The Russian manicure, named after the country in which it’s said to have originated, is one of the most satisfying nail trends on TikTok — and also the most controversial. You'll know it when you hear the buzz of a nail drill, which is exactly why the technique is so divisive: the drill does an impeccable job of cleaning up the nail bed in lieu of a cuticle cutter, but the technique also lifts the cuticle, which can leave the delicate skin beneath the nail open to bacteria.
Recently, nail artists outside of Eastern Europe have rebranded the Russian manicure as the “dry” manicure and taken it to TikTok, where videos hashtagged #drymanicure boast 177.3 million views and counting. While the terms “dry” and “Russian” manicure seem to be used interchangeably, there are a few key differences between them. Not to mention other factors to consider when thinking about your nail care and the use of water in the process.
What is a dry manicure?
There are differing professional opinions here, but the simplest and most reliable definition of a dry manicure is a manicure that does not involve water — so, no hand soak. The traditional manicure involves soaking your nails in soapy water to soften the cuticle and make it easier to work with. A dry manicure, however, will skip this step and instead offer an alternative cuticle softener (more on that later).
However, the dry manicure that’s trending on TikTok is actually closer to a Russian manicure that uses a nail drill. According to Julie Kandalec, a New York City-based nail artist, the nail drill is used to “exfoliate the cuticle rather than cut it, which can cause it to grow back faster.” On TikTok, you can see how the drill bit works to file the dead, dry skin around the cuticle. According to a TikTok posted by Nail Mart USA, it’s “dry” because “you don’t need cuticle remover or water.”
@nailmartusa Decided to start posting again💛Let’s clean🧼 #drymanicure #nailbit #cuticleprep #cuticlecare #nailtech ♬ You - Petit Biscuit
Other than skipping a hand soak in favor of light exfoliation, a dry manicure then mirrors any other manicure, whether you're getting regular polish, gels, extensions, or acrylics. Also good to note: this is not a Russian manicure, as that technique actually lifts the cuticle so that nail polish can be painted under the cuticle. This is said to yield minimal natural regrowth and a longer-lasting manicure. The dry manicure does not lift the cuticle to paint underneath it; the idea is just to soften the cuticle sans water.
What are the benefits of a dry manicure?
So why opt for a dry technique over a quick soak? Have routine (or wet) manicures been bad for your nails and cuticles all along? Opinions differ. “The nail and the skin around it is like a sponge, and it swells after soaking,” says Kandalec. “That can cause superficial tears in the skin.” Therefore, Kandalec opts for the dry manicure technique that’s been making the rounds on TikTok by exfoliating her clients’ cuticles using a nail drill, which can also be used (with a different drill head) to remove nail enhancements like acrylics and hard gels. However, this is a specialised technique that not every salon offers.
Salons that don’t work with nail drills may offer other, less intense “waterless” alternatives to cuticle softening. For example, Glosslab, a rapidly growing nail salon franchise, only offers “water-free” services, applying a cuticle softener — which is an oil that often contains urea (a moisturising ingredient often found in skin care) to soften the skin — no water required. “Water is a breeding ground for germs,” says Glosslab founder Rachel Apfel Glass. “Even when the water is changed out between clients, germs still live in the bowl, and so it's always better to do services water-free.”
Bacteria growth in warm water is certainly a valid concern for many. However, it doesn’t mean that all water-based hand soaks are unsanitary or bad for the nails. “If the cuticles swell as part of the [water] softening process, it is only temporary and it enables the technician to more easily work with the cuticle,” explains Jin Soon Choi, a celebrity nail artist and founder of JINsoon. “People are worried about bacteria in warm water, but the bowls we use to soak the hands at the JINsoon salons are well sanitised and we use essential oil in the water,” which Choi says prevents bacteria from propagating.
A good salon with an up-to-date certification license will be equipped with proper sanitation equipment, such as Barbicide.
Should I ask for a dry manicure at my next nail appointment?
Beyond sanitation reasons, there’s anecdotal evidence that dry manicures may help prolong nail polish. “Water-free services actually help pedicures and manicures to last longer,” says Apfel Glass. The water causes the nail bed to expand, adds Apfel Glass, resulting in the polish peeling off and chipping faster as a result.
If you're someone who gets regular gels and you often pick and peel at your cuticles, a dry manicure with exfoliation might be worth trying. Kandalec notes that her process offers a longer-lasting manicure as well. "When my clients come in for a dry manicure with gel, their nails last up to four weeks," she says. Of course, you should only ask for the drill-exfoliation technique at a trusted salon with a licensed professional, as using a drill requires certification. "It’s a highly specialised service that takes months or even years of training," says Kandalec.
Water or no water, this entire discourse has certainly made me more mindful about using hand cream more often.