“Russian Manicure”: What’s the Fuss About?

Author: Elizabeth Morris   |   Posted on: June 01, 2017



Bringing up the term “Russian Manicure” has recently begun to elicit an extreme response.  Whether you’re for or against this technique, its appearance in U.S. nail industry culture has caused quite a stir.  Yet many nail professionals are still wondering, “What the heck is a Russian manicure?”  Great question!  Let’s start by bringing to light what this controversial technique is before we dive into analyzing its reception.

If you’ve ever perused pictures of nails done by Eastern European nail techs, you’re sure to find insanely perfect work.  The pictures you’ll find focus on simple one or two color nails with an emphasis on impossibly clean cuticles.  These nails are so perfectly done and the lighting and photography so well executed that the color almost seems to be applied under the skin.  It’s surprising that these pictures gained so much popularity when covering the nails with immense amounts of nail art and 3D objects has become the focus of many US nail techs.  However, this simple style has won over many nail techs’ hearts.  From the clean and smooth cuticles to the impeccable color application, pictures found from this Eastern region are sure to make anyone drool. 

This new style of manicure was quickly deemed “Russian Manicuring” even though this name is not in line with any other nomenclature currently used by Russian nail techs.  The name “Russian Manicure” is merely a re-branding of the e-file manicure.  Once U.S. nail techs saw how amazing these types of nails looked they quickly made the association between perfect nails and where they come from, hence the new name.  But ask a Russian or Eastern European tech and they’ll tell you there’s no such thing as a Russian Manicure.  Over there they have two styles: traditional and e-file. 

Traditional manicures, whether stateside or European, entail the same process.  Cuticle remover is applied to soften the tissue surrounding the nail plate, a cuticle pusher of some kind is used to remove dead skin from the nail plate and push back the surrounding skin, and often nippers (or sometimes precise scissors) are used to trim any tissue that seems to be protruding.  Then a buffer or nail file is used to remove the natural shine from the nail plate and prep it for product application.

The e-file manicure, aka “Russian Manicure”, achieves the same result but instead of a cuticle pusher, remover, and files, specialized diamond bits are used to push back the skin, remove dead tissue, prep the nail plate, and clean away dust.  More aggressive versions of this e-file manicure also use nippers or scissors to trim the skin.

Believe it or not, both styles of manicures have been used for years throughout the world even though many nail techs believe the e-file manicure to be a new technique.  This perception is again caused by the recent influx and growth in popularity of the “Russian Manicure” nail pics often found on social media. 

So where does the controversy get stirred up?  Many in the nail industry are claiming that e-file manicuring causes more damage, more risk, and more problems than traditional manicures.  Much of these sentiments are also fueled by the lack of education and exposure to this style of manicuring.  Most technicians have only been exposed to a handful of bad videos that have been passed around like ghost stories and get more and more exaggerated each time they are relayed.  Some videos available on popular sites like YouTube show extreme and improper techniques where the skin is pushed, cut, lifted, and abraded, and techs have begun to assume that this aggressive style is what Russian Manicuring represents.  Because there is also a false belief this style of manicuring is new, many have begun to assume this technique is somehow going to overrun our industry and flood salons with techs improperly prepping nails. 

Where does the danger reside?  The arguments surround the ability for nail techs to cause vibration, pressure, and separation at the eponychium and matrix area is at the center of the controversy.  Too much manipulation at the base of the nail plate has the potential to disrupt proper nail plate growth as well as make the surrounding area susceptible to infection.  Because the aggressive videos that have now been improperly used as representation of Russian Manicuring show excessive manipulation of the cuticle area, many techs are terrified that this technique will lead to irreparable damage. 

What hasn’t really been shown is the positive and well educated side of this method and what it can achieve.  What also has not been clarified is how Russian Manicuring objectively is any more dangerous than any other technique nail techs use.  We’ve seen fear-based warnings pop up regarding many nail industry procedures, yet instead of doomsday coming the controversy seems to slowly dissipate and life goes on.  You may remember some of these recent controversies that fizzled without consequence to include: chrome pigments, glow-in-the-dark pigments, Sharpie nails, UV light exposure, and acetone usage. 

