The Palms Spa-Aveda
My daughter was in town for a visit last weekend and other than doing a little shopping and a whole lot of watching college football, we really didn’t have any plans so what’s a mom and daughter to do? Get a mani-pedi of course!
I have my favorite nail salon that I go to regularly but it’s nowhere near where we were going to be so we did what so many other mani-pedi customers do: we walked in to a random salon. It was very nice and we were happy with the results, but while sitting in the pedicure chair I couldn’t help but wonder something I’m assuming so many other mani-pedi customers do: why are so many salons owned and staffed by predominantly Asian workers? I got on it and I have the answer and it may surprise you as much as it surprised me. In fact, I had no idea!
Actress Tippi Hedren with manicurist trainees
It’s a story that could come straight out of Hollywood and in fact, it did. Forty some years ago actress Tippi Hedren visited a Vietnamese refugee camp in California and had an “aha moment.” Those of you from the “Greatest Generation” will remember Hedren from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” movie. You who are closer to my age will be familiar with Hendren’s daughter, Melanie Griffith, and all you Millennials out there are probably fans of her “Fifty Shades of Gray” granddaughter, Dakota Johnson. So yes, the Hollywood tie-in runs deep. But I digress…
Back to the refugee camp. Hedren and company visited the tent city where women who had recently fled the communist takeover of South Vietnam were living in hopes of helping them find work in the U.S. While there, Hedren took note that they all loved her perfectly polished and manicure fingernails and before they could say “pick color,” Hedren had them trained in manicure services. Years later, a nail empire was created.
I guess you could say Hedren most definitely “nailed it” and today we can all thank her for it.
Another interesting tidbit I’ve learned is that a French manicure is anything but French. I love that First Lady Melania Trump sported a lovely French manicure when she and President Trump greeted their French counterparts, but really the only thing French about the look is the name. And like the Tippi Hedren story, this one too hails back to Hollywood.
Classic French manicure
In the mid-1970s Orly nail polish founder Jeff Pink was asked by a film director to create a nail look that would coordinate with any costumes, last long, and alleviate the need for actresses to constantly spend valuable time touching them up. Pink was inspired by the system of using a white pencil to highlight the top of a nail and came up with the idea of actually painting the top side white. He called it “The Natural Nail Kit” and it was an instant hit with movie stars.
The only thing French about a French manicure is the name.
Some years down the road, Pink took the trend to the Paris catwalks and it was a hit there too. He knew he needed a catchy name however, and chose to keep it simple with “French.” Although a tad misleading, the name was brilliant in that anything with a French name or label automatically conjures up chicness and sophistication. It’s a name that has lasted and a style that remains popular to this day.
Baby Boomer Nails
As with any trend however, French manicures are considered by anyone but traditionalists a bit old fashioned and a tad cheesy (I still like them) so of course there’s a new take on the old classic and it’s quite a hit. The latest manicure trend is nothing flashy (although nail art, stiletto shaped nails, and matte polishes are also popular) and even has a trending name: Baby Boomer Nails. Did someone say boomer?
Also known as French Ombre or French Fade, the look basically takes a traditional French manicure but blends the white/pink/clear coats together to create a gradient or ombre effect. Some says it’s a throwback back to manicure styles popular after World War II, hence the name “Baby Boomer Nails.” The style is especially popular with brides and is all the rage worldwide, with some salons saying it’s their most requested style although on the whole, color is still the preferred choice by nail clients.
Baby Boomer Nails can be created with both acrylics and gel polishes, which are two of the most popular nail salon choices along with “dip” nails. What’s the difference you ask? Not a whole lot yet a whole lot.
In a nutshell, if you like to change colors often you should opt for plain ole’ nail polish, which you can remove easily at home if need be. If you prefer a long-wearing choice and don’t mind having to visit a salon ever 2-3 weeks for acetate soaking and scraping removal, gel is the way to go. If you have short or weak nails and long for long ones, acrylics are your only option. And new flash ladies, whichever method you choose – gel manicures, nail extensions, or dip powders – know that all contain acrylic in some way. Yep, whether they are glued on, cured under a lamp, or applied with powder and liquid, they are all acrylic based.
Whichever method you choose – gel manicures, nail extensions, or dip powders – all are acrylic-based.
