Style & Beauty

The Marvel of the Manicure

It’s all about your hands, not just your nails


By Lola Augustine Brown

You may have noticed a proliferation in recent years of nail bars in cities, malls, and even airport terminals. Manicures are no longer reserved for special occasions, ladies who lunch, or even just ladies; these days, they’re seen as an important part of our grooming routine. For both women and men, carefully maintained hands and nails are an essential part of the package if you want to look well put together.

“When your hands are well-groomed, it really does help create a good first impression,” says Anka Miron, owner of MANKIND Grooming Studio for Men, which has three Toronto locations.

Miron says that often men come through her doors for the first time when they have an important interview or because their significant others bought them a gift card. “Often guys don’t know what to expect, but after they have their manicures, they tell us their nails never looked so good,” she says.

Tips for First-Timers

If you’ve never gone for a manicure before, you don’t know what you’re missing. The experience is about much more than someone shaping your nails. Depending on the service you choose and where you have it done, you may also have your hands and lower arms exfoliated, massaged, and sometimes left to rest in a bath of warm paraffin wax to soften any calluses. All these things feel very good.

“A lot of first-time clients come in a little nervous,” Miron says, “but once we take their hands out of the paraffin treatment and massage them, they’re in heaven.”

Don’t try to tidy up your nails before your appointment. “People have a tendency to overcut their nails before coming in for a manicure or pedicure, and that makes our job impossible because we have nothing to work with,” says Tamara Di Lullo, a nail artist and the owner of Candy Nail Bar in Montreal.

You could, however, remove any existing nail polish to speed things up and give the aesthetician more time to work on your nails, especially if you’re someone who keeps layering the polish on as it chips instead of taking it off and applying a fresh coat.

“If we’re spending 20 minutes of an hour-long service removing your glitter polish, it’s not going to be as worthwhile for you,” Di Lullo says. The more time spent taking off your polish, the less time there is for a relaxing hand massage.

If you’re nervous about getting a manicure because of the state your hands are in, there’s no need to be. “Everybody always comes in and apologizes,” Di Lullo says. “They’ll ask whether a manicure is worth doing because their nails are too short and too ugly. The fact is that it’s much more worthwhile to do a manicure on someone with ugly nails.”

Those who bite their nails often worry that they can’t have a manicure because they’ve left nothing to work with or the skin around their nails is in bad shape, but, Di Lullo says, this isn’t a problem and it’s a condition manicurists see all the time. “I’ve had nail-biters of all ages, and we’ve even had toenail-biters!” says Di Lullo, who loves nail-biters because she finds it rewarding to motivate them into having nice nails.

“When a nail-biter comes in, I’ll suggest some kind of gel manicure in a clear or tinted nude colour that will hide any defects. [In a gel manicure, applying a thick gel makes the nail very strong; as a bonus, the results of the manicure last a long time.] After coming in for a manicure two or three times, a customer can achieve a nice nail shape,” she says. “At that point, he or she will usually stop biting, even the skin around the nails, because he or she will see how nice the result looks and not want to destroy it.”

(If you have more serious issues with your nails, including a fungal infection, you should consult with your doctor or dermatologist. There’s also plenty of great information on nail issues on the Canadian Dermatology Association website:

What’s In

You’ll find you can choose among an array of glorious bright colours and pretty pastels. As for which colours will suit you, there really are no rules.

“Whatever your age, there should be no restrictions on your colour choices. I love it when my older clients embrace the crazier, most fun colours,” Di Lullo says. “Pick something that makes you happy.”

Super-long-lasting Shellac-type manicures (which are a little more expensive and need to be removed by a professional lest you risk ruining your natural nails) are very popular. Recognizing this, other brands have brought out new long-lasting polishes that correspond to Shellac shades in case you want to match your fingers and your toes but don’t want to deal with Shellac removal for both. Nail polish lasts longer on your toes anyway, so you don’t necessarily need the extra cost and hassle of a Shellac pedicure.

You don’t have to match your fingers and toes, though: Di Lullo says that mismatched colours are cool these days. And don’t overlook nail shapes: forget squared-off nails; they aren’t particularly fashionable right now.

“There’s a retro thing going on with nail shapes: we’re doing more natural rounded shapes, instead,” Di Lullo says.

At-Home Care and Attention

While visiting a spa every time your nails need to be done is a lovely concept, not all of us can afford to do so. Fortunately, there are lots of elements of a spa manicure that you can do at home—and that give great results.

Di Lullo suggests using a scrub on your hands the same way you would on your body. And when using a hydrating cream, she suggests, do it at times when you’re not going to rub it off right away, such as before you go to sleep. You can also do a little cuticle upkeep by applying cuticle oil (or just soaking your hands in warm water if you don’t have any) and then pushing the cuticles back gently with an orange stick. “Don’t ever cut your cuticles at home, though, unless you really know what you are doing,” she warns. “It’s easy to hurt yourself. That job is best left to a professional.”

When applying polish at home, make sure your nails are dehydrated (by using rubbing alcohol or another alcohol-based product, such as nail polish remover) and those cuticles are pushed back.

“Applying polish properly will make it last. Always start with a base coat, followed by at least two thin coats of polish—never one massive thick coat—and a top coat,” Di Lullo says. “Be sure to seal in the edges of the colour with the top coat—go right to the edges and down to the bottom of the nail.”

For guys, the same process applies, but instead of nail polish, you can purchase a nail buffer (available at drugstores) and bring your natural nails to a smooth shine.

Paying attention to your hands doesn’t have to be costly, but a little effort will help you look and feel great.

Photos: iStock/ Iconogenic (woman’s hands), Fotostorm (man’s hands), Filip Warulik (drops), Sunstock (tools), and Fotolia/Mrkvica (bottle).