What Is a Russian Manicure, and Is It Actually Bad for Your Nails?
Here's everything to know about the polarizing trend.
For years the Russian manicure remained a salon industry secret, with only a handful of select nail techs performing and promoting the method. But once it went viral on TikTok, that quickly changed—so much so that “Russian manicure near me” is now one of Google’s top searched beauty queries.
As is the case with most TikTok trends, however, the Russian manicure isn’t actually anything new—the only difference is that now more people know about it. “I’ve been doing Russian manicures and educating clients about this technique since 2016,” Natalie Zheltovski, a Russian manicure expert and educator and owner of Austin's Nail Art House Academy + Nail Salon, tells Glamour. “Back then, barely anyone had heard of it, but today people are searching for salons that specifically offer this service.” As for what sparked this shift? Zheltovski points to the technique’s “impressive results,” though an essential element to its surge in popularity is how controversial the method is.
“While I understand the appeal of certain trends, this one has me perplexed,” says Dana Stern, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City who specializes in nail health and the assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She’s not alone. While there are over 1 billion TikTok videos dedicated to the Russian manicure trend, there are 969 million that address whether or not the trend is safe. A majority of this content is courtesy of dermatologists and nail techs who disagree with and do not recommend the technique, while that many more disagree with them in the comments. And so on and so forth.
To help set the record straight, Glamour asked experts everything there is to know about the Russian manicure. That way you can make a truly informed decision on whether or not to partake in this particular trend.
What is a Russian manicure?
The term Russian manicure actually refers to a grooming technique, as opposed to a visual style, meaning it’s not like a French manicure. Russian manicures go by several other names, which includes combination manicure, e-file manicure, and dry manicure, says Zheltovski. “A Russian manicure is combination of precise cuticle work, which can be done using nail bits, scissors, or nippers—depending on the technician—and gel overlay.”
A Russian manicure is also completely dry, meaning all of this is done without soaking your hands in water. “A Russian manicure emphasizes complete cuticle removal, careful and precise removal of previous gel and polish, and intricate attention to a pristine polish application,” says Dr. Stern. “Drill-like tools and sometimes scissors are used to remove cuticle and skin surrounding the nail, and abrasive brushes are also sometimes used for intense exfoliation.”
Translation? The Russian manicure technique removes as much skin as possible from the nail area, which leaves more room for polish.
This results in a “cleaner”-looking finish and helps to extend the length of time between appointments, as the skin and nail take longer to grow back than with regular manicures.
Russian manicures vs. regular manicures
“The main difference is a meticulous cuticle work, which, depending on the experience, can take from 20 to 45 minutes,” says Zheltovski—and that’s just the cuticle prep. “Another difference is the structured gel technique, which is included in Russian manicure service. It helps to strengthen the natural nail plate and make nails look smoother and more even.”
In total, be prepared to spend around two hours at the salon for a Russian manicure—and pay anywhere from $100 to $250. If that sounds like a long time and even more money, Zheltovski believes it’s worth it: “The results speak for themselves,” she says. “It lasts longer and looks so clean, so you don’t have to come every 10 days and get a gel mani again. You save time by getting this only once per month.”
What are the benefits of a Russian manicure?
The main benefit of Russian manicures is how long they last, though Zheltovski points to a handful of other perks. “One great thing about technique is that we do not soak gel in acetone,” she says. “We file it down by nail drill, removing 95% of the gel that way and keeping 5% of the product on the nail plate if there is no lifting or chipping. Then we fill it in with structure gel with the same cuticle-cleaning steps beforehand. This helps nails grow and prevents dehydration from acetone, so nails are less likely to break and peel.”
Zheltovski says she’s noticed an improvement in her own nails since she started exclusively getting Russian manicures. “My cuticle and nail plate look better when I have consistent appointments,” she says.
“Once you try a Russian manicure, there is no going back to a regular gel manicure.”
Russian manicure risks: Is it safe?
While there are a number of aesthetic benefits to the technique, Dr. Stern notes that these come at a risk. “The main benefit is that the polish is applied under the proximal nail fold, which allows for the manicure to last longer than a typical manicure. With that said, the reason they are able to apply the polish under the fold is because they have created a breach in the protective membrane, a.k.a. cuticle,” she says. “Complete removal of the cuticle, if done repetitively, will usually result in entry of yeast, which results in a type of nail infection called a chronic paronychia."
According to Dr. Stern, the cuticle is essentially the nail’s natural protective seal, and so completely removing it can be dangerous. “The cuticle is what prevents the entry of yeast and even bacteria into the nail unit,” she says, adding that she’s already seen a few of the aforementioned infections pop up online. “Many of the images that I have seen on social media that are posted to flaunt beautiful nails in fact show nails with evidence of chronic paronychia. While the polish may look impeccable, to the trained eye I see signs of infection: puffy, pink, swollen nail folds.”
Last, there is always the risk of tools’ introducing infections beyond yeast. “Because this technique is more aggressive than a typical manicure, there is more potential for infection, and so the tools that are being used must be immaculately sterilized,” Dr. Stern says.
Zheltovski believes that the technique itself is not necessarily to blame, so long as you see an experienced technician. “If done properly, with sterilized tools and by a professional who has taken classes, the Russian manicure is a safe technique which has lots of benefits,” she says. “The only risk is if you get nail technician who has a lack of education of this technique or is not sterilizing tools properly. It’s not about a technique, an e-file machine, or sharp scissors. It’s about who does it.”
How to get the safest possible Russian manicure
If you want to try a Russian manicure yourself, be sure to find a very qualified technician who commits to three-step sterilization of their tools, says Zheltovski. “Look for work on Instagram, Google Map reviews, and of course referrals by friend or blogger reviews. You can also search by hashtag,” she says.
“Always look at the nail techs’ work after three or four weeks of wear; this will tell you a lot. Look at the cuticle, see if it has any hanging nails, and see how long the gel lasted as well. Before and after photos are always the best way to check.”
Dr. Stern also suggests seeking out experienced technicians and reiterates the importance of familiarizing yourself with the method’s downsides. “See someone who has many years of experience performing this very specific technique, but understand the potential risks,” she says. Danielle Sinay is the associate beauty editor at Glamour.
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Article written by Danielle Sinay for Glamour