Salon or Self-Serve?

As women of the 21st century we are inclined to believe that we can do anything. But since most of us are on a budget we are always looking for ways to DIY instead of buy. We’ve all seen the gorgeous #nailporn, #nailswag, #nailart, #notd and #instanails blowing up our social media feeds. Sure, a lot of these designs can be replicated at home with the help of a YouTube video, but with this explosion of glitter, animal print, and color comes great responsibility. Nail professionals are licensed for a reason, and anyone who has tried to remove gel-polish from their own nails can definitely see why. As someone who has a background in the DIY world and now works for a magazine for nail professionals, it’s important to set the record straight on when it’s OK to DIY and when it’s best to leave it to a pro.

Nail Art          

If you can barely draw a stick figure or a straight line, you will definitely want to ask a nail tech for her prices. Typically, the more elaborate the design the more it costs. Prices start at about $3 a nail and can vary greatly depending on where you live and the salon you go to. Sometimes salons offer promotions where you can get free nail art with the purchase of a certain service. Nail bars are popping up all over big cities in trendy stores and at events, so take advantage  and see what they have to offer. If you think nail art is something you can replicate, go for it. You can purchase gems, brushes, stencils, decals, and pens from stores such as Urban Outfitters and Sephora or get crafty with a visit to Michaels or Etsy. Chevrons and polka dots are simple add-ons you can probably do yourself with the help of some tape or foil, but if you are looking for a full-on sketch of your significant other’s face, it’s probably best to ask someone more experienced.


If you love the look of long, perfect, pink-and-whites more power to you. While there are DIY kits you can buy to get acrylic nails on your own, and many on the Internet claim to have done this successfully, I would urge you to stand down. Some people over-file and over-use the chemicals involved, which can be dangerous for your nails and skin. If you’re worried about sanitation or health at the salon, get a recommendation from a friend who has had acrylic work done. If you’re worried about the cost of keeping acrylics up, then you may want to re-think the idea all together. A gel-polish manicure or glue-on nails might be better options for you.


There has been some controversy surrounding gels and gel-polish lately. While some people are leery about sticking their hands under a light for a few minutes, others are embracing the two week manicure that the medium provides. For the record, a gel service will not increase your risk of skin cancer. I have worn a lot of different gel-polishes working at this job, and I had zero health problems because of it. I don’t apply sunscreen prior to my gel services, but it is an option if it will make you more comfortable. Gels can also be done at home, if you would rather spring one time for the lamps and polishes. Affordable kits by Katie Cazorla and Red Carpet Manicure are available and easy to use. A gel service in a salon tends to cost a bit more than a regular polish, but you do get what you pay for: a color that will last for two weeks (sometimes longer) and dries instantly. If the risk is still too great for you then stick with traditional lacquer.


Sometimes it’s not what goes on our nails that can cause damage, it’s about how damaging the removal process can be. Taking regular nail lacquer off your nails is a cinch, but anything else can be a bit tricky. For glitter, make sure you are soaking half a cotton ball in acetone, applying it to your finger, wrapping it in foil, and letting it soak for about seven minutes. For gel-polish you will use the same method, making sure to break the seal of the gel-polish first by filing before allowing to soak for 10 minutes. When you unwrap the foil, use an orangewood stick to remove the polish. That being said, I have had some gel-polish on my nails that has taken an hour to remove. The more you try to file and pick away at gel-polish the worse it is for your nails. If you’re tired of looking like Edward Foil Hands and want your gel-polish removed safely on the first try, visit a salon. Gel removal alone only costs about $10-$15, so it is relatively inexpensive and your nails get a fresh new start. If you are wearing acrylics I would recommend having a professional remove those as well. And while some nail wraps can easily be removed with an orangewood stick, some professional brand nail wraps and glue-on nails are just as stuck on as a polish, so it is best you don’t remove them yourself. Bottom line: if you’re not sure how to remove it, don’t do it yourself.


Thanks to scrubs and other accessories, you can give yourself a relaxing at-home pedicure. Just remember that sanitation is equally as important at home as it would be at the salon, so clean your implements after every use. I would argue that the whole point of a pedicure though is to get pampered while drinking an alcoholic beverage of choice. And while you can certainly quench that thirst at home, it still might be a good idea to have a professional handle your pedi. Nail technicians know what to look for when it comes to nail ailments and they can offer you reflexology massages that will help you relax from the feet up.

Nail Wraps

If you are not a gifted artist nor are good at polishing in general, these nail-shaped sheets with sticky backs could be the answer to your prayers. It seems like everyone from Essie to Sally Hansen to Zooey Deschanel are designing nail wraps that adhere to the nail without applying nail glue. While some brands such as Dashing Diva and Minx produce versions that have to be applied by a professional, there are more than enough quality nail wraps out there (sometimes called “nail polish wraps” or “appliques”) for you to use yourself. The only catch: you have to be pretty good at cutting the adhesives to fit the size of your nails. If you’re not good with a pair of scissors, you might not want to try this at home. If you are good with a pair of scissors you’re in luck because you can’t even tell some of these designs aren’t perfectly polished on.

Damaged Nails

There are numerous products on the shelves that you can use to fill in ridges, prevent fungus, and moisturize cuticles (don’t forget to take your vitamins too!). If your nails are in really bad shape some products shouldn’t be applied to them and a nail tech can best determine which. Most importantly, a tech can tell you when a nail problem is beyond her control and recommend you see your doctor. Nails are an extension of your health, and many times problems with your nails indicate an underlying health issue. Find a nail tech you trust and rely on them to care for your favorite accessory. If your nail pro tells you your nails are in good shape, then polish at will in the privacy of your own home.

I am all about creativity and saving a few bucks, but keep these pointers in mind when you are craving some nail care. Anything short of applying some polish and experimenting with designs should be taken to the salon. Sure, you pinned all those beautiful nail tutorials on Pinterest, but if you’ve tried them and they don’t work or if you just don’t have the patience, take the image to a nail tech near you and ask her to duplicate the design on your fingers. We already pay for our hair to be cut by a professional, so why do we feel like our nails need to be treated differently? Skip a few iced coffees or budget your money every paycheck to save for a relaxing day at the salon. Better yet, take a friend and make a day out of the experience. You deserve it.

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