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Nail Salon Etiquette 101: Tips for What Not to Do When Getting Your Nails Done

When painting someone's nails, you have to be steady-handed, laser-focused, and sociable—all at the same time. It sounds like a tough gig, but according to Barb Shea, a professional nail artist, it's easy if you have great clients. Barb helped put together this handy guide to nail salon etiquette.

What's standard nail salon tipping etiquette?

For a manicure or a pedicure or any nail service, you should tip what you would at a restaurant: 15%–20% is an indicator of great service. "Sometimes we even get 25% tips," Barb said. She also recommended that clients pay and tip just before the polish goes on their fingers. That way, they don't mess up their nails digging into their purse.

Getting more than one service? Check out our complete guide to tipping at the salon and spa.

Is it rude to show up with old polish on your nails?

Nope! "We don't mind," Barb said. In fact, it's pretty much a requirement if you have old no-chip polish on your nails. "Don't pick off your no-chip!" Barb said. "People say, 'I want my polish off because my nails need to breathe.' The actual nail is dead cells. It can't breathe!"

So there you have it. When in doubt, just leave that old color on there.

To avoid polish chips between appointments, learn how to make a manicure last longer.

Should I shave my legs before a pedicure?

Nail artists and massage therapists agree: a little leg fuzz is no big deal. "Frankly, we don't even notice. It doesn't bother us."

Is it rude if I read the whole time or fall asleep?

According to Barb, reading is fine, and falling asleep is a compliment—sometimes that's even her goal. "I do reflexology ... [and when] I hit the central nerve that relaxes you, more than likely you'll fall asleep."

What if I'm incurably ticklish?

You can tell your nail technician that you're ticklish, but Barb said that it's rarely a problem. However, if you're truly, uncontrollably giggly, nail artists have an ace up their sleeves. "There's a part in your foot that nail technicians are trained to pinpoint ... that can prevent you from being ticklish. If you're looking at the bottom of your foot and you grab your pinkie and your big toe and flex them inward, it's where the indentation is."

In reflexology, this is the part of the foot that corresponds to your solar plexus. Barb said that once she presses on this area, even the most skittishly ticklish clients have been surprised by how relaxing their treatments became.

My feet are gross. Does that bother you?

"Oh, we've seen it all," Barb said. "We'd rather educate our clients than be grossed out. So if we see a built-up callus, we'll reduce it as much as we can and then give the client recommendations [to keep it from coming back]. As far as yellow toenails, that's usually from polish, [and] we'll tell them how to take care of it."

Fungus doesn't phase Barb, either. "If someone were to have a foot fungus, we'll ask them, 'Have you noticed your toenails looking different?' Nine times out of 10, they already know what they have. We can't diagnose them, but we can refer them to a podiatrist."

What if someone decides that they don't want a polish color after it's been applied?

Switching out your color early on isn't a big deal. Usually, clients realize they'd prefer a different shade after just one nail has been painted. Certain salons, including Team Blonde, also have what's called a nail wheel to help clients preview different colors. "There are individual fake nails with all the colors, so [clients] can actually put in on their finger to see if it matches their skin tone," Barb said.

For color and nail-art inspiration, explore our top 5 favorite summer nail looks.

What is your biggest pet peeves as a nail artist?

According to Barb, talking on your cell phone when there are other clients in the salon is a big nail salon etiquette no-no. "If you're alone in the room it doesn't bother me ... [but otherwise] it's disruptive to the other people getting a service done."