Is it legal?  Not only is the actual procedure under fire, but now many in the industry are making the claim that e-file manicuring is illegal.  The claim is that since e-file manicuring exfoliates the surrounding skin, it should be deemed micro-dermabrasion and should require special licensing.  The laws vary by state and because there’s no real clear definition of what e-file manicuring should be considered, it’s difficult for nail techs to know whether or not they are allowed to incorporate this method in their services.  What’s interesting about the micro-dermabrasion claim is that no clarification is made between using efiles on the nail plate or nail products, nor about using efiles during pedicures to smooth calluses.  Isn’t that also a form of abrasion?  And why isn’t that under siege?  Additionally, do we really believe further licensing will prevent poorly skilled nail techs from providing this technique?  If anything the nail techs who do things improperly continue to do it with or without licensing, so the result of excessive red tape usually means that good nail techs who would have naturally done the right thing must now invest more money in additional classes and certifications.

Should we teach this technique?  It is commonly thought that if you don’t teach a technique it will somehow never get used.  But what many don’t realize is e-file manicuring isn’t new and it’s already being done all over the place in many different ways.  Social media allows access to all kinds of education on various procedures.  The bad videos already exist and ignorant nail techs are already watching them.  There will always be bad tutorials.  There will always be ignorant nail techs.  But what we can control is the good information that is shared and promoted.  If for every bad video that existed that showed improper techniques was combatted with an excellent video with proper education, wouldn’t that be more powerful at fighting the potential for damage?  Wouldn’t it increase the chances of others finding the proper information they need?  And most importantly, how do we gain access to the nail techs who are primarily learning online and aren’t aware?  How do we get “DIY” and ignorant nail techs out of their caves and get them exposed to high-quality education? 

How does this technique pose any additional threats?  When we take a step back to look at electric file use in general it seems to be widely accepted.  E-file use has become very popular and is an important tool for nail techs.  With the use of electric files and bits, nail techs are able to save themselves from excessive wear and tear on their bodies caused by hand filing.  E-file use also allows nail techs the ability to do more precise work in a shorter amount of time.  What hasn’t been addressed is how the vibration, pressure, and potential for danger from e-filing in general differs from that caused by e-file manicuring. 

Additionally, no clarification has been made as to how the dangers of e-file manicuring surpass that of traditional manicures.  There are thousands of examples of nail techs improperly using cuticle pushers and nippers, removing living tissue, and causing other damage to the nail plate yet no reference has been made to fixing education at its core.  We’ve all seen cuticles that have been nipped within an inch of their life, are raw, and/or callused.  Just as much pressure, separation, and susceptibility to infection can be caused by more traditional tools, yet this subject is yet to be addressed by many of the Russian Manicure nay-sayers. 

Although many want to vilify “Russian Manicuring” it’s important to peel away the fear-based propaganda and look at this technique at a fundamental level.  The initial claim is that a new procedure or new tool such as Russian style nail bits can cause extreme harm to clients and our industry.  Is it really the tools or the procedures that pose the problem?  The true theme should really be that ill-educated service providers constantly pose the threat regardless of the procedure.  If we look at the potentials for danger in the nail industry or any beauty service in general, there is a widely understood notion that what we do to ourselves and to our clients can be dangerous if it is not done properly.  Nails can be overtrimmed, overfiled, and overexposed.  Hair can be overprocessed, balding can occur from folicle damage, and the chemicals used to achieve certain results can of course pose problems.  The list goes on and on. 

In a nutshell this “new” technique is not so different that any other than has come before it.  There was even a time that e-files were the newest evil.  So whether or not you are considering adding this new service to your salon it’s important to remember the fundamental points when analyzing anything:

Education: Don’t just take one person’s word for it (including mine).  Get education on this technique and analyze different sources.  Take a class and then take another.  You can never have too much knowledge when it comes to the skillset you use in your salon.

Legality:  Is it legal where you operate your business?  Make sure you check our local laws and ensure you aren’t violating any regulations.

Insurance:  Do you have insurance and does your insurance cover this procedure?  Any well-prepared business owner should carry professional liability insurance.  We’re all human and even the most skilled service providers can make mistakes or have accidents.

Demand:  Is there even a demand for this type of service?  Can you create demand?  If so, price it right and make sure you set yourself up for success.  If not this might not even be worth your while.

Gut: After you’ve analyzed all the aforementioned points follow your gut.  At the end of the day you are the best person to decide whether or not “Russian Manicuring” is right for you.  Don’t let sensationalism or one person’s view drive your business.  You are a better judge on what’s right for your business than anyone else.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the drama, but as business owners it is key to de-mystify, to remove the emotion from our decision-making, and to make educated choices based on what we feel is right for ourselves. 

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