Savings Experiment: Nail Salon vs. At-Home Manicure


It's one of life's little pampering pleasures: the manicure. Neatly manicured hands are the finishing touch to a put-together look -- but can you really afford to keep that look up week after week?

While it's no secret that a professional manicure costs more than one you do yourself, new, longer-lasting nail polishes now on the market are giving consumers a bigger bang for their salon buck these days.

Here's the skinny on how to nail down manicure savings whether you treat yourself to one at a salon or opt to do one at home.

Professional vs. At-Home Manicure

Manicure devotees typically have their nails done once a week, which works out just about right: The average salon manicure lasts about three to five days, experts say. An at-home manicure, on the other hand, lasts just about two to three days.

But results will vary from person to person and from salon to salon, says Sree Roy, managing editor of NAILSMagazine.

Just as a professional manicure will last longer than one done at home, it will also look more polished (pun intended). "A professional manicure will look cleaner, and you shouldn't see any streaks," says Roy. "[And] there are special techniques nail techs know to get that salon look."

These include shaping and filing the nail, applying thin layers of polish smoothly, and pushing back your cuticle so the polish adheres better, Roy adds.

Indeed, a good nail tech is trained to delicately push back cuticles properly (experts warn to watch for manicurists who want to cut your cuticles -- that's a no, no). "[It's] somewhat risky when you do it yourself, as you're pushing into skin," Roy says.

A trained manicurist will also know tricks of the trade, Roy adds, such as capping the free edge -- the part of the nail that hangs out after the fingertip ends -- horizontally with a top coat.

And if you do it yourself, you won't get that salon ambiance and pampering -- not to mention that relaxing hand massage.

The Salon, At-Home Cost Difference

On average, this beauty pick-me-up costs between $19 and $22 for a basic manicure at salons nationwide, according to NAILS Magazine and market research firm GreenBook, respectively.

If you're buying products for a manicure for the first time, says Roxanne Valinoti, celebrity nail professional and education training manager for nail polish supplier CND, "an at-home manicure will cost you about $50."

But over time, a do-it-yourself manicure is definitely cheaper than one at a salon. Let's find out just how much cheaper it is.

An average professional manicure costs about $20. By contrast, a single 0.5-ounce bottle of $8 nail polish yields about 40 two-coat manicures, according to NAILS Magazine. So one two-coat application of polish at home will cost you about 20 cents. And while that figure, of course, excludes the costs of the other manicure essentials -- from the top coat to the nail file, as well as other bottles of polish -- it's still far less expensive to do your nails at home.

Brush on Savings With Brush-On Gels

So let's say you've opted to treat yourself to a salon visit, but you're still looking to save. The biggest way to save on any manicure is by extending its life. And nail polish that chips just days after a salon visit is women's biggest beef with professional manicures, experts say.

Enter the brush-on gel polish. Sometimes referred to as the "14-day manicure," brush-on gel polishes have redefined the salon treatment by producing chip-free, glossy nails with a mirror finish that lasts for -- hold your breath -- two weeks or more.

Also known as soak-off gels, brush-on gel polishes are "cured" onto the nail with an ultraviolet lamp, which causes a chemical reaction that lets the gel harden, Roy explains. And a gel polish dries instantly, so there's no need to sit under the nail dryer, waiting for the polish to dry.

NAILS Magazine called the latest crop of what's known in the industry as a polish/gel hybrid, from such brands as CND's Shellac, the market leader, and Hand & Nail Harmony's Gelish, "the single biggest trend we've seen over the last several years."

Roy says these new polish-gel hybrids can be better for your nails than some traditional brush-on gels, which can damage the nail bed from the abrasive filing it takes to prep the nail for the gel application.

Overall, a brush-on gel manicure will cost about $10 to $15 more than a basic manicure. But don't let that higher initial price deceive you: You'll save a bundle on your salon manicure in the long run, experts say.

Here's why: An average weekly manicure will run you about $20.36. Meanwhile, a Shellac manicure, for example, will cost about $32.86, $12.50 more than the traditional manicure.

Figuring that the basic manicure lasts three days, that's a cost of about $6.79 per day, while a 14-day Shellac manicure costs about $2.35 per day, according to CND.

So a manicure done with Shellac will save you about $4.44 a day (the cost of a latte), or about $31 per week, (a nice dinner out) and a whopping estimated $1,620 a year, CND says.

And unlike an old-school manicure that lasts for a few days and chips, a brush-on gel polish will look pristine until you take it off, Roy says. "There's a savings over time because you'll be going to a salon less often," she explains.

At-Home Manicure

Just like a salon treatment, you'll save money on your at-home manicure by making it last longer. And taking a page from the pros will help make your manicure last.

"Proper cleansing of the natural nail is key," Valinoti says. So use an acetone-based nail polish remover and a cotton pad to eliminate oils and debris that can cause chipping and peeling of the nail polish.

A base coat is also a must for longer wear, says Valinoti. Good Housekeeping magazine recommends Orly's Bonder Rubberized Base Coat, which costs about $10 for the larger sized bottle. The product is designed to help bond the polish to your nails, extending the life of the manicure.

For even color that lasts, apply two thin layers as opposed to one heavy coat, Good Housekeeping recommends, "which leads to chips and dings."

When choosing a nail polish, experts say shimmery, glittery, pearlized and sparkly finishes tend to last longer -- and camouflage chips better -- than matte polishes. Also, Valinoti adds, "neutrals and opaque nude polishes are perfect for long wear and are effortless to apply."

And be sure to choose what's come to be known as "three-free" brands, brands that are free of the harsh chemicals toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate. Companies like CND, OPI, and Sally Hansen all make three-free brands of nail polish.

It's also important not to skimp on the top coat to help prolong the life of your manicure. And choose a thick, slow-drying top coat rather than quick-dry top coats.

"Save the quick-dry product for a touch-up three days after you've painted your nails," Good Housekeeping says. Valinoti recommends CND's Speedy Top Coat.

Keeping your nails moisturized daily will also help preserve your manicure and keep chipping and peeling at bay. Good Housekeeping recommends CND's SolarOil, for about $11.50.

For good deals on manicure products, shop at beauty supply stores that are open to the consumer market, such as ULTA and Sally Beauty, Valinoti says. "[And] sign up for newsletters and coupons to find out about the latest discounts and sales promotions," she adds.

These steps can help you save money on your at-home or salon manicure. And who knows? With a little extra care, maybe a hand-modeling career is in the cards, too.