Now we're on to some of the scarier stuff for first-timers and old-timers -- cuticle work. First the manicurist will push your cuticles off your nails, and, unless you ask to skip this step, hangnails will be trimmed with cuticle scissors.
Why aren't cuticles left alone? Some manicurists say that cuticles can overgrow. They also don't want to paint the strip of cuticle that covers your nail because that polish will quickly chip.
Next, comes buffing, which smoothes ridges and helps the polish to adhere.
Then, it's on to pure relaxation -- the massage. Different salons add their signatures. Your hands may bask in the steam from a hot towel. The manicurist then smoothes on lotion and massages you up to your elbows.
The last two steps remove all barriers between your nails and the polish. The manicurist wipes your nails with alcohol to remove lotion and old paint. If your nails are oily, the manicurist follows with oil remover, so the polish binds directly to the nail. Finally, the color.
Each nail gets a clear base coat, which prevents the colored polish from staining the nail. After every coat from now on, a fan or UV lamp dries your nails. Some salons prefer fans because many cumulative hours under a UV lamp carry a cancer risk.
Colored polish comes next. The manicurist paints one finger and asks, "Do you like this color?" Answer honestly. It's easier to change now than after all of your fingers get the requisite two coats.
Your nail adornment doesn't have to end with color. An array of flourishes may await your fingertips. It includes rhinestones, charms, glitter, fake pearls, decals and dried flowers. Other patterns, like your initials, can be airbrushed. The manicurist also can paint designs freehand.
A clear top coat finishes off your new handiwork. This last layer delays chipping. At this point, don't touch anything because an accidental scrape will ruin your manicure. Your manicurist will temporarily take over for your hands, moving you and your things to a drying table, where fans or a UV lamp will set the polish. After five to ten minutes, the manicurist will drip on a quick-drying solution. Your nails are then dry, and you can use your hands again.
Don't touch that door. It's time to pay, although you can pay before the paint, too. Depending on the salon, the manicure may cost $15 and up, but that price will swing widely depending on how fancy the salon is, if you're in a packed urban area with lots of salons and if you go for a manicure-pedicure combination. You should also tip the manicurist; satisfied customers start at 15 percent, but up to 50 percent is common [source: Manicurist]. Many salons ask that you tip in cash.