Recently, when a friend asked me which manicure she should get, I drew a blank. From milk bath nails to the structured gel manicure, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to trends and techniques, and whittling it down to just one feels impossible. Looking back through the archives, though, it’s clear that this year’s most talked-about manicures have one thing in common: they’re often specific to a place or country.
Earlier this year, TikTok went wild for the Russian manicure, a dry manicure that involves very precise cuticle work, typically enlisting a nail drill to remove dead skin. This allows the nail technician to paint nail polish under the cuticle, which makes the manicure last a little longer. Then, we were influenced to try the Italian manicure, a method that leaves the edge of each nail free from polish to create the illusion of elongated nails. Now, if TikTok is anything to go by, it’s the Ukrainian gel manicure that’s making waves in salons.
Serving up DIY tutorials and "come with me to the salon" videos, the hashtag #ukrainiannails has 69.7 million views on TikTok. But what makes a Ukrainian manicure different from your typical manicure — and why is TikTok convinced it’s better?
What is a Ukrainian manicure?
"In Ukraine, we have very high standards when it comes to beauty services," say Yana Galiyeva and Maria Sharova, owners of so. shell off London's Carnaby Street, a Ukrainian nail bar specializing in the Ukrainian gel manicure. "The Ukrainian manicure is of the highest standard," add Galiyeva and Sharova, "and it involves precise cuticle work. In fact, our masters use a 'combi' manicure technique."
Your nail technician will likely use an electric drill bit to buff away old nail polish and to clean up the nail bed. "After that, the cuticle is polished with the drill," say Galiyeva and Sharova. Here, a smaller drill bit is used to remove dry skin around the cuticle. It’s common practice to move on to a pair of cuticle scissors to snip away your cuticles, and cuticle cutters to tidy things up further.
Manicurists typically favor gel polish during a Ukrainian manicure, not only because it lasts a lot longer than regular polish, but because it’s easy to create an apex. This involves layering gel polish onto the weakest part of the nail (usually the tip) to strengthen it, though it’s more for aesthetic purposes. According to Galiyeva and Sharova, creating an apex makes uneven nail beds look smoother — much like an acrylic nail extension.
What’s the difference between a Ukrainian manicure and a typical salon manicure?
Manicurist Ami Streets says that the main difference between a Ukrainian gel manicure and a typical salon gel manicure is the attention to detail. "Precise cuticle care and removal leads to manicure longevity and optimal nail health," says Streets. "This meticulous manicure technique involves prepping the nail perfectly before polish application using an e-file and different drill bits to buff the nail bed."
What's the difference between a Ukrainian manicure and a Russian manicure?
Streets says that a Ukrainian manicure seems to be most similar to a Russian manicure, as it is a precision nail service. However, a Ukrainian manicure doesn’t involve applying nail polish under the cuticle, like the Russian method. Instead, it gets as close as possible.
Another key difference at so.shell in particular is that the salon’s manicurists use a combination of Ukrainian gel polish brands such as DNKá and Trendy Nails, as well as brands favored by Ukrainian salons, like Luxio and Elise Braun. Streets adds that the Ukrainian manicure is done dry, without any soaking or softening. This is essential for longevity as nails are porous and exposing them to water will cause them to soften. It can take over an hour for your nails to dry completely, so applying polish while they’re still permeable is ill-advised (mainly because your nail will contract when dry, potentially making polish shrink and chip).
What are the benefits of a Ukrainian manicure?
"With a focus on detailed cuticle care, the Ukrainian manicure aims to give the ultimate high-quality mani experience," explains Streets. "This thorough technique means a well-prepped nail surface, which translates into a long-lasting, clean, and edgeless application." Streets says that this means increased durability from your polish, in addition to well-groomed and super neat-looking nails. "Thorough" is the key word here. I’ve been to many different nail salons over the years and had countless different manicures — including the Russian manicure — but none have been as meticulous as the Ukrainian gel manicure at so.shell.
I’d been wearing builder gel nail polish (or BIAB), so my manicurist started by gently filing away the top layer using an e-file with expert precision. Streets says it’s often a good idea to do a "rebalance" or in-fill rather than a complete removal of builder gel each time. "Reapplying over a builder gel base can add extra strength and enhance durability," says Streets. "Not only is it easier to maintain the length and shape of your natural or extended nail with this technique, but it’s also a great way to minimize both exposure to acetone and stress on the natural nails, as you’re avoiding excess filing and soaking regularly."
Once my polish had been filed down slightly, my manicurist used a pair of cuticle scissors and then cuticle cutters to snip away my ragged cuticles and any remaining rough skin so that the gel polish would sit as close as possible to the base of the nail. Then my nails were filed into a square shape. After a base coat, it was time to build the gel polish. My manicurist created an apex by concentrating gel polish on the very tip of the nail. She turned my hand upside down after each gel application so that gravity could pull the product into place and distribute evenly — a method I’ve not experienced during a Russian manicure (or any other gel manicure, for that matter).
Is a Ukrainian manicure better?
This is the best gel manicure I’ve ever had. The polish is so close to my cuticle, I suspect it’ll be a good while until I notice any growth. My nails feel so much more durable, too, and I no longer have to grit my teeth when I pick up anything remotely heavy out of fear that they’ll break. My cuticles are the cleanest I’ve seen and the gel polish is so seamless that my nails look like acrylic extensions.
During my appointment I struck up a conversation with a client sitting in the chair next to me, who now exclusively books Ukrainian gel manicures. Not only is she convinced that Ukrainian gel polish is of a much higher quality but she mentioned that her nails have become stronger, too. Incredibly, she told me that her nails last a whole month, sometimes longer.
Is a Ukrainian manicure safe?
Much like the controversial Russian manicure, the equipment used during a Ukrainian manicure raises questions of safety. Like all manicures that enlist e-files to buff away old polish and rough skin, not to mention cuticle scissors and cutters, there is a potential for infection. Skin expert and aesthetician Alicia Lartey says that there is a risk of nipping your skin and drawing blood. "As a beauty professional, anything that involves the risk of blood should require wearing gloves and disposing of contaminated tools properly, as well as proper sanitation protocols."
E-files and cuticle tools can be used safely, though. Lartey says it’s imperative to choose a manicurist who is qualified and experienced. At so.shell, a dry heat sterilizer is used to disinfect all instruments, but don’t be afraid to ask your chosen nail technician about their sanitation methods. Lartey adds that if you do experience an infection, a qualified nail tech should be able to provide you with adequate advice and rectify the situation.
How long does a Ukrainian manicure last?
A typical gel manicure lasts up to three weeks. The Ukrainian method removes the cuticle so that gel polish can be applied much closer to the base of the nail, which may afford you an extra week or so.
How much does a Ukrainian manicure cost and how long does it take?
At so.shell in London, a Ukrainian gel manicure starts at £50 (or $63) for a 75-minute appointment. Prices will vary depending on the salon and the type of nail polish you request, whether that's regular polish, gel, or builder gel.
Where can I get a Ukrainian manicure in the US?
You can find a handful of independent manicurists practicing the Ukrainian manicure technique in cities across the US. For example, in NYC, Irina Krasovskaya is a nail expert trained in Ukraine who currently works out of the Julien Farel Salon. If you can't find an independent Ukrainian manicurist in your city, you could speak to your local nail artist about the technique and ask for your cuticles to be pushed back, cleaned up, buffed, and filed before polishing to maximize longevity.
This story was originally published on Refinery29UK.