Why nail experts want real manicures to make a comeback

In a sea of gel polish, acrylics, extensions and complex nail art, has the art of real manicures gotten lost? I think so. And the experts in the world of nails want it to make an urgent comeback...


I've noticed a lot lately that a back-to-basics approach is making a comeback when it comes to nails and manicures - nail experts and companies are championing the 'traditional' or 'real' manicure again. Still loving extensions and gel polish, of course, but all the time acknowledging the importance and power of a proper manicure and good nail health.

Allergic, literally

It reminded me of what happened my nails this time two years ago. When I say I was fully addicted to getting three-week polish on my nails, I'm not joking. Every fortnight or so I'd get the same colour, same brand, same process done - a true creature of habit, much to the frustration of my lovely nail tech - and I never wavered.

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Until I had a massive reaction to it one day in 2017. My hands swelled to twice their size, I got blisters around my cuticles and I had the most intense itching on my hands. I was officially and literally allergic to gel polish.

A catalyst for change

I had to revert back to 'traditional' manicures. I had to get my nails to a place of strength and resilience, so that they could hold normal nail polish for more than a few days, and so that my nails would look good even without polish on.

So, my lovely nail tech (who is very much an expert in her field - she's an educator and a judge for international nail competitions) talked to me in great detail about the nail side walls, the health of the nail, signs of ill health, what to do, what not to do and how one can never have enough hand cream.

Related: What's the secret to beautiful nails?

The experts want real manicures back

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I spoke to some of Ireland's foremost nail experts to find out how they feel about the return and the importance of the traditional manicure. Here's what they had to say.

  • PAMELA LAIRD, editorial nail technician who has worked with Vogue magazine

"As a nail technician the health of the natural nail is always a top priority. Without this the acrylic/gel or even an overlay of gel polish I apply is likely to break, chip and peel away from the natural nail. Traditional manicures still have a place in all our routines and should not be snubbed. Correct cuticle care and proper filling of the natural nail all plays a part.

"It is true to say that nails don’t “breathe”. So a gap or break between acrylic or gel polish for this reason is unnecessary. However it’s important to pay attention to your natural nails as your polish is removed or your acrylics are refilled. Without your natural nail we cannot apply colour or nail extensions."

  • KATE VERLING, owner of Mink Hand and Foot Spa (mink.ie)

"I am pretty passionate about having regular manicures. It is so important to have precise cuticle work and a detailed shaping using the right file, before applying any type of polish, gel or otherwise. We have our own Mink gel polish buffer, which is the perfect grit to smooth without stripping any layers of the nail.

"The cuticle is the live part of the nail-bed, so by nourishing the cuticle, nails will grow healthy, shiny and strong. To me, missing that step is like having highlights over and over, with no haircut in between. My favourite product is the Margaret Dabbs nail and cuticle serum, it’s anti fungal and super strengthening, I always see a big difference when I use it regularly."

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Margaret Dabbs Nail and Cuticle Serum, €14.40

  • GOSIA OLLEK, international educator and nail competition judge

"The most important part of a manicure is massage, the benefits of which are increased blood circulation, joint mobility and improved health of hands. Hands are exposed to many elements and so a good cleanse removes old cells and will encourage to new ones to grow. Exfoliation and application of creams then gives your hands and nails a smooth and soft effect.

New nail research says that oils and creams don't necessarily strengthen your nails, rather they help by making your nails flexible which means they won't break as much."

  • Samantha Sweet, Co-founder of Sweet Squared, distributors of CND Shellac

"The natural nail plate should always be treated by the nail professional, with absolute love and integrity. Just as you can’t build a house on a poor foundation, you can’t apply any treatment to a natural nail plate that has not been properly prepared.

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"The use of harsh files or drills on top of the natural nail plate is unacceptable and can lead to thin, painful nails. Plus, onycholysis also known as nail plate separation can occur. It’s not hard to achieve a beautiful nail plate prep, by simply exfoliating the nail plate and removing any non living tissue which can cause products to lift if left on the nail plate.

"CND have CuticleAway and ScrubFresh both products used during a perfect prep before the chosen nail treatment is applied. This ensures that the removal process will reveal still beautiful nail plates as opposed to damaged ones. Make sure clients don’t pick their nails or polish as this can also thin the natural nail."

Related: Why it's really bad to peel off gel nails...

Consider quality when it comes to your nail tech

Through being allergic to gel polish, I learned how to really take care of my hands and nails. And truth be told, I think there are a lot of nail practitioners out there who are neglecting the true art of the manicure and just lobbing on acrylics and polish without a second thought.

That approach will no doubt be detrimental to the long-term health of the nail, so it's worth considering how highly trained your nail tech is before allowing them near your hands.

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