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Mani/Pedi 101

By Amalah

smackdown_manicure.jpgDear Amy, who is one of my favorite bloggers ever and who has been answering more serious questions lately but might take pity on my ignorance on the mysteries of girly beauty treatments,
I’m a young woman- nearly 22- who is still learning how to do the beauty things that other girls learned from their moms.* I’ve never “gotten my nails did”, unless you count when my grandmother would paint my pre-schooler finger nails bright pink if I didn’t bite them. I haven’t been in a nail salon since I was 7- my best friend and I watched her mom get a manicure. Not exactly the stuff on which a confident trip to the nail salon is made, and a confident trip is just what I want.
I need to know the basic etiquette for manicures and pedicures if I’m going to make my nails look decent, and I’ve got a lot of questions. I know that sites like Yahoo Answers have seen these questions before, but I trust you WAY more than I trust random fools on the internet, so here goes: How long should I grow my nails before I go in? Will they look at me funny if my toes are a bit hairy or I haven’t shaved my legs recently? (Thought: I should shave my legs first, since the moisture, heat, and soap/shaving cream involved can’t be good for toenail polish. Is this correct?) My pinky toenails (they kinda go up rather than forward, if that makes sense) won’t be too problematic, will they? Will they think I’m weird if I want colored fingernails but clear-coat toenails? Speaking of color, is red too over-the-top? What kind of pants should I wear for a pedicure? How much to tip the nail-lady after? What are the nail-ladies actually called? Aestheticians? Would it be rude to bring a book to read during a pedicure (I’m a bookworm) or an iPod for either occasion? How long does nail polish normally last on your nails?
Is there anything important I’ve forgotten? I’m almost certain I’ve left something out.
I also have a more tricky pedicure question. When I was 12, I got a fungal infection on my shin just above my foot. The infection cleared up with treatment, but I still have raised scar tissue that sometimes looks red or inflamed, especially when I’m stressed or exposed to hot temperatures. It’s NOT contagious and there isn’t open skin, but it is
right above my foot and clearly not normal skin. If I tell them that it’s just scar tissue, will that be good enough? Should I not bring it up unless they mention it first? Or is this one of those “you’ll never know until you get there” situations?
Thanks much!
*My mom is the daughter of a logger and farmer, and she’s a beef farmer, hippie-ish older lady, and gardener. She cuts her own hair and only paints her nails to hide the dirt from the garden. Yeah.

(Ooh! Ooh! Since you mentioned it first, let me quickly address the general all-over-the-place-ness of the Smackdown. While this column originally was almost exclusively beauty-related, it was first and foremost a reader-powered column. Whatever you asked, I tried to answer. Some topics much more successfully than others. Right now the question queue is pretty evenly divided three ways: beauty/style queries, parenting/baby questions and your more traditional Dear Abby life/relationship/etiquette dilemmas. Personally, I kind of like switching it up throughout the week and letting you guys lead the way with your questions. But I’m always open to suggestions about ways to improve things. Set topics for certain days? More of one topic, less of others? Ditching certain topics all together? Keep on rolling with the hodgepodge? Lemme know. Though I of course reserve the right to ignore you completely, because I’M THE ONE WITH THE PUBLISH BUTTON MWA HA HA.)
Anyway! Aw. You’re cute when you’re overthinking things. And a lot like me, who regularly gets kind of stressed out over stuff like this. And while I’m sorry you feel like there’s a gaping black hole in your beauty and grooming education, I think your mom sounds pretty awesome. A beef farmer? Please feel free to pay for this advice in steaks.
But! I can definitely help put your mind at ease over going to the nail salon. First and foremost, I always assume that most estheticians have likely already seen everything. Hairy legs, hairy toes, scars, scabs, ugly feet, freakish hands, crazy inward-growing toenails or cuticles gone wild. A lot of manicurists will also do bikini waxing, and once you’ve done your share of Brazilians, I’m guessing a few stray hairs on a big toe are really not a big deal.
That said, I usually shave first. Just…because, you know? (Unless it’s a spur-of-the-moment walk-in appointment. Then whatever.) Wear pants that can easily be pushed up or rolled up to just below your knee. No skinny jeans, basically. Bring your own flip-flops (shove them in your purse) to prevent immediately dinging up your polish afterward. Bring cash for a tip (usually between 15 and 20 percent), as not every salon will let you put tips on a credit card. And yes, you can ABSOLUTELY bring a book or an iPod. Or both! You’ll notice magazines around the pedi stations, and most people choose to zone out during the service. It’s relaxing. (During a manicure, however, most people will make small talk with their esthethician.) (Oh, and if all the nail-ladies are talking to each other in a language other than English, yeah, we’ve all occasionally assumed that they are totally making fun of us. Eh. Just read your book and tune it out.)
When you arrive, you’ll be asked to select your color. Clear polish might not be on the rack of choices, but don’t worry — they have it. Just tell your esthethician that’s what you want. (I regularly go with colored toes and clear fingernails, since mine are always so freaking short and brittle.) She MIGHT ask about your scar — not because she’s grossed out or anything, but just to ensure that it’s nothing that would be sensitive or hurt by the bubbling warm water soak or foot and calf massage that accompany a pedicure. Just tell her it’s scar tissue, you’ve had it for years, doesn’t hurt, no big deal, whatever. (Although if hot water DOES hurt it, say something when she starts filling up the tub and ask to keep the water on the lukewarm side.)
During your manicure, you’ll be asked what shape your want your nails — rounded or square. Round nails means pretty much what it sounds like; squared-off nails are flat across the top. I usually ask for slightly squared-off nails with rounded corners, which is kind of in-between. (Then again, the only times I’ve ever had nails that were long enough to really do anything with were during my pregnancies. Usually my nails are barely worth doing anything with.) If you aren’t sure, you can let her choose based on the length and natural shape of your nails. The pre-manicure length of your nails is completely up to you: she’ll file them down if you think they’re too long, or shape them without taking any length off if you don’t. At least a little length is required for something like a French manicure, but otherwise ANY length is perfectly fine.
How long your polish lasts really depends. It depends on whether the salon is using a high-quality topcoat, on whether you let your nails fully dry before leaving, and on how hard you are on your hands and feet on a daily basis. If you routinely wear shoes with no socks, your pedicure will get pretty dinged up pretty quickly. Personally, I’ve never been able to keep fingernail polish intact for more than a week, but given the general craptasticness of my nails, it’s obvious that I am hard on my hands. Or at least very clumsy. (I chew and bite my fingers when I’m stressed. Plus I type weird, often curling my fingers under and hitting the keys lower on the keyboard with my nails. I can’t help it. I have strange, double-jointed fingers.) A pedicure will last much longer, though technically polish should be removed after two weeks or so to keep your nails healthy. I’ve had pedicures that still look fantastic after a month, but I’ve always regretted keeping the polish on that long once I get a look at the cracked, yellowish grossness underneath.
Good luck on your upcoming trip to girlyland. It’s fun. Do not fear it. (Or the red nail polish. GO FOR IT, BABY.)
Photo by sidesmirk


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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