When your natural nail manicure client sits down at your station, is your first step to automatically plunge her hands into a soaking dish? For most nail technicians, the answer is probably yes, but lately, there have been rumblings about whether wet manicures diminish nail polish adhesion.

With the day spa revolution sparking the creation of more products than ever before, nail technicians have plenty of choices when it comes to offering clients the most lasting, healthy manicure for their nails. Some feel that they don’t necessarily have to use a water soak when they have lotions, oils, and heated treatments that moisturize and enhance the experience at the same time.

You’re Soaking in It

Starting the client’s nails in a water-based soak (also known as a wet manicure) has been a manicuring standard that existed even before Madge started doing her famous dish soap commercials. Whether you use water alone, along with a specialized manicure soak, or with aromatherapy scents, many nail technicians agree that is the best way to pamper the client and prepare her cuticles for the service.

Keeping the manicure as natural as possible by using a warm water-based soak to soften cuticles has distinct benefits. “Soaking the client’s nails in warm water opens the pores at the cuticle so that any products you use after can easily deliver nutrients directly to the nails or cuticles,” explains lla Hirsch, president of Beatrice Kaye Cosmetics (Los Angeles, Calif.). “The warm water also stimulates circulation, especially after the nail technician gently pushes back the cuticles.”

Water manicures also have benefits for new clients, inconsistent clients or nail biters. “If a natural nail client has a large amount of cuticle overgrowth, then I will perform a wet manicure because I find that a dry manicure doesn’t soften severely overgrown cuticles enough,” says Cathy Reynolds, a nail technician at Impressions Beauty Salon in Summerville, S.C.

However, some nail technicians point out that water soaked nails do not hold polish as long because the nails may alter in shape. “I tried water manicures in schools and never really cared for them,” says nail technician Dottie Batlineer of Collins Classic Creations in Georgetown, Ind. “I feel as though the water makes the nails expand and flatten.” Once they dry out, the nails then contract. “The polish pulls together and chips off easily,” Batliner says. “Our nails get enough of that kind of water contact from doing dishes.”

Rima Kitsko, a nail technician at Spoiled Rotten Nail Studio in Indianapolis, Ind., says she notices this expanding and contracting happens with her clients who have longer nails: “On a longer nail, the free edge seems to change shape after soaking during a wet manicure.”

“I won’t go back to wet soaks because I have learned that water lessens the life of the polish job,” says Donna Rodriguez, owner of Alley Way Nails & Tanning in Stroudsburg, Pa. “Polish always stays on at least one week without chipping if I perform dry manicures.”

A dry manicure is essentially a service during which no continuous soaking procedure is used to clean the nails or prepare the cuticles. Rodriquez’s dry manicures consist of seven steps: have the client wash her hands; apply a “no wash” hand sanitizer; file and shape the nails, clip hangnails only; apply a cuticle softener/remover and gently push back the cuticles; apply warm lotion for a massage; remove oil and debris from the nails and buff; apply base coat, top coat, and polish.

Terri Taricco, head of the nail division at R.G. Shakour (Westboro, Mass.) says that if the nail technician shortens the period of time the nails soak, the client can have all the benefits of a classic water manicure without compromising polish adhesion “If I shorten the soaking time I virtually double the life span of the polish,” she says. “If you do soak your clients’ nails, use a dehydrator or even a blow dryer to dry the nail plates before you apply polish.”

Hirsch agrees, stressing that nail technicians should stick to standard manicuring procedures. “If a simple manicure takes 20-30 minutes, then the nails should not be in the water for more than 2-3 minutes at a time, which should not be long enough to affect polish adhesion or the nail’s shape,” she says.

However, some nail types are more likely to be affected by any water soaking, especially after longer periods of soaking, than others. “Water should really only affect the shape of the nails if they have been previously traumatized or are in weak or bad shape,” says Christy Banister, education coordination for Seche International (Laguna Beach Calif.). “For instance, if the client uses a nail clipper to trim her nails, the layers of Keratin at the free edge of the nail will fan out. Water can then get in between these layers and affect nail shape and cause other problems.”

However, healthy nails require moisture and Bannister even recommends filing natural nails when they are still slightly damp so that they withstand the action better and are less likely to be damaged.


Water also helps other products, such as lotions, condition the nails and cuticles. “Molecules attract like molecules, so after soaking the nails in water to prepare for the manicure, use a heated, water-based lotion to treat the cuticles,” Bannister says.

Technicians who prefer water soak manicures to start their service may still use lotions or paraffin, but Hirsch says that soaking the nails to get circulation going and then removing dead skin is a very important first step of any manicure. “Other moisturizing products are OK to use on the nails, but first perform a regular manicure,” Hirsch says. “Then you can pamper the client.”

Dry, But Not Boring

Some nail technicians have abandoned their soaking bowls in favor of heating pads and mitts used in conjunction with warmed lotions, oils, or other “treatment” products. They claim that these types of products do not alter the shape of the nails and offer more moisturizing benefits.

Many nail technicians use lotions and oils during a manicure but do not soak the nails in them for any period of time. Instead, they liberally apply the product on the nails and hands and then use heated pads or mitts to concentrate the moisturizing efforts of the product. “To soften cuticles I like to use an alpha hydroxy product to remove excess skin, which makes it easier to push back the cuticles,” says Batliner.

With spa services as popular as they are, this type of service may seem more deluxe to the client. “It is something different for my clients, since most of the technicians in my area still do a water manicure. They really prefer this type of service,” says Kitsko. “It is also less sloppy and I don’t have to worry about the water cooling off or moving the bowl one way or another as we progress through the service.”

“I apply different essential oils, like ylang ylang or lavender, to the towels to enhance the experience,” says Reynolds. “Most tell me that they have never had a manicure like this and it seems more pampering and professional than the water manicures I used to do.”

If polish adhesion is your main complaint about wet manicures but your clients seem to enjoy the service, it may be time to take a look at how you perform your manicure. You may not be able to blame short-lived polish on the soaking technique alone. Is your polish of good quality? Do you use a base and top coat? And most important, are you properly preparing the nail polishing? No matter what ingredients or methods you decide to use when performing a manicure for clients, remember that polish adhesion is also directly related to how you prepare the nail plate.

“Always cleanse and dehydrate the nail plate before applying a base coat and polish,” stresses Bannister. You may also want to prescribe home maintenance to clients with adhesion problems. Suggest reapplying top coat (making sure to show the client how to seal the free edge with the brush) daily or gloves while performing certain activities, like painting or gardening.

Select the type of manicure service you perform on a client-by-client basis instead of just offering one specific service each time. Just like every client doesn’t have the same skin type they don’t have the same nail type either. Therefore, diagnose each client’s (especially new clients) nail condition before setting on a wet or dry manicure. Customization may be the key to providing the best service possible to your clients.

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