Your salon visit will start with choices, beginning with where you go. Ask a trusted friend for a recommendation. Better yet, check with your local health department Web site, where you can find a list of licensed and penalized salons.
Next up is deciding between real and fake nails. If you're not happy with your nails, choose fake, but how fake? Plastic artificial tips glue to the tips of your natural nails. Full artificial nails cover your entire nail. They can be plastic, glued on and cut to size. They also can be sculptured nails, where the nail technician sculpts a nail over yours out of air-drying acrylic [source: Draelos]. In the silk nail technique, a strip of sheer fabric glues over your nail.
Fake nails can be polished with gel, which hardens to a gloss, or acrylic, which is made from a powder and is thicker. Although fake nails cost more money (from $20 to more than $100, depending on how long they last), they give the nail technician a bigger canvas to work with, say, if you're looking to fit a whole beach scene on your fingertip. In addition, nail biters have a hard time gnawing through tough (and pretty) acrylic nails.
If you want regular polish on your real nails, ask for natural nails. We're going to assume you're choosing this option, and we'll walk you through the steps involved.
First, the manicurist will direct you to a selection of polishes hundreds of colors deep and ask you to pick one. Don't assume that salons automatically offer the cheap polish. After all, they don't want you coming back, complaining about your chipped nails. For the indecisive, selecting one polish from the glitters, neons, solids and sheers can be the longest step.
Next, you and the manicurist head to a table where the real artistry starts. You'll be asked to choose a nail shape: long or short, squared or rounded. While rounded is a popular shape, you avoid hangnails and ingrown nails by not filing the corners [source: Draelos]. The manicurist will file your nails into shape with an emery board.
A bowl full of warm, soapy water then comes your way. Ease your hand into the bowl and soak. This softening and cleaning step wipes out bacteria and fungi, so the cuticle manipulations don't hurt or infect your nail beds. After the finger bath, a fan in the table dries off your nails.
Keep reading. Your cuticles will thank you.