This Controversial Manicure Has Made My Nails So Strong & Healthy

It’s worth the $120 price tag.

by Natasha Marsh
Originally Published: 
russian manicures

Among the routine in-salon treatments I book, my biweekly nail appointment is by far my favorite. Each time, I select vibrant colors and designs to reflect my forever changing (read: Gemini) mood. It’s always a joy to sit back and be pampered in the midst of my busy schedule. I enjoy the beverage (water, tea, coffee, or champagne) that is offered on arrival, the host of playful and moody colors to explore, and of course the actual treatment and massage that turns my parched nail beds into glorious Instagrammable fingers. The caveat is that I often experience peeling cuticles and almost-instant chips after getting a manicure. That’s why I leaped at the chance to try a Russian manicure at Gilded Ritual, a TriBeCa nail spa that focuses on long-lasting manicures with European-inspired techniques that pay close attention to the nail cuticle.

Popular in Europe and taking flight in America (thanks to TikTok), Russian manicures can be done with traditional polish or with gel. But what separates a Russian manicure from a traditional gel manicure? How much does it cost? Are there any side effects? And what is aftercare like? I was determined to find out for myself and got one of the one and a half hour Russian manicures. Ahead, is what I discovered.

What Is A Russian Manicure?

“The Russian nail treatment was designed to optimize nail wellbeing for all types of nails — even those with issues related to brittleness, hangnails, or thin nail plates,” Emma Eskander, Gilded Ritual’s salon director tells me. Unlike traditional American manicures that utilize emery board nail files, water-soaking techniques, and cuticle pushers, Russian manicures consist of an electronic filer (similar to the tool used for acrylics) to properly remove the extra cuticle under the nail bed with a tiny e-file headpiece, also know as a drill bed.

“The nail tool we use removes the excess skin surrounding the nail bed that allows each nail to get a cuticle massage and a perfect trim,” Eskander continues. “Typically, Russian manicures last longer because of two reasons: one, how they prep the nail before they apply the polish, and then two, how they clean the cuticle.” You can think of the entire process as a cuticle exfoliation and treatment.

My manicure at Gilded RitualsNatasha Marsh

What Happens During A Russian Manicure?

As I sat down with Olga Baichimirova, master nail technician from Kazakhstan with over 22 years of experience, she explained the five main steps to a Russian manicure: prep the nail bed, shape the nail, process the nail cuticle, create the nail architecture, and apply the perfect non-toxic nail polish.

By avoiding the water soak of traditional manicures, the Russian manicure limits the potential for damaging or drying out of the cuticle and nail bed. Even your nail polish is removed with a specialized electric nail bit. With this first step, nails are perfectly cleaned and smoothed for the following steps to be optimum.

Next, Baichimirova shaped my nails. I opted for square-shape with rounded edges, which she executed with the nail headpiece. Then, the cuticle. “Our technicians will clean underneath the cuticle, around the sides of the cuticle, and then also, if you have dry skin on the sides of your fingers, they're going to buff that off, too,” Eskander tells me. This is the part that takes the longest (10-20 minutes per nail) as intense attention is placed on each nail to make sure it looks neat, well-groomed, and can support the long-lasting manicure.

The fourth step is creating the nail architecture to ensure the treatment and coating will last long and the nails themselves look attractive. Baichimirova starts by applying a strong base coat on my nail to help with the longevity of the manicure and to create a perfect arch of the nail bed in preparation for the final step: polish.

Gilded Rituals only houses 7-free nail polishes and gels with specialized artist brushes to provide coverage as close to the cuticle as possible without streaks. “When our techs clean underneath the cuticle (step three), it allows them to put a really small layer of polish underneath so when the nail grows out, it looks more natural,” Eskander tells TZR. “Which alone lasts you another week, because usually [at traditional salons] when they paint right at the cuticle, you immediately start seeing the growth. Our technique allows them to go to the furthest point.” Lastly, nails are sealed with a top coat.

The cost of this luxury five-step process will depend on your location and the nail salon, but at Gilded Ritual it ranges from $70 for a junior technician and $120 for master.

What Are The Added Benefits Of A Russian Manicure?

Though the process of a Russian manicure sounds similar to that of a gel manicure, the core difference is the technique used for proper cuticle health. The cuticle work is very precise and the tools used go through an extensive three-phase disinfection and sterilization process to rule out infections. The e-filer used prevents inflammation and unnecessary cuts.

Unlike other manicure techniques where length, shape, color, and design are prioritized, Russian manicures focus strictly on the health of your nails. Yes, they have tons of playful polish colors, but they don’t carry any acrylic or toxic gel polishes. Plus, polish is applied close to the cuticle with a thin brush to eliminate the outgrown look.

Time is generally the concern for most people, according to Baichimirova. Although you should expect to be in the chair for at least an hour and a half, the intricacy of the cuticle work and one-nail-at-a-time process will last you from three to four weeks, depending on how fast the nail grows out.

Apart from the long lasting effect, Russian manicures and pedicures can make your nails shinier and improve nail growth — which is exactly what I experienced in my treatment. An ultra smooth manicure that lasts double the time as a traditional one is a win-win in my book.

Natasha Marsh

Are There Any Risks To Removing The Cuticle?

I had never had a manicure where only an electronic filer was used so I had some questions: will it hurt? And, are there any side effects? Part of why the buzzy treatment is just starting to hit America is the very reason why it’s a controversial subject. According to the American Academy of Dermatology: “cuticles protect the nail root, making it important to avoid cutting your cuticles or pushing them back. When you trim or cut your cuticles, it’s easier for bacteria and other germs to get inside your body and cause an infection.” Of course, removing the cuticle is key to the longevity of a Russian manicure.

Although the nail fold and cuticle serve a structural and functional role in protecting the nail plate, it can also hinder the nail from its optimal health and shine. Baichimirova puts it this way: “Scalpels can be used for good or bad. In the hands of a doctor, a trusted professional, it can be good. But when it gets into an untrained hand, there can be consequences.” To be trained in Russian manicures, a technician must undergo years of practice and complete several courses. At Gilded Ritual, each technician is trained under Baichimirova who comes from Russia and are only allowed on the floor when she approves.

Final Thoughts On The Russian Manicure

Sure, there are a plethora of manicure techniques out there, all promising long-lasting designs and color, but with the intense cuticle care focus, Russian manicures really do stand out from the rest.

And, yes, ringing in at over $70, this is an expensive investment but beyond worth it if you can splurge. And besides, it will last you three to four weeks, the length of two biweekly manicures — benefiting both your fingers and your wallet.

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