylic nail extensions regularly, or even just getting gel manicure without giving your nails an occasional break and without care of the nails can make your nails weaker. Some manicurists will even give you more long-term advice for your nails. “You need to give your nails a break and let them get strong on their own,” is something you might hear in some salons. A good manicurist takes the long-term health of your nails into account. There are many things one can do to treat damaged nails. One of the most effective is a treatment called IBX.  Without getting too technical, IBX is a two-part treatment that strengthens weak nails, smooths out ridges, and can have gel or polish applied over it. It nourishes the nails, strengthens them and makes them healthier. If your nails have been damaged by working with water, by biting them, or from bad manicures, we recommend giving your nails a break, getting an IBX treatment and some professional care, and giving them time to heal and strengthen. A good manicurist will know what to apply to get your nails into better shape and make them healthier.

Nail Extensions

Nail extensions were initially done using acrylic, and later gel extensions were introduced. There have been more recent developments using products which are a kind of combo of acrylic and gel. They come in different names – most commonly acrylgel, acrygel or polygel. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll just refer to these as acrylgel, which is the product we use at London Mode Beauty. There are many different preferences and opinions about which nail extension material is better, but as a customer, it comes down to what you want with your nails. Acrylic is strong. The acrylic that is used in nail extensions is specially formulated for nails. In the 1970s, a type of acrylic known as methyl methacrylate liquid monomers, commonly known as MMA, was in widespread use. It is now illegal to use MMA for nail extensions, but there have unfortunately been many instances in recent times of nail salons using it. It is significantly cheaper than the acrylic that is now accepted for use on nails. MMA can cause skin irritation, nail damage and discolouration, and worse, it can cause painful infections. The best way to be sure is to ask your beautician to see the original container that the acrylic came in. If the beautician is being secretive about it, you might want to consider going elsewhere. Acrylic extensions tend to be slightly cheaper than gel or acrylgel extensions. Gel and acrylgel nail extensions are more flexible than acrylic nails, which means they are less prone to chipping. And acrylgel has a more natural and glossy look than acrylic, which some people prefer. Gel and acrylgel nails have a similar flexibility to your own nails, whereas acrylic tends to be much harder. Acrylgel is generally easier to shape and sculpt than acrylic or gel. Our favourite advantage of acrylgel over acrylic is the smell! As you may know, acrylic is very strong-smelling. It’s that smell that smacks you in the face sometimes when you walk into a nail salon. Acrylgel on the other hand, is completely odourless. It is increasingly popular these days to work with your natural nails and to keep your natural nails healthy.

Preference

There are many factors that make for a truly professional, quality manicure, but at the end of the day, there is no single “right” choice of how to care for, maintain and beautify your nails. Longer or shorter, gel or polish, acrylic or acrylgel, a manicure every two weeks or every two months – as long as you put in the time in the beginning to find a manicurist who is professional, skilled and honest, then the rest is down to personal choice and preference. I can give you my own preference when it comes to nail care. I’m not saying it’s the only approach, but it works well. While I would love to have long, strong and beautiful nails all the time, my own nails are just not strong, and never have been. Maybe some of you can relate to this. No matter how hard I tried, my nails would never grow longer than a certain length on their own. I choose my manicurist carefully. I make sure I have the right keratin treatment from time to time, and that I take occasional breaks from gel polish to keep my nails as healthy and strong as possible. If occasionally I really want long nails, I get acrylgel or polygel extensions put on my nails with a lot of care and taken off with even more care to keep the nails growing and healthy. So yes, as much as a good manicure is a work of art, there is a lot of science to it as well, and it can and should be done professionally, using products that will last and are safe, applied by professionals who are trained, experienced and able to advise honestly. To book your quality manicure at London Mode Beauty, click here.

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