In the space of a generation, Russia’s beauty industry has entirely transformed. Before 1992, women were limited to the professional cosmetics provided within the confines of the Soviet regime. “It’s not that there weren’t any [cosmetics],” a women explained to Passport Magazine Moscow. “It’s that there wasn’t any choice. We all ended up looking and smelling exactly the same.” After the fall of the Soviet Union, the pent-up desires of beauty consumers in the world’s largest country were released — spurring the development of a still-growing beauty business.
In 2014, despite the country being in a recession, RBC Research estimated the Russian perfumery and cosmetics market at USD$14.6 billion (RUB555.1 billion), adding that the market grows by 6% to 12% annually and is “twice as dynamic as the global market.” Over the previous five years, the market grew by 73.6%, RBC Research states, with 40% of women using beauty salon services in 2014, up from 4% in the 2000s.
Russia is also home to InterCHARM, the largest professional beauty event not only in Russia, but in all of Eastern Europe. Held annually in Moscow, it boasted 919 exhibitors from 27 countries and 64,665 attendees in 2015. One of the 20 exhibit hall sections was dedicated to nails.
In the international nail community, Russian nail techs have a reputation for detailed, precise nail art and for placing highly in competitions such as the Nailympics. The reputation is well-earned, but in the day-to-day lives of regular Russian women, the true victory may be the ability to customize their nails, hair, and skin to their own individual tastes — and at prices to accommodate most budgets.
Like in the United States, most nail techs in Russia are women, but there are male nail techs too, says Daria Revina, PR manager at Russian School of Nail Enhancement OleHouse in Moscow. As a school, OleHouse holds a teaching license issued by the Department of Education of Moscow. But the nail students who attend the school do not need a license to do nails professionally. “Students get a Certificate of Training Completion and international certificates after they complete their course at OleHouse,” Revina says. “OleHouse’s certificates meet international standards and allow you to work in other countries. In Russia, to provide the services of manicure and pedicure, you need only a Certificate of Training Completion. No extra documents are required to do manicures and pedicures professionally in Russia.”
Also similar to life in the United States, many women choose nails as a profession because of its work-life advantages, such as a flexible schedule, opportunity to work close to home, and its creative fulfillment. Nail tech Anastasia Luksha’s story of how she fell into nails sounds similar to the story of many of her American counterparts. She says, “When I was studying in University, I didn’t want to wait six years until I graduated. I wanted to make money earlier, so I started to look for what jobs I could do immediately before I became a programmer. I was thinking about tattoos (but I’m not good enough at drawing), cosmetologist (you need to have a medical education), or piercing (when I figured out where people pierce their bodies, I changed my mind). I chose the nail business only because you don’t need much to become a nail technician in Russia, so I took a class and started to work. Eleven years passed and I’m still here. You never know what the future brings.” Luksha — the winner of NAILS 2016 Cover Tech Contest — now owns Nail Couture in Moscow, a training center for nail techs with an affiliated salon for clients, and it has sister locations in eight other Russian cities.
A beauty salon’s clientele typically includes working women between the ages of 28 and 35 who have free time during the day in which they can relax, says Yulia Khasanova, who owns a Nail Couture sister salon in Yekaterinburg, Russia. In big cities like Moscow, manicures start at around $10 and pedicures typically run $20. In more rural areas, prices can be significantly lower.
According to a Euromonitor report, these Russian consumers are becoming increasingly attentive to the quality of the products they choose rather than simply relying on well-known brands. Along with the growing penetration of the Internet and electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets, Euromonitor notes that Russians are becoming more educated in terms of the importance of personal hygiene for general health maintenance.
Regarding beauty brands, L’Oréal Russia led beauty and personal care in Russia in 2014, as it has for many years, according to Euromonitor, which adds, “the company continued to increase both its value sales and value share, mainly due to world-famous and durable brands in almost all categories of beauty and personal care.” The international nail brands that the techs we interviewed mentioned include NSI, Entity, CND, Hand & Nail Harmony, BeNatural, and Color Club. Russian brands mentioned include Valeri d (brushes), Dance Legend (polishes), and Milv (water decals).
Service and Salon Profile
Russia is among the top 10 most populous countries in the world, and most of the population is concentrated in its cities. Moscow alone holds 8% of Russia’s population, according to the Federal State Statistics Service of Russia. Luksha observes, “In Moscow we have hundreds of nail schools and hundreds of nail salons so it is very competitive.” Most beauty salons are full-service, offering services beyond nail care. One aspect that may surprise American nail techs is the frequency with which electric files are used in Russian nail salons.