I prefer gel polish, which you’ll also hear sometimes incorrectly called “Shellac.” Turns out the name “shellac” is an actual brand of gel nail polishes. Think “Band-Aid” or “Advil.” I learned this from my friend and Scottsdale manicurist extraordinaire Kelly who also taught me that true gel nail polishes require drying under either an LED or UV lamp. Heads up ladies. This means any “gel” polish you buy at a store that doesn’t require a drying lamp isn’t a true gel polish. The upside to gel manicures is that they last nearly three weeks but their downsides are the pesky removal of them and concerns about UV light exposure. My advice is to take an SPF of 30 or higher with you to your appointment and apply it after you wash your hands and also maybe look for salons that use LED lights instead of UV lamps.
Acrylic nails are tried and true ways of getting those lengthy nails you’ve always wanted but weren’t born with. Basically they are fake nails that are applied to the tips of your nails and then your nail beds are filled with liquid monomer and powder polymer, which harden and then are filed into your bed. These are the nails you see being applied by a nail technician often wearing a surgical mask and using what look like dental tools. Acrylics will grow out as your natural nails grow out so you will need to get the nail beds “filled” with more powder as nail growth becomes more and more obvious.
Powder dips or “SNS” manicures are yet another option. SNS is actually short for Signature Nail Systems, which has been around for years. This style of manicure is the one you see when the client’s finger tips are dipped in small little jars of colored powder. They may look a lot different from acrylics, but what you are getting is basically acrylic in powder form that is bonded using a glue containing the main ingredient in Krazy Glue. But, you don’t have to worry about potential UV lamp damage.
What all of this adds up to is big business according to nailsmag.com. The nail industry is an $8 billion mega-enterprise and an estimated nearly half of all nail salons in the U.S. are Vietnamese owned or run. These manicurists, who earn an average of around $650 a week, have jumped on a niche that allows them to earn a stable living using their entrepreneurial spirit and well-known attention to detail. What’s amazing is that showing your feet to someone in Southeast Asia may be considered offensive and feet are not particularly appreciated in Vietnam. There are nail salons in Vietnam but even there you’ll rarely see the salon owner doing pedicures, much like the case here in the states.
The busiest day in the average nail salon is Thursday.
Virtually all nail technicians are female (97%) and a quarter of them have worked in their current salon for more than 10 years. Nearly half of them have some level of college education and just over half are married. If you’re looking for a quiet day at the salon, don’t go on a Thursday, which is the busiest day of the week followed by Fridays and Saturdays.
In addition to generally being a little less pricey then American-owned salons, Vietnamese salons are also mostly walk-in businesses. They will take appointments, but most clients are like me in that unlike a hair appointment, when I feel I need a mani-pedi, I simply drive to the salon and more often than not have little or no wait for services.
I’m an admitted mani-pedi fan and get them regularly. I do have my go-to salon and choose them because they literally massage your legs for 20 minutes or so. Granted, I need to allow nearly two hours for an appointment, but I don’t get lash extensions or sprayed-on tans so mani-pedis are my only regular personal grooming maintenance other than hair. I always get a gel manicure because I’m blessed with strong nails so I never need acrylics and I love that gel polishes last so long. What colors I choose vary according to my mood and the time of year. I’m always up for some sparkle and glitter, tend to lean more toward neutrals, but will occasionally go a little wild with a color. I prefer having my fingernails tended to while I sit in a pedicure chair, as I find the manicure table chairs either uncomfortable or awkward. Is it just me?
I used to polish my own nails and have very fond memories of my sisters and me doing so at our kitchen table when I was growing up and anytime we were back home. Now however, gel is the only way I go…but only on my fingers. On my toes I’m strictly standard polish and I’m not a fan of the French look on toes. Sometimes I opt for no polish, cut my nails down, and let them breathe polish-free for a few weeks and in the winter I tend to get fewer pedicures.
Along with various polish choices and methods, nail shapes can vary too. I prefer oval but “squared oval” and “stiletto” seem to be the most popular shapes today. I can’t pull of the stiletto shape and somehow square of any kind bothers me when I type, write, cook, etc.
So there you have it, everything you’ve always wanted to know about nail salons but didn’t know who to ask. I can’t help you understand what salon staff members might be saying in their native language but I can tell you to pick color, relax, sit back, and enjoy the luxury that is getting your nails done.