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The ultimate manicure guide...natural, gel, dip powder, oh my!

There are seemingly dozens of choices we have to make when we call up our favorite nail salon these days. Even being in the "industry", I had to sit down for a tutorial of some of the newer manicure options out there. And, it can get a little confusing. And I thought, "If I can get confused and I basically live in a nail salon..." You can see where this is going. Nails are trending, everything about them is viral and your options seem endless. This is your guide from the basic to the flashy and all the frills in between.


The Original! The Natural Manicure

a natural manicure
Natural manicure

This is the one that started it all. A natural manicure entails shaping the nail, a soak in warm water to soften and then trim the cuticles, a good buffing followed by base coat, color and top coat. If you're lucky, a nice hand massage comes before any polishes! This manicure usually takes 20-30 minutes plus a good 10 minutes of drying time. A natural manicure will last you about 1 week and is easily removed at home or by a professional with basic nail polish remover. If you notice a chip or something wrong with your natural manicure, you typically have a 2-3 day guarantee to let your technician know and come in for a repair.



Dazzle Dry Manicure

a Dazzle Dry manicure
Dazzle Dry manicure

The Dazzle Dry manicure has been around for a while, but just started to catch its groove a couple of years ago. Dazzle Dry is the Tesla of manicures as the formula is quick drying, long lasting, nontoxic, humane, non-yellowing and made in the USA. Dazzle Dry claims to " Elevate your nail game with products that prioritize your health, respect your time and empower your individual impact on the world." Not a bad mission at all! This manicure usually takes 30-40 minutes with 5 minutes drying time tops. A Dazzle Dry manicure will last 1 week and can be removed at home or by a professional using basic nail polish remover. If you notice a chip or something wrong with your Dazzle Dry manicure, you typically have a 2-3 day guarantee to alert your technician and come in for a repair service.


Gel Manicure (A.K.A The Shellac Manicure A.K.A No-Chip)

a gel manicure
Gel manicure

Gel manicures have taken over the world. Or, at least it seems that way. A little known fact is that gel polishes have been around since the 1980's, but never really took off because there wasn't a good curing method. It was probably 2008 or so when the UV light curing method hit the market and it was off from there. Even better now, we can use LED light to cure the gel polish and you don't have to worry about UV exposure on your skin. A gel manicure usually takes around 45 minutes with no drying time (thank you LED), should last 2-3 weeks (depending on your lifestyle and easy things like wearing gloves when using cleaning products, etc..) and should only be removed by a professional using 100% acetone to soak off, which will take anywhere from 10-15 minutes. Some salons will charge for this removal, some will not. *Picking or peeling off your own gel manicure will cause your nails to be weaker because you are inevitably taking a thin layer of your own nail off with the gel. If you notice a chip or something wrong with your gel manicure, you typically have a 1 week guarantee to let your technician know and come in for a repair service.


Acrylic Manicure

an acrylic manicure
Acrylic manicure

Acrylic nails are also not new, although they have come a long way since the 80' and 90's. Acrylic extensions are a combination of liquid monomer and a powder polymer that create a paste which is bonded to the natural nail and then cured under either UV or LED light. You can go as short or as long as you want with acrylics and then go crazy with a little nail art if that floats your boat. Acrylic nails add strength, length and thickness to the nail for a stronger, more durable manicure. The trade-off is a thicker nail that is pretty easy to spot as acrylic and can be somewhat heavy on the nail. There is also a downside to acrylic because the glue used as the adhesive for the tip will weaken and thin your natural nail. An acrylic manicure takes anywhere from an hour to 90-minutes+ at the salon and has no drying time. Unlike gel, GelX or Dip Powder, you will need a touch-up, or "fill", every 2-3 weeks to hide the grow out at the cuticle. Acrylic nails should only be removed by a professional using an electric file or drill followed by an acetone soak for 15-20 minutes. You should also make sure your salon knows if they are removing an old acrylic service and prepare to pay an extra $10-$15 for removal because of the additional time and product needed. *Picking off your own acrylic nails will damage your own nails. If you notice something wrong with your acrylic manicure, you typically have a 1 week guarantee to let your technician know and come in for a repair service.


