Did I get a crappy manicure, or is this normal?
September 15, 2011 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Is this how a manicure is supposed to look? I've never had one before, but I am sorely disappointed.

I just got my first manicure yesterday, and I'm trying to gauge whether my expectations were too high or this salon just sucked. She trimmed my cuticles, but they look ragged rather than smooth. The polish doesn't go all the way to the edges of my nails, and in a few places you can see where only one coat of the polish covered a noticeable (1/8" along the back edge) area of a nail. I'm terrible at painting nails, but I know I would have gotten better coverage if I had done it myself. I even spoke up as my nails were drying and she was running the water for my pedicure, saying, "This looks a bit uneven." She offered to touch it up, and slopped a bit more polish and topcoat on the 3 fingers that were so awful I specifically pointed them out. But I still feel like it looks bad, and didn't feel comfortable pushing the issue any further.

So I guess my question is, is the polish supposed to have a smooth, clean line of 2 coats up to the cuticle and the sides of each nail? Or at least a smooth rather than ragged/wavy line where the polish starts and ends?

Possibly relevant details:
The facility bills itself as a salon/spa, and has hair and massage services too. They are not a chain. I thought I'd get better results avoiding the cheapo strip-mall places, but didn't want to spring for top-of-the-line spa, either. I had thought this place seemed like a nice compromise between the extremes.

They offer 3 levels of manicure, Express, Basic, and Spa, with the differences explained to me as how much time they spend massaging and whether or not you get paraffin treatment. Since I just wanted my nails to look nice afterward and didn't need all the pampering, I went for the Express treatment. Along with a pedicure, the whole thing took about an hour. $50 for the combined mani/pedi, in Minneapolis.

So -- expectations too high? Or did I pick the wrong place to go? I'd love any tips on how to get a better experience next time, whether choosing the salon or speaking up more with the nail technician or something else.
posted by vytae to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yeah, sounds like they did a shitty job. Next time use yelp to find reviews of local salons. And don't overlook the strip-mall places. Sometimes they can do just as good of a job or better than a fancy spa.
posted by greta simone at 7:28 AM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Gut response - just go somewhere else. It may have been the shop, it may have been the individual technician. I sympathize with the issue that complaining to someone with a bad attitude isn't going to result in a high-quality improvement... once you've got a careless employee working with you it's hard to get any better.

Sorry that your first manicure experience was so unrewarding. I don't go regularly, usually just with friends for an occasion (wedding party, etc) - but I do think it's kind of a roll of the dice whether I look at it and think "huh, I guess it really does look better when you use 3 coats of polish" or think "it takes a professional to do this crap?!?" I've never been much impresed with the cuticle trim - even if it looks great that day, it grows back ragged, and meticulous maintenance is not my specialty.
posted by aimedwander at 7:35 AM on September 15, 2011

that's a shitty manicure. i'm sorry it was your first experience. i agree with greta, don't overlook the mall places. you can even hang out close for a few minutes and ask to see ladies' nails as they leave. manicured painted nails should be smooth and even. to my eye, when they're done the polish looks like hardened glass or a shiny vinyl sticker.

odinsdream - i think she's trying to figure out if other manicures in other places would be better or if this is what she can expect no matter where she goes. a good question before she drops another 50 bucks.
posted by nadawi at 7:36 AM on September 15, 2011

also, you shouldn't have to do or say anything to get a good manicure in a place that does them well. they are supposed to be able to just take care of things and make you feel relaxed and at the end your nails look better. this is their basic job. if you have to instruct them on how to do it, it's not the right place to be.
posted by nadawi at 7:39 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bad manicure. Unfortunately, the price of the manicure or perceived fanciness of the spa don't always correlate with good service. (Though at a "top of the line" place, you'd probably at least get an even coat.) Check Yelp for places with good repuations.
posted by yarly at 7:40 AM on September 15, 2011

Best answer: It sounds like you got a crummy manicure.

The best manicures I've gotten have been cheapo $10 ones at the strip mall places where the women scold you in Vietnamese for not taking care of your nails properly, and then laugh at you with all of their co-workers. (At least, I assume this is what's going on.)

How to tell if your cheapo strip mall nail place is sketchy or just cheap:

Walk in during a busy time (usually lunch hour or right after people get off work, or early afternoon on weekends) so you can see how they operate. Look back to where they're doing pedicures. Is there someone scrubbing out the tubs? Does everything look clean? Is someone sweeping? Look around for an autoclave. It should look like a cross between a small safe and a microwave. If they've got someone taking tools back to an autoclave, that means they're sterilizing their equipment. This is a good place.