At the Moscow Nail Couture, Luksha says the most popular services are the “e-manicure” and “combo manicure.” “The E-manicure is when you use an electric drill only to remove the cuticle and prep the natural nail plate for the gel-polish,” Luksha says. “The Combo manicure is the combination of an electric drill and implements (scissors or nippers). You can prep the cuticle with an electric drill bit and simply cut it with the scissors.” For uneven nail plates, Luksha’s salon offers a popular service called the Push Up. “Using a thick gel-polish base coat, you fill the gaps of the natural nail and create a perfect C-curve on the top. After that, when you apply color you can see light reflected perfectly evenly from the surface,” she says.
In Yekaterinburg, the Nail Couture that Khasanova runs attracts clients with its convenient location — in a contemporary residential area near the city center — and with a comfortable art deco-style interior. The salon offers manicures, pedicures, sculpting and nail design, eyebrows, makeup, and eyelashes. Khasanova says Nail Couture clients choose the salon over others in the city “because we use only high-quality products, have a huge selection of colors, and are sanitary. We also have highly skilled nail masters, a convenient location, modern technology, and craftsmanship. Our masters are all prize-winners and students of international instructors. They take part in competitions every season and it keeps their professional and skill levels high.”
If you went to Russia and got a nail service, you’d likely notice some differences between a manicure or pedicure there and one in the United States. Max Estrada, a Tucson, Ariz.-based nail tech, competitor, and product line founder, has experienced nail services in Russia several times during three different trips. “In Russia, the services tend to take longer. It is more customized, rather than cookie-cutter,” he says. “In Russia, there’s so much attention to detail — I think that’s why they take so long. They really focus on every single aspect of the nail. For example, they sculpt a lot. When sculpting, they customize the shape and the form.”
The nail style that Russians are most known for internationally, and that has inspired nail art around the globe, are luxurious intricate nail designs on long nail shapes (such as pipe nails or stilettos). That was the nail style U.S. nail tech Estrada went to Russia to learn on his first trip five years ago. “When I went to Russia the first time, the styles that were popular were jewel tones, luxurious colors, long nails, acrylics, shading, marbling, and hand-painting,” he says. These styles still appear in Russian nail techs’ social media postings, but in day-to-day life, Russian consumers sport more practical fingernails that are similar to what American consumers wear: short almond-shaped gel-polish nails with minimal art. But there is a notable difference: Russian women love bold colors on their nails. According to Khasanova, the most popular color is deep blue.
There are some nail art trends, with one currently being the moon manicure. “But a classic color with a nude moon is too boring for Russian nail technicians,” says Luksha, “so they come up with all kinds of creative moons — V-shaped, multi-color, with a transparent outline, etc.” Also trending is the cat-eye effect, which is done using polish with magnetic particles to create a pattern that imitates cat eyes. Ombre nails, geometric prints, and crystals are popular, too. For special occasions, acrylic nails are sometimes worn. Like in the United States, some Russian nail techs prefer to work in acrylic all the time. But in general, gel nails are more popular than acrylic nails in Russia.
Russian nail techs and consumers don’t take choice for granted. Individual client customization is an aspect of Russian nail culture that American salons could emulate to set themselves apart. At OleHouse, the staff even has a name for the technique. “In Russia, we invented the exclusive technique ‘Creatur,’ which involves the creation of personal nails the perfect shape, color, and length for each client,” Revina says.
The Russian nail industry is still young. Like the pre-teen who discovers the transformative power of a tube of lipstick, there are still many changes on the horizon as the country’s beauty industry matures.
Market size (beauty): USD$14.6 billion (RUB555.1 billion) in 2014
Schooling: Certificate of Training Completion earned from nail school; no license required
Trending nail styles: Moon manicure, cat-eye effect using magnetic polish, gel nails, bold colors
Salon types: Full-service salons
Popular products: International brands including NSI, Entity, CND, Hand & Nail Harmony, BeNatural, Color Club; national brands including L’Oreal Russia, Valeri d, Dance Legend, Milv
What they do well: Customization of services and nail art; attention to detail
Room for improvement: Plenty of room for growth in the post-Soviet Union marketplace
You can find a slideshow featuring more photos from the Russian nail scene at www.nailsmag.com/russiagallery.