If you’re like most nail techs, one of the first steps in your manicure involves placing in client’s hands into a soaking dish or manicure bowl. Some nail techs have begun to question the tried and true, however, and have shied away from the traditional wet steps involved in a manicure.

Instead of soaking the nails in a soaking dish or manicure bowl, some nail techs have opted to go the no water route. There dry manicures (also known as waterless, dry, or soakless manicures) require virtually no soaking. Instead, nail techs rely on a variety of lotions, oils, and heated treatments that clean, hydrate and soften the skin in much the same way water would.

Although dry manicures are not new, they do seem to be getting more attention. Nowadays, more nail techs are realizing that they don’t need to soak their client’s nails in order to give them the complete salon experience. For many, dry manicures can do the trick as well, and the many benefits, including prolonged polish wear, are attracting nail techs and clients alike.

Polish Lasts Longer

Why would anyone make the switch from wet to dry? Nail techs who offer this type of manicure argue that it’s the best method for prolonging polish wear.

“Nail plates that have not been saturated with water hold polish better,” says Karen Hodges of Salon Key West in Key West, Fla.

The reason for this is because the nail has a certain C-curve when dry. Once the nail is soaked in water it tends to lose some of that curl, explains Debbie Doerrlamm, owner of Wicked Witch Nails in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., and NAILS cyber-editor.

After a water manicure, the nail plate is not fully dry when polish is applied, and the polish usually dries before the nail does. “When the nail returns to its natural curl, off conies the polish,” Doerrlamm says.

The greater the natural C-curve and the thinner or softer the nails, the more likely it is that water will affect their shape, says Doerrlamm, who stopped doing water manicures more than 20 years ago and only uses oil.

Some nail techs have even performed tests to see if dry manicures really do help polish last longer. Terri Taricco, a beauty industry consultant and owner of TLT Solutions in Westboro, Mass., tested both a dry and wet manicure on her clients. She had them come back about 10-12 days later and Taricco found the polish lasted longer on the hands that were not soaked in water.

Lots of Pluses

Besides having the polish stay on longer, dry manicures provide other benefits.

Today, people’s lives are busier than ever. They love to be pampered, but sometimes don’t have the time they’d like for a lengthy manicure. That’s where dry manicures come in. By eliminating the soaking step, a nail tech can shorten the manicure by a few precious minutes.

Hodges, for example, applies a spritz of cleansing spray onto her clients’ hands and nails. She says this method is easier than running back and forth carrying water that she’d only use for a few minutes anyway. “Not to mention I have several male clients who aren’t particularly fond of soaking their nails,” she says.

Not only can dry manicures provide time-saving benefits and help polish stay on longer, they also help eliminate dry, peeling cuticles. Pam Karousis, a nail tech at Nail Designs in Cortland, Ohio, says that as with nails, soaking cuticles causes them to absorb a lot of water.

“I have a few clients who need to have the excess cuticle removed, and it seemed that the soaking would pump up the cuticle and cause it to peel back a few days alter the manicure,” Karousis says. “If I perform a dry manicure on these clients, there are no problems with the cuticle peeling back.”

Then, there’s the whole sanitation issue. Tanis Darling, a nail tech based in Winnipeg, Canada, says she’s more comfortable with a dry manicure than a wet one.

“I’ve always questioned the cleanliness of the plastic bowl. No mailer how you sanitize it or disinfect it, it can absorb debris,” she says. “And a glass manicure bowl can be disinfected but presents its own problems with the water cooling too fast.” To sanitize and disinfect her clients’ hands, Darling first has them wash their hands before sitting down at her workstation and then applies a hand sanitizing gel to both her and her clients’ hands.

Making the Switch

What if you’re ready to make the switch from wet to dry but aren’t too sure about your clients?

“A lot of clients don’t feel like they’ve had a good manicure unless their nails are soaked,” says Doug Schoon, head of research and development for Creative Nail Design (Vista, Calif.).

In reality, Schoon says, a dry manicure is no less sanitary than a regular water manicure. “After all, the first step in any kind of manicure should always be to wash the hands,” he says. “Washing the hands is far less damaging than soaking for five minutes.”

But with spa services currently in the limelight, it might not be so hard to gel clients to give dry manicures a try. “Most of my clients view this as an upgraded manicure from a water manicure,” Darling says. “They feel more pampered. Most of the new clients who come to me are usually ready for a new service anyway.”

Darling’s dry manicure consists of first disinfecting her clients’ hands with a hand sanitizing gel. She then applies a hand lotion or cream and massages it from the fingertips up to the elbows. Next, she applies a cuticle softener and places the hands into a plastic bag and then into a heated mitt. Then, she cleans underneath the free edge, shapes the nails, and moves on to the cuticles. She then finishes with a polish application, making sine to clean the nail plate before applying base coat.

Darling says she makes the manicure a little more luxurious by adding aromatherapy oils into her massage cream or adding a salt glow as an exfoliant.

Karousis has a different way of getting clients to try dry manicures. “I explain to the client my theory of the structure of the nail and the damage that water causes,” she says. Karousis says she also uses that time to reinforce the idea that wearing rubber gloves and wearing polish to protect the surface of the nail will help their nails grow longer and healthier.

Although a few companies make systems geared toward dry manicures, many nail techs find that simply taking the soaking step out of any system works just as well. “Almost every system advocates soaking, and many provide for it with fizz balls, salts, or products,” Hodges says. “I just eliminate that step.”

When it comes down to it, though, it’s important to remember that each client is different. What may work for one person may not work for the next. “Nail techs should diagnose their services, not just do the same thing for everyone,” Schoon says. “Long, thin nails require a different treatment than short, thick ones. Water may affect some and not others.” So before you decide to do away with the soaking dish and water, make sure you’re well aware of each of your clients’ nail conditions.


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