What Is a Russian Manicure?

What Is a Russian Manicure?
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a photo of a nail technician using a nail drill to do a russian manicureIrina Tiumentseva/Getty Images,

In the world of acrylic nails and BIAB nails, there isn’t a manicure quite as controversial as the Russian manicure. Although it’s been around since the ‘90s, the unique process just started having its moment on TikTok. After watching countless videos of Russian manicures, we wondered if they’re really safe for your nails. Here’s everything you need to know about the trendy mani, according to our experts.

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Meet the Experts

  • Dr. Dana Stern is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Dana. She is one of the few dermatologists in the country who specializes in nail care. Dr. Stern is also an assistant clinical professor of Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, where she teaches her residents about nail surgery and treatment.
  • Deborah Lippmann is a celebrity manicurist and founder of Deborah Lippman. She has over 20 years of experience, working with the top fashion magazines (Vogue, InStyle and Vanity Fair) and fashion houses (Donna Karan, Versace and Narciso Rodriguez). Her previous clients include Reese Witherspoon, Penelope Cruz and Lupita N’yongo.
  • Jin Soon Choi is a manicurist and founder of JINsoon, a nail polish brand that’s known for being non-toxic and 21-free. Her work has been featured on fashion runways, editorial shoots and advertising campaigns. Her clients include Revlon, Maybelline and Sephora, as well as Vogueand Harper’s Baazar.

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What is a Russian Manicure?

A Russian manicure centers around your cuticles. Also known as a ‘dry’ or ‘e-file’ manicure, instead of soaking your nails in water to soften skin beforehand or only using a wooden pusher on your cuticles, the technique involves using a nail drill to remove all the excess skin around the nail beds before a gel or regular polish is applied.

What Are the Benefits of Getting a Russian Manicure?

The main benefits of getting a Russian manicure are its longevity and attention to detail. The experts say it can last longer and offer a ‘cleaner’ look than a traditional mani, as the removal of your cuticles leaves more room for polish. “The primary focus of a Russian manicure lies in its precision. The e-file’s capability eliminates even the tiniest remnants of dead skin, resulting in a significantly cleaner and more polished appearance,” says Choi.

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What Are the Risks of Getting a Russian Manicure?

Although the Russian manicure is gaining popularity, the experts we interviewed aren’t completely on board with it. The technique involves a few risks that include:

  • It can lead to infections. A major concern is the cuticle removal process (which the American Academy of Dermatology warns against.) As Dr. Stern explains, “The complete removal of the cuticle, if done repetitively, will usually result in the entry of yeast, which results in a type of nail infection called a chronic paronychia. The cuticle is the nail’s natural protective seal and prevents the entry of yeast and even bacteria into the nail unit.” She continues, “So, when I see many of the images on social media flaunting Russian manicured nails, in fact, it shows nails with evidence of chronic paronychia. While the polish may look impeccable to the trained eye, I see signs of infection like puffy, pink, swollen nail folds.”
  • It can weaken nail beds. Another concern is the drilling and filing down of the nail bed, which can cause them to get thin and brittle, or worse, break and peel. As Lippman notes, this technique can alter your nail growth overtime.
  • It can cause irritation. If used incorrectly or not sterilized properly, the nail drill can cause irritation, inflammation or discomfort. “The tools can introduce infections beyond yeast, [especially] if they’re not properly sterilized. This technique is more aggressive than a typical manicure, so there is more potential for infection. The electric files also have abrasive surfaces which can lead to irritation, openings in the skin and cuticle destruction,” adds Dr. Stern.
  • It can lead to hyperpigmentation. This risk is most concerning for those with darker skin. As Dr. Stern notes, “Aggressive exfoliation and cutting at the skin surrounding the nail (aka nail folds) can result in pigment changes to the skin. I also see this in people who chronically pick their cuticles, and the Russian manicure, if done routinely, could result in similar pigment alterations.”

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What Does the Process of a Russian Manicure Involve?

The process is fairly straightforward and is usually done in five steps.

  • Original polish is removed by filing down the nail bed or wiping it off using nail polish remover.
  • A nail technician shapes and buffs your nail into your desired style (i.e., square, coffin, etc.)
  • The longest step is the cuticle work, which is done using a nail drill, nipper or cuticle pusher.
  • A base coat (specifically designed for Russian manicures) is applied before a coat of gel or regular polish is painted over it.
  • The manicure is sealed with a top coat and you’re all set!
  • How Long Does a Russian Manicure Take?

    As a result of the additional cuticle work, a Russian manicure can take up to two hours at the salon. FYI, this estimate doesn’t factor in if you’re getting any additional services like nail extensions, nail art or a treatment (like hand care).

    How Long Does a Russian Manicure Last?

    According to Lippman, the Russian manicure has surged in popularity because of its longevity. “While your traditional or gel manicure can last up to two weeks, Russian manicures can last up to four weeks [using] gel polish before a touch-up or new manicure is needed,” says Lippman. “Many people love that they don’t have to head back to the salon for about a month.“

    How Much Does a Russian Manicure Cost?

    The cost of a Russian manicure can range from $80 to $250, which Choi points out is pricier than other manicures. The price varies on the nail technician’s expertise, length of your nails, salon location and equipment used.

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    Is a Russian Manicure Safe?

    It’s a bit tricky to say. The Russian manicure can be safe if done properly—as in, by a trained professional with many years of experience performing the service and who understands the potential risks. “Due to the very precise technique and tools used, it’s best to get this type of manicure done by a professional to prevent any mishaps, damage to your nails and/or infection,” says Lippman.

    Once you find a spot that offers Russian manicures, do research on the nail technician and make sure they have the skills (and sterilized equipment) to get the job done. If you have thin or damaged nails, Choi recommends skipping this service altogether, as “the use of an electric file can potentially worsen existing fragility or damage.” She cautions that filing down your nail beds and trimming your cuticles is a recipe for irritation, infection and inflammation.

    In conclusion, if you really want to try out the Russian manicure and you don’t have weak or damaged nails, just make sure you do your research and go to a reputable salon for it. Also, don’t forget to implement a hydrating nail care routine (using cuticle oil and hand cream) to prep for your appointment. You’ll thank us later.

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