If you visit and you don't see anyone cleaning anything, move along to another place. This is a place where dead foot skin and nail dust float around and people poke at you with sharp objects. There is always something that should be getting cleaned during their rush hours.
posted by phunniemee at 7:48 AM on September 15, 2011 [10 favorites]

I second going for a cheapo place. One key thing here is that an inexpensive salon that specializes in manis and pedis makes most of their money on this and must do a good job to keep their business. A mid priced spa can get by because people come because they're a spa and thus have a variety of services, and people will come as an alternative to a high end place. But as long as the place looks clean (sterilizing their tools, etc) you should be able to get a nice mani/pedi for a good price.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:53 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is one of those things that really benefits from a personal recommendation to a specific cosmetologist. Do you have a friend, coworker, or heck--even a familiar stranger--that has nails you've noticed as well done? I'd ask them for a specific recommendation to a person (rather than a salon).
posted by GPF at 8:14 AM on September 15, 2011

Oh lady no! That is not right. No no, that is a garbage manicure.

Here's the thing. I have paid $14 for nail services and I have paid $40 and even $90. (Shh, I was in a fancy hotel.) Almost every time, I have been FAR, FAR happier with the $14 pedicures and manicures. I'll never give up my cheapo Avenue A nail spot. Look for the dump with the vibrating chairs with the line on Saturdays and go there.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:30 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just sounds like a crappy manicure. In all honesty, I've never had a manicure or pedicure that's been life-changingly impressive, but they've all been decent. I'd probably write or call the manager and explain (gently, with no expectation of a refund) that I had a disappointing experience, or I'd just let it go.

If you just want pretty nails and don't care about the "experience," there's a pretty big nail-blogger community out there, and tutorials abound, and you can give yourself gorgeous manicures with a little practice. (Warning: you could turn into a polish addict. Like, holy shit dude, did you know about this magnetic nail polish?) If you have a nail-junkie buddy or two (or are there meetups for this sort of thing? because that would be rad), you guys can split the cost of polishes and practice on each other.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:31 AM on September 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, this is a crappy manicure. It happens occasionally. Your cuticles should look neat, and the lines of polish should be even, and not messy. Sometimes people mess up while doing it, of course, but when that happens they should just take that bit of polish off with remover and fix it. You can absolutely get a very good one at a cheap walk-in place, though. It just varies - a lot depends on the person who does it, imho.

One more thing. Though I'm all about the cheap walk-in places now, for my first ever manicure, when I was 12, my friend and I went to this established, semi-fancy place where you needed an appointment. A matronly lady did our nails very slowly, explaining each step and what it was for, what she was going to do next, etc. (Now I prefer it when people don't speak English, b/c who wants to talk while getting their nails done. But for the first time, it was nice to have someone explain to me what those sharp implements were for.) I think that helped me to know which other places/people were good or bad at it later, in addition to looking at the end result, obviously. So there might be something to going to a higher end, well-recommended/reviewed place, and telling them that you've never really had a manicure before. If they're nice, they'll want to give you a pleasant, really nice-looking "initiation."
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:40 AM on September 15, 2011

Nthing you got a bad manicure, go to the cheap places that only do nails and maybe waxing next time. You'll spend less *and* get a better manicure out of it. Tip well. ^_^
posted by Andrhia at 9:00 AM on September 15, 2011

Back when I was single and had disposable income I got regular manicures. When I moved to a new place (San Francisco) I visited five or six nail salons, trying to find a place I was happy with. Eventually I stumbled into a little nail salon run by a pair of sisters from Cambodia, and while I was sitting there, listening to them chat to the other patrons, it became clear that a couple of the women in there had been coming to see them for 10+ years. Whether or not a place has regular customers is a great litmus test. Pre-Yelp, that was the way to find a good place to get your nails done. Nowadays, in the rare event I'm splurging for a manicure, I turn to Yelp.

The thing about the nail salons that appear cheap-o is, that's what they do. If they do it badly, they are out of business. A multi-service salon can get away with crappy nail services in a way that a single-service place cannot.
posted by ambrosia at 9:14 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

some of the best manicures i've gotten were at the absolutely cheapest vietnamese/korean holes in the wall. quick service and (often) beautiful results, generally for $10 or less. next time, find one of these places. you probably walk by at least ten every day, anyway.
posted by timory at 9:17 AM on September 15, 2011

Response by poster: The unanimous answers makes me feel a lot better. The thing I didn't mention is that I'm getting married on Saturday, and I am terrified of being a bridezilla. But truly, the nails do not look good right now. I'm glad to hear there is hope for a better manicure elsewhere.

