What Should You Expect During Your First Visit to Nail Salon?

There’s something special about being pampered in the nail salon. Manicures and pedicures are a form of self-expression, a way of looking more put-together, and a great little mental health break.

But walking into the nail salon for the first time can be intimidating with walls covered top to bottom in nail polish bottles and a flurry of activity going on. So, what should you expect from your first visit to the nail salon?

During your first visit to a nail salon, you will select your service(s), polish type, and polish color. Your nail tech will clean, trim, shape, and color the nails. Other services may include a foot bath, hydrating treatments, and massage. You can expect to pay between $30 and $75 per service, depending on your selection, and you should leave a 20% tip.

There’s so much more to know about the nail salon. Below, we’ll fill you in on all of your choices, from service options to nail shape. Let’s prepare you for the nail salon so your first experience isn’t chaotic, but enjoyable!

What it’s Like at the Nail Salon

Let’s talk about visiting the nail salon, step-by-step.

  1. Before you arrive at the salon: Many salons take walk-ins, but it’s in your best interest to make an appointment ahead of time. Don’t worry about removing existing nail polish or shaving a little stubble – those things won’t bother your nail tech. Choose a highly rated salon that follows the proper sanitation protocols.
  2. When you arrive at the salon: Arrive at your appointment on time. When someone greets you, remind them of your name and which service(s) you’re there for. Select a color. You can also pay for your services beforehand if you don’t want to dig through your purse with wet nails later.
  3. When you sit in the chair: Tell your nail tech what you want – which services, which polish type, which polish color, and your preferred nail length and shape. Don’t be shy about “ugly” feet, and if you’re extremely ticklish, just give your tech a heads-up. They’ve seen it all.
  4. During the appointment: You can expect to sit in a massage chair during your pedicure with your feet in a warm foot bath. Some manicures may be done here as well, but most will be done in the manicure table area. Sit back, relax, and follow your nail tech’s occasional instructions to move your hands or feet.
  5. After your appointment: If your nails are wet, wait for 10-15 minutes in the salon as they dry. If you haven’t paid, pay at the front desk and leave your nail artist a tip of 15-30%. If you do experience any polish smearing or chipping within one day, you can run back to the salon for a touchup.

What you can expect during a basic manicure

Hint: Manicure = hands and fingernails.

  • The tech will remove any leftover polish.
  • Your hands are soaked in warm soapy water.
  • The nails are filed, trimmed, and buffed.
  • The cuticle is cleaned and trimmed.
  • Your hands are massaged with hand cream.
  • The tech will apply your nail polish, topcoat, and cuticle oil.

What you can expect during a basic pedicure

Hint: Pedicure = feet and toenails.

  • Any existing nail polish is removed.
  • The feet are soaked in warm and soapy water.
  • The cuticles are trimmed and cleaned.
  • The tech can exfoliate the feet and buff down calluses.
  • The tech will trim and file the nails.
  • The feet are moisturized and massaged.
  • Finally, it’s time for polish and drying.

The choices you’ll have to make at the nail salon

Now you know the general sequence of a nail appointment, but if you’re a first-timer, the endless service options can be overwhelming. Every salon is different, so we recommend researching your local salon’s offerings before scheduling an appointment.

In the meantime, here’s an extensive list of the different polishes and services you might see at the nail salon.


A standard manicure or pedicure involves cleaning, trimming, hydrating, and minimal massage. It comes with standard nail polish (the kind you’ve probably been using since you were a kid). This type of polish is easy to remove at home, but it tends to chip after 5 days or fewer.

Paint Only

Some salons offer paint-only services so that you can forego the trimming, cuticle oil, etc. This is usually the most affordable option in the salon.

Nail Art

Some salons host experienced nail artists who can provide intricate nail designs on the fingers or toes (for the holidays or just for fun).


Gel nails are highly durable – they can last for two weeks or longer without chipping. Different coats are brushed on and then cured under a UV light. They create a hard shell on the nails to improve the shape, size, and structure. Gel nails or toes cost a little more and are more difficult to remove at home.


