The ONE Thing That's Ruining Your Manicure

Photographed by Pheobe Chuason.
Manicures are pretty standard: Nails are filed, cuticles are clipped, hands are washed and moisturized, and at some point, your technician likely leaves your fingertips soaking in a bowl of warm, soapy water. Turns out, what seems like a harmless — and even relaxing — part of the process is actually doing your nails more harm than good.

Mai Flores-Reyes, an artist at Paintbox nail salon, tells us that dipping your nails in water prior to painting them adversely affects the life span of your polish. "Since nails are very porous, they absorb 10 times more water than your skin," she explains. "When that happens, your nails expand. Since it takes 24 hours for nails to go back to normal, the manicure looks great for the first 24 to 48 hours. After your nails contract and dry, your polish starts to chip or peel."

Not only that, but soaking can also impact the health of your nails, says podiatrist Margaret Dabbs. "Water makes the cuticles elasticated and stretchy, and, because of this, they're more likely to tear during a manicure." We know, we know: Say what? Have nail salons been secretly plotting against us this whole time?

Well, not exactly. Both Flores-Reyes and Dabbs stress that salons continue with the outdated method because the industry has been doing it for so long. "Salons and nail-treatment techniques are very much set, and have always traditionally performed manicures on wet skin," says Dabbs. "The nail industry hasn't really moved forward in this respect." Plus, customers might balk at a soak-free service.

Technicians also continue the habit because wetting the nails is a quick way to soften the cuticles before trimming them. But, Flores-Reyes says, just because it's long been part of the manicure routine doesn't make it okay. "Just because you have been doing something for so long does not mean you're doing it right," she says. "Like I always say, 'Work smarter, not harder.'" Rather than dipping your nails in water, Dabbs recommends an oil like her brand's Nourishing Nail & Cuticle Serum, which leaves cuticles more pliant but strong enough to resist tears.

Of course, eliminating the soak will not prevent those frustrating chips that happen the second we walk out of the salon. But it's one less factor to worry about.


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