The Russian Manicure Looks Great, But Is It Safe?

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Picture this: You just walked into your local nail salon and are trying to figure out which service you want. The list seems endless. You can choose a basic manicure, then there’s gel, dip, a full set of acrylics, extensions, Builder in a Bottle…and wait, what’s a Russian manicure?

Maybe you heard about it from a friend who got one and raved about how long the look lasted. Perhaps you’ve heard whispers that the technique is more trouble than it’s worth and can be damaging to your nails and skin.

The Russian manicure has been around for years but has been gaining popularity thanks to TikTok and the coveted co-sign of influencers like Alix Earle, who recently told Allure that she’s a fan. “[The nail tech] said they would last for a month,” she said. “I’m going on three weeks right now and they still look great. This is the longest my nails have ever lasted.” (She also shared the process with her millions of TikTok followers.)

On TikTok, the conversation about the Russian manicure is split between people who say their life is “forever changed” by the technique and those who warn against it, including dermatologists.

Will the Russian manicure elevate your nail game for good? We went straight to the pros, including several manicurists and a board-certified dermatologist for answers.

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The Russian manicure is also called a dry or waterless manicure because it requires no soaking. Typically, nail appointments begin with you soaking your bare nails in a small bowl of water to soften the cuticle and help remove dirt and debris. At a Russian manicure, however, a nail artist immediately reaches for an electric file and starts cleaning and shaping the nail and cuticle.

“The Russian manicure is a technique known for its detailed cuticle work and precise polish application,” says manicurist Mazz Hanna, who explains that the process involves a heavy focus on perfect cuticle work. “It is best for individuals who appreciate meticulous nail care and prefer less frequent salon visits.”

As the name suggests, the manicure originated in Russia and is also popular in Europe.

What is the process of a Russian manicure?

After stripping your nails of product (polish, gel, extensions, etc.), your tech will groom the cuticle with an electric file, a variety of small drill bits, and a tiny nail scissors. If you’ve had a dip manicure or acrylics, you’re probably pretty familiar with the use of the e-file during the removal process, but the Russian manicure takes it several steps further.

“You’re actually exfoliating the skin off the nail plate and lifting up the eponychium,” manicurist Elle Gerstein says. “The cuticle is the eponychium, based on Bolognia, our trusted dermatology textbook, but some people consider them to be different,” says Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco. “It’s semantics, especially for this topic.”

As Gerstein explains, this technique helps reduce the grow-out gap between your cuticle and polish. “It starts underneath so that you literally can get two more weeks of wear out of it [for the most part] because it’s pushed under the cuticle.”

Because the nail tech is so thoroughly cleaning and filing the nail and skin, it allows for a much tighter, more precise paint job. “The cleaner your cuticle area is, the closer your artist can apply the polish to your cuticle area, which leads to a slower grow-out and a cleaner, more polished look for an extended period of time,” says Hanna. While you can use any type of polish for a Russian manicure, Hanna says that gel is the popular option.

The rest of the manicure follows the typical process of base coat (though many Russian manicures use a specific base coat), color, and topcoat. Given the grooming is so detailed and painstaking, the entire process can take up to several hours to complete.

What are the pros and cons of the Russian manicure?

People who have tried the technique typically tout how long they can go between manicures—up to a month—and the clean, simple look it provides. “I highly recommend Russian manicures since they offer a polished, long-lasting look,” says Hanna. “By ensuring flawless prep work, the risk of chipping and lifting of the polish is minimized.”

However, some nail artists consider the Russian manicure to be more work than it’s worth. “I don’t typically do them,” says manicurist Sonya Meesh, who calls the technique “time-consuming” and unnecessary “for good retention.”

Meesh doesn’t personally like the look of a Russian manicure and warns that the grow-out process of the cuticle and eponychium can be less than photogenic as time goes by, particularly if your nail artist isn’t skilled at the technique. “I find that it looks very unnatural because [the manicurist] may go too far with removing the eponychium,” they say.

Is the Russian manicure safe?

Sure, Russian manicures are satisfying to watch on TikTok (macro-shots of cuticles being precisely snipped and sanded are peak-beauty ASMR), but is this intense grooming safe for your nails?

Training in the technique is super important, given that the nail tech is removing bits of your skin. You’ll want to do research before booking a Russian manicure with someone you found on TikTok or Instagram, warns Gerstein. “This isn’t an art that anybody can just do,” she says, explaining that it requires years of practice. Some salons have manicurists undergo extensive training before they can offer the service. If you’re concerned about safety, it’s never a bad idea to ask the salon about licensing and certification or to ask for a recommendation from someone who has gotten the manicure.

Gerstein also warns that what you see on Instagram could be too good to be true and potentially photoshopped. “You can hashtag that someone does a Russian manicure, but they’re not doing it in the way that it’s safe.” At your appointment, make sure the tools are sanitized or your nail tech is using a freshly opened set.

If you’ve ever been accidentally nicked by an e-file during a manicure, you know that those little nicks can hurt. According to Gerstein, you should never, ever feel pain when getting your nails done, so if you’re wincing while getting a Russian manicure from accidental cuts, drill bit nicks, or aggressive cuticle pushing, it’s a sign that something isn’t right. “Get up and leave,” she says. “This is not a painful manicure. If anything, it should feel like a breath of fresh air when you’re done.”

The American Academy of Dermatology Association advises against trimming and cutting the cuticle due to the increased risk of infection because the cuticle serves as a protective barrier between the nail and skin. As Dr. Campbell explains, “Removal of the cuticle is a no-no from an overall nail health perspective. While it looks more cosmetically pleasing, our cuticles serve a purpose.”

Since the cuticle and eponychium are filed and snipped away in a Russian manicure, you’re potentially exposing the nail, skin, and soft tissue to bacteria or fungus, which could lead to a condition called paronychia. Signs of paronychia include red, sore, swollen skin around the nail and cuticle and you need a dermatologist-prescribed antibiotic or antifungal cream to treat it.

Manicure trends come and go, especially those driven by social media, but nail safety is forever. The Russian manicure looks gorgeous and, if performed by a trained professional, is a valid option for your nail-care routine. However, if something feels off, don’t be afraid to speak up or end the service. Your nail health is worth more than a viral TikTok video.

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