Shellac is similar to gel polish – think of it as a combination of basic polish and gel. It also involves being brushed and cured under UV lights. It lasts about 2 weeks without chipping, but it’s not quite as hard as gel and is easier to soak off at home with acetone.


Acrylic nails are those long, “false” or “additional” nails that you may associate with a manicure or pedicure. Acrylics are made up of both a liquid and a powder which are set into a hard layer over the top of the nail. Once the acrylics are in place, the polish (traditional, gel, or any kind you like) is brushed on, along with optional nail art. Acrylics can be applied to the fingernails or toenails. The initial process is longer and costlier than your standard polish, but re-filling the acrylics requires less time and money.


Dip nails are a new fad. Your nail tech will apply a base polish, dip the finger into a colorful powder, then finish it off with a sealant. This type of manicure lasts up to a month but is a bit costly and more difficult to remove at home. They are more flexible than gel nails but also more fragile.

French Manicure

A French manicure is just a style. It is a sheer pink or beige nail with a white polish tip. This can be done with a variety of different polishes or even acrylics.


If you see the word “paraffin,” this treatment is not a type of polish, but rather an add-on to the manicure process. It involves dipping the hands into warm wax and placing the hands in gloves. The wax slowly hardens and it is peeled off, leaving the hands silky soft.


If you see “spa,” “hot stone,” or similar terms, this is an upgraded type of manicure or pedicure. Your hands or feet will be receiving extra attention and care. You may also receive additional treatments like salt scrubs, hot stone massages, or reflexology.

Some nail salons have their own personalized treatment names. Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics. Of course, you’ll also get to select the shape, length, and color of your nails.


  • Almond shaped nails have slim sides which taper toward the end with a rounded tip. This style works only on longer nails.
  • Round shaped nails have a naturally curved edge. This style is fuss-free and works for shorter nails.
  • Square shaped nails have a squared-off tip and are best for medium-short or short nails. This style has a subtle widening effect and does not break easily.
  • Ballerina nails resemble a ballet slipper – long and narrow with a dramatic taper towards the end, with a square tip. This style is only good for long and sturdy nails (or you can recreate it with acrylics).
  • Oval shaped nails end in a blunt semi-circle. This style is perfect for making short or wide fingers look longer.

Length: Nail lengths include short, medium, medium-long, or long. You can show your tech exactly how long you want your nails and/or toenails, or they can trim the nail gradually until you are satisfied. Long nails are stylish, but not practical for everyone.

Color: Most salons will allow you to choose your color from a wall of polish bottles or a wheel of color options. If you try the color and find it’s not for you, don’t hesitate to ask your tech to stop and try a new color.

How much money can you expect to spend on average for one trip to the nail salon?

The cost of your services will depend on:

  • Your location
  • Your salon
  • Your treatment of choice
  • Your polish of choice

A standard manicure or pedicure will cost about $25-$35 at a budget or standard salon, $35-$55 at a mid-range salon, and $55-$75 at a high-end luxury salon or spa. Additional spa treatments, gel polish, Shellac, dip, or French manicures will add about $10-$25 to each service.

What about tipping at a nail salon?

Don’t forget the tip! Factor in a 20-30% tip for good service.

How often do you have to go back to the nail salon?

Experts recommend visiting the salon for a fresh manicure or pedicure every 2-3 weeks. Within that time, the nails and cuticles will begin to become dry and grow a little jagged. The polish will begin to chip away. If your nails grow particularly quickly, or your job exposes your hands to substances that chip or dry out your nails, you may need to revisit the salon more frequently.

Enjoy your excursion to the nail salon

The nail salon is for everyone – women who need a mental health break, men who take good care of themselves, and even children who want a special mommy & me date (check on your local salon’s policies first). To make your experience the best it can be, figure out which services you want and get recommendations for the best salons and techs in town.

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