Among nail artists, the Russian manicure is a beauty trend which is often spoken about in hushed tones. But it has started to gain serious popularity recently and, on social media, even viral status.
'Russian manicure near me' is currently a top googled nail search and on TikTok you'll spot countless videos featuring nails so clean and immaculate, they almost appear photoshopped. Model devotees of the Russian manicure supposedly include Kendall Jenner and Jasmine Tookes, with the latter announcing to her followers on Instagram stories that she wasn't going back to a 'normal' manicure ever again.
With that in mind, it's hard not to be a little intrigued. But many nail technicians think the Russian manicure is controversial.
What is a Russian manicure?
For the uninitiated, a Russian manicure is a dry manicure, so no soaking in water is required. The technique consists of very precise cuticle work, often involving a nail drill and other special equipment to clean and remove excess skin around the nail bed.
"The technique originated in Russia," explains Kamola Malikova, founder of Los Angeles-based nail salon Minx Nails. Kamola is planning a London branch for 2023. "The Russian manicure has moved into places like Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In these countries, it has gone so mainstream that traditional methods are no longer used."
Since then, a handful of UK-based salons, particularly in London, have begun to offer the Russian manicure, which can be performed either with normal polish or gel. "Firstly, we carefully remove any previous gel on the nail with an electronic file," Kamola explains. "Then the nail technician works on the actual shape of the nail, before polishing the nail bed. After which, every cuticle is carefully removed." Kamola says that some technicians work with scissors at the very last stage but some work just with a drill.
Being much more intricate and painstakingly precise, the Russian manicure takes a lot longer than the versions we're used to. Kamola says clients should expect to spend around two hours in the chair. "Application of the nail colour is the longest part," she says. "We use a specialised base coat and allow it to dry properly. This is followed by a hard gel overlay and then by the colour."
The nail painting is important to the process, too. Kamola explains that the polish is applied deep under the cuticle, which allows for minimal regrowth. In fact, clients can expect the manicure to last for roughly four weeks. "This technique is amazing for people who are busy," Kamola adds. "Yes, you are spending two hours in the salon but you don't need to come every week."
What are the benefits of a Russian manicure?
As well as being aesthetically pleasing, as Kamola notes, the Russian manicure lasts much longer than other manicures so there are less frequent salon visits. Plus, given the attention to detail and the care taken with the actual nail (nothing is rushed during this manicure), clients may even notice their nail growth improving over time. "We are very careful when it comes to removing gel with drills," Kamola says. "A lot of places haven't been trained in this technique and file down too much so that the nails end up thin and brittle. We remove the gel carefully and take our time so the nail underneath stays healthy and strong."
I was unable to jet off to LA to book in at Minx but I visited LY Beauty in Chelsea, a salon which offers the Russian manicure service. The end result was very 'clean' and it's probably the smartest-looking manicure I’ve ever had. My nails almost look like press-ons (only they don't fall off).
That said, the Russian manicure has a bad rap.
Why is the Russian manicure controversial?
When you're drilling closely into the nail bed — or drilling at all to remove gel polish, rather than soaking using foils and acetone — there are a number of risks. As Dr Unnati Desai, medical director at Skinfluencer London, outlines: "During a Russian manicure, the nail technician uses an electric file to open up the eponychium to remove the cuticle." The eponychium is essentially the thickened layer of skin at the base of the fingernails and toenails.
"Its function is to protect the area between the nail and epidermis from exposure to bacteria," says Dr Desai. "By removing it, there is a real risk of infection, so I would never recommend it." When this treatment is performed on darker skin types, adds Dr Desai, there is a risk of hyperpigmentation in the area around the nail in response to the injury caused.
Some industry insiders have their reservations about this practice, too. "I would caution against a Russian manicure, unless it is done by a trained professional," notes Tinu Bello, senior brand ambassador for Mylee. "The traditional method [of tidying up cuticles] is still best: using a cuticle pusher [wooden stick or metal] to push them back, and to just use nippers to clip any hangnails or dead skin, which neatens up the area."
Is the Russian manicure safe?
Kamola agrees that in untrained hands, the technique can be dangerous. As a result, it is definitely not one to try at home. "All of my technicians are trained with a minimum of five to seven years' experience," says Kamola, who hires individuals trained in Russia. "Standards are much higher there. If you don’t sterilise your instruments there is the possibility for infection and if someone doesn't know the strength of the drill, they can penetrate or pierce the nail bed and the skin around it."
And what of the argument that the skin over the nail is there to prevent infection? Could removing it increase the infection risk? Kamola says she has not seen this happen — and that her business would likely be shut down if so.
Harley Street aesthetic nurse Nina Prisk holds a similar opinion. "Ensuring that you visit a qualified and experienced practitioner will not only help to eliminate any risk of infection but also reduce the risk of complications if the procedure isn't carried out correctly," she notes. However, Nina says that under current rules, it's not mandatory for an aesthetic practitioner in the UK to have any qualifications. "The same can be said for nail technicians," Nina warns. "This means that anyone can go on a training course and then be allowed to perform treatments. For this reason, it's vital that you take steps to stay safe in order to reduce risk."
Because of this, Kamola works with hospital-grade sterilisers and ensures every table and all the instruments are properly sterilised after each treatment. Hospital-grade disinfectant should be standard with any salon offering a Russian manicure, she says.
How much does a Russian manicure cost?
You should expect a Russian manicure to cost slightly more than regular gels or acrylics given the special training and equipment required, plus the time it takes. LY Beauty charged £50 for a Russian manicure using gel polish, while Kamola charges $90 (roughly £81) for this service in her LA salon. However, as the Russian manicure lasts longer, you may find you save money with less frequent appointments. At Sydney salon, The Artistry, a Russian manicure costs $60.
Where can I get a Russian manicure in Australia?
Although Russian manicures are growing in popularity, the method does require special training and sterilising equipment so it's not as commonly offered as traditional gels and acrylics. Some salons in Australia which currently offer Russian manicures include The Artistry (Sydney) and Kissel Beauty (Melbourne).
It goes without saying that this is not a manicure where you should opt for cheap and cheerful. Always go to a reputable salon or a qualified practitioner and ask if they are specially trained in this technique, how long they have been practising for and to prove that they are using sterilised equipment. If you don't feel comfortable? Simply walk away.