GelX Manicure

a GelX manicure
GelX manicure

Okay, now we are getting fancy! The GelX manicure has only been a thing for the last 5 years, or so, and is definitely having a hey day right now. GelX gives you the best of both worlds with the strength of a gel and the length of acrylics, minus the damage. Using a full coverage soft gel extension, you are able to go long or short with a very lightweight and natural look. GelX extensions adhere to the nail with Gel Extend, instead of glue (hence no damage), and are cured under an LED lamp in the same way your regular gel manicure does. A GelX manicure usually takes around 90-minutes to apply and will last 2-3 weeks. You cannot "fill" a GelX manicure to make it last longer (sorry!) Irina, a favorite technician at Vous Salon & Spa and NAILàCARTE, loves the GelX because she sees her clients with weaker nails actually grow their nails out while wearing the GelX, something they would never be able to do otherwise or with gel, acrylic or Dip Powder. GelX should only be removed by a professional using an electric drill or file followed by an acetone soak for 15-20 minutes. You should also make sure your salon knows if they are removing an old acrylic service and prepare to pay an extra $10-$15 for removal because of the additional time and product needed. *Picking off your own GelX manicure will damage your own nails. If you notice something wrong with your GelX manicure, you typically have a 1 week guarantee to let your technician know and come in for a repair service. (The featured image for GelX is the work of Nely at Vous Salon & Spa + NAILàCARTE.)


Dip Powder Manicure

a Dip Powder manicure
Dip Powder manicure

The Dip Powder manicure is a love or hate relationship for most. Using a pre-mixed powder made of acrylic resin, the Dip Powder manicure is a multi-step service where you literally dip your nail in a very fine powder from base coat to top coat with a wide selection colors available. The benefits of a Dip Powder manicure are strength, strength and strength. Seriously, these nails are almost indestructible. Dip Powder manicures are generally stronger and longer lasting than a traditional gel manicure and should not cause damage to the nail as long as it is applied and removed correctly by a professional. While the Dip Powder has less weight than an acrylic nail, it will have the same thicker appearance on the nail (meaning not the most natural look.) For anyone used to the more natural look of a gel or GelX manicure, the Dip Powder can look and feel bulky on top of the nail. Typically, Dip Powder manicures are done on natural nails, however there is a trend of adding extension tips to the edge of the nail for length first and then performing the Dip Powder on top. While popular, keep in mind this will add even more bulk to an already somewhat thicker manicure. A Dip Powder manicure will take around an hour in the salon and can last up to 4 weeks. However, most clients will replace their Dip Powder manicure by week 2 or 3 because of outgrowth at the cuticle or because they are just ready to refresh the look. You cannot "fill" a Dip Powder manicure to make it last longer (sorry!) Your Dip Powder manicure should only be removed by a professional using an electric drill or file followed by an acetone soak for 20 minutes. You should also make sure your salon knows if they are removing an old Dip Powder service and prepare to pay an extra $10-$15 for removal because of the additional time and product needed. *Picking off your own Dip Powder manicure manicure will damage your own nails. If you notice something wrong with your Dip Powder manicure, you typically have a 1 week guarantee to let your technician know and come in for a repair service.


All the little extras...

You've probably noticed there are an assortment of add-ons to any nail service these days. Very popular right now is a Chrome finish to your polish for full shine and reflection effect. You can do a clear chrome or go with a color to enhance any type of manicure (natural to gel to dip and beyond.) Chrome is super easy to finish off a manicure adding a quick chroma base, the chrome itself and another top coat that all cure in the LED light. While it's easy and pretty quick, you will probably pay an extra $5-$15 for this add-on because the product itself is super expensive. On the opposite side is the Matte finish. This is also an easy little addition for a unique and trendy manicure. A matte topcoat may run you an extra $5 or so, but adds a really fun twist, especially to darker colors and black polishes. Another nice request you can make is for a Russian Manicure. Personally, this has been one of the great discoveries of 2023 for me. Russian manicure simply refers to the method of cleaning the nail and cuticles and can be done with any type of manicure system you are doing. Done completely dry, your technician will use a very small, very pointy drill to remove excess cuticle along with a larger, softer buffer attachment to buff, clean and smooth the nail before any polish starts. Your cuticles will stay in check longer and I've noticed my technician is able to get my polish closer to the cuticle, making it look fresher longer. Nail Art is, of course, the star of the moment. You can do anything from a simple but interesting twist on the French Manicure to, well, pretty much anything from glitter to pearls to charms and beyond. If you are interested in nail art, make sure you request a technician that does this service enhancement and be prepared to pay extra. Nail art is free-hand artistic painting using polish and is usually a combination of client request and technician inspiration. It's a great way to express your personality and have a one-of-a-kind work of art just for you.


If you still have questions about what manicure is right for you, talk to your favorite nail technician and get their opinion. Your lifestyle, personal style and maintenance habits will go a long way in making your choice. Or you can follow my lead and switch it up every other time or so, just to keep life interesting. We can't wait to see what you decide to go for!

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