Here's What Will Happen at Your First Manicure Appointment

A young woman get a manicure at a spa.
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You just scheduled your first manicure appointment. You're excited about being pampered, but you don't know what to expect. Don't worry, we've got you covered.

Where to Go and What to Pay

You can choose to get your manicure at a high-end salon, spa, a department store like Saks, or you can go to your local nail spa. You'll usually get more pampering if you go to a full-service spa where may they serve complimentary cappuccino, but you'll pay less if you go to a nail spa.

Choosing which type of business is best for you will likely come down to convenience and cost. Even your neighborhood nail spa will do their best to pamper you, but the setting won't be luxurious. You may choose to visit your local salon on a regular basis and save the luxury treatment for a special occasion like your birthday or getting ready for a black-tie event. That's what I do.

First Things First

You'll start with having any current nail polish removed. Personally, I don't like the damage that OTC polish remover inflicts on my nails (i.e., the toxins are drying) so I bring my own chemical-free remover. Next, your nails will be shaped and filed. There are many ways you can have your nails shaped from rounded to square-tipped. Trust your nail technician’s advice; some nails will break much easier if they are shaped wrong. A good rule-of-thumb is to go with the natural shape of your nail because it will ensure stronger nails.

After shaping your nails the nail technician will apply a cuticle cream and push your cuticles down, and even out the line. Many doctors do not recommend to have your cuticles trimmed since it could lead to infections and irritation, but a lot of women prefer it because it makes your nails appear longer.

I made the choice early-on not to cut my cuticles and I've never regretted my decision. Even manicurists will remark how healthy my cuticles look because there are no jagged edges—a likely side-effect of cutting.

Soaking and Massaging

Once you're done with the cuticle phase, you're ready for the soaking phase. Your technician will work on one hand while you soak the other. Often, the warm water is treated with a scented oil.

Most nail salons (even the no-frills local ones) will include a very relaxing hand massage. The massage will likely include reflexology techniques to completely relax your hands by hitting certain pressure points.

Coloring Your Nails

Now it is time for nail polish. You'll have a hard decision when it comes to polish. Be ready to be wowed by the color selection. If you are unsure of the color, perhaps a French Manicure is for you. Designed to look natural, you'll have a slight line of color at the tip of your nails that ranges from stark white to light pink. You'll then have a glossy, clear application applied to your nails which will make them look fresh with just a hint of color.

Your nail technician may even be able to give you a small design on the nail for an extra fee.

When I got my last pedicure, she added a cute little flower on my big toes. You'll be amazed at the talent level of some nail technicians. Even if you do not choose to have a French Manicure your nail technician will apply a clear base coat to your nails to even out imperfections, followed by two coats of the color you choose, and then a clear top coat to seal and protect the manicure.

The Drying Phase

After the application of polish, you'll likely put your hands under a UV light specifically made to help dry and harden the nails. This will take about five minutes, but you must be very careful with your nails for hours after your appointment. Nothing is worse than getting a manicure and chipping the polish a few hours later. However, if that does happen, call your salon. Many times they'll let you come back for a quick fix.

Nail Art and Gel Manicures

During the past few years, elaborate nail art designs have become common along with embellishments. While many people try to do nail art on their own, if you want an extra special design or something more elaborate, I suggest going to a professional. I am right-handed so it's fairly easy to apply polish to my left hand, but nearly impossible to apply polish to my right hand.

Gel manicures are also extremely popular because the gel polish stays on your nails for about two weeks without chipping. Gel manicures cost a bit more than standard manicures, but for many people, the extra cost is worth it. Especially if you're going on a two-week vacation, this may be the smart choice. While the manicure process for gel manicures is the same as it is for regular manicures, you need to place your nails under a UV lamp between coats in order to set the polish. There is some controversy over the use of UV lamps for gel manicures, and this type of polish can be difficult to remove. Nevertheless, the popularity of gel manicures only seems to be growing.

Remember, a standard 15-20 percent tip is the norm for any beauty service, manicure included.