So now that I've discovered Yelp (how did I not know about this site before?), I have a follow-up question: Will it be bad to go somewhere else to get my nails fixed today or tomorrow, just a day or two after the awful manicure? The thought of getting my cuticles done again seems really harsh. But my other option is to just wipe this polish off and moisturize like crazy. I'm not sure which way would be better to have my nails look acceptable in close-up wedding ring photos.
posted by vytae at 9:28 AM on September 15, 2011

Just tell them not to clip your cuticles. There's no law against it.
posted by bq at 9:35 AM on September 15, 2011

Best answer: Perfectly ok to go to another place now. Btw, they should ask if you want your cuticles cut or pushed back before they do either. You can say you want neither, only to have the polish re-done. Then once your nails are completely dry, just mousturize frequently and they should look just fine by Saturday.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:40 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

A lot of nail places specifically offer a polish change service, which is exactly what it sounds like. They do your polish but no trimming, filing, etc. It's usually several dollars cheaper, so if you are reasonably okay with the shape of your nails, just ask for a polish change; you won't have to worry about additional services and it will be faster.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 9:48 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have used Nail Images on 45th & France many times and they are great--used them before my wedding last year. Good luck and enjoy!
posted by jilliank at 9:49 AM on September 15, 2011

Go to a cheaper place. If you're paying more than $15 for a manicure, you're gambling on the quality of your nails.
posted by 200burritos at 10:09 AM on September 15, 2011

That sounds crappy. But you shouldn't have to spend more (In toronto, i pay $35 for combo mani/pedi of the non-express variety.) The more expensive places have never done a better job, and have several times done a worse job. I stick to my tried and true cheapy nail place now!

(Also: if your cuticles are in decent shape to begin with, you might want to ask the technician not to trim them at all, and to just push them back instead. I've found that trimming nice cuticles never makes them look better - its really only a benefit if you've walked in with cuticles that are already a mess.)

The thing thats great about crappy manicures is that they aren't permanent! So next time, go somewhere with decent reviews on yelp, or recommended by a friend, and probably/hopefully it'll be better.
posted by Kololo at 10:27 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds crappy to me, especially with the slopping on of more polish to cover up a crappy job - that's lazy, plus it's often bubble city (which is what happens to me when I do it).

Also, re: the polish not going all the way to the edges of your nails, some manicurists do a "gap"/slimline technique to make wide nail beds look slimmer. I do this on my own nails, both because I have large nail beds and it dramatically cuts cleanup time (no cuticle flooding). This may not be what you're referring to, and it doesn't excuse a crappy job, but FYI. Also, the lines should definitely be perfect, because it's a hell of a lot easier to paint someone else's nails than to do your own.

Honestly, I wouldn't let any manicurist cut my cuticles - try taking a high-res picture of them after cutting and look at it full-size. Not pretty. Even tiny cuts around your nail beds can pick up a lot of bacteria. There's a good tutorial here on cuticle cutting that explains this better; I only use nippers for the occasional hangnail.

I also second Metroid Baby's advice to DIY. Believe me, I am Fumble McFumblethumbs, but I do my own nails better than any professional, mostly because I'm not rushed. (Caveat: I am an insane nail freak like the polish addicts she mentions.)
posted by timetoevolve at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2011

I get my nails done every week so I have to go the cheap route, and I'm totally satisfied with it. I've also had my nails done the $90 route, and have always been disappointed. Finally, I would never ever do my own because there's no hand massage!
posted by thinkpiece at 11:23 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask the person at the salon. If your cuticles look terrible, s/he may be able to improve the appearance by pushing them back (I wouldn't normally recommend this though, because they may need to heal if cut too closely). Otherwise just go with the polish-only service. Also, French manicures are very classy and great for weddings. They're usually about $5 more, but most places do a good job and it will pull attention away from the not-so-nice-looking nail beds.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:36 PM on September 15, 2011

Bad manicure.

I have always had the best luck with the cheap, hole-in-the-wall places. I figure the reason is because they do higher volume and are more motivated to get repeat business, whereas the high end spa places make their living from overcharging the Mother's Day/Birthday/Prom "treat yourself" kind of customers.

Infact, one of the WORST manicures I ever had cost me $50 for the original manicure, and additional $12 to have my regular gal fix it later. This was when I had artificial nails, and the woman acutally put the wrong sized tips on my fingers, slathered on a lumpy, overly thick layer of acrylic, then managed to get polish all over my fingers. It looked like something out of a horror movie.
posted by evilcupcakes at 4:59 PM on September 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all! I've got an appointment tomorrow at a nail salon that was highly recommended on Yelp, and I'll ask for their opinion on how to make my cuticles look better. I'm glad to hear that manicures can actually be fun and look nice.
posted by vytae at 6:04 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

My wife (in Mpls) pays in the low $30s (for a pedi) at a place called Red Nail and they always look great. I think you just got a bad one.
posted by werkzeuger at 12:27 PM on September 17, 2011

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