Visiting a Nail Salon: Vocabulary of Key Terms

Tori Tornreviewed bySana Liashuk / more about Editorial Process14 min
Created: Feb 27, 2023Last updated: Jan 24, 2024
Nail Salon Vocabulary

Keeping up with English terminology from the beauty industry is as important for English learners as any other terms from everyday life. Of course, you might already know some skincare vocabulary or makeup vocabulary. But have you ever paid enough attention to nail salon vocabulary? If you want to get your nails done in an English-speaking country, you have to be able to communicate with nail professionals in a clear and precise manner. It's not one of those situations where you can try to explain details with hand gestures or general phrases. Instead, you need to know the actual nail salon terms. So, without further delays, let's learn nail salon vocabulary!

Nail Phrases: Booking An Appointment And When At A Salon

First come, first served. You need to book an appointment to get your nails clean and pretty at a nail salon. You can do it online by contacting the administrator on the salon's social media or messengers or calling them to schedule an appointment directly. To do that, you'll need some useful nail phrases that you can see below. 

I would like to schedule a manicure/pedicure appointment. 

I'd like to get my nails done. 

Can I book a manicure/pedicure, please?

Do you have any openings for today? 

When is your next opening? 

Nail Salon Vocabulary: Types Of Manicure And Professionals

When you successfully book an appointment to get your nails done at a salon, it's time to learn some nail salon vocabulary. You will need it to explain what exactly you want to be done. Trust us, showing a picture alone without getting into details won't be enough. Plus, your nail specialist will ask you many questions during the procedure to ensure you'll be happy with the result after they are done. 

So, what types of nail professionals exist, and what's the difference between them all?


A manicurist is a nail specialist who cleans and trims natural fingernails and applies nail polish or some long-lasting synthetic material to nails. Also, they offer hand scrubbing, massages, and paraffin dips to nourish and moisturize the delicate hands' skin. 


A pedicurist provides the same spectrum of services but for toes. Such specialists are responsible for cosmetic and sometimes (if they had special training) medical foot treatments. In addition, they can clean your toenails and color them if you like. 

Nail technician/nail tech

A nail technician/nail tech is one of the modern nail salon terms. It's the same manicurist trained to work with a drill, gel, and acrylic products. They know how to extend the length of the nails but won't be able to paint your nails with regular nail polish out of the client's requests. People who get their nails done in the US will refer to the nail professional as a nail technician/nail tech. However, they won't call them a manicurist because it's a bit outdated. 

Nail artist

A nail artist is a nail technician who can create nail designs by hand. They usually have a drawing background and a good eye for details. So naturally, they charge more for their nail art, but it is totally worth that. They can draw some waves, flowers, animals, and even your favorite characters on your nails. But be ready to spend more time at your session, and don't forget to warn the salon administrator that you want a design so they can put in time for that. 

If you come for the appointment with an old gel or acrylic coating, your nail specialist will take it off/remove it with a special drill or soak it in acetone while your nails are covered in foils and then scratch it off with the metal spatula. After that, they will either trim your natural nails to the preferred length or do nail extensions with synthetic material and shape them as you like. Then, a nail tech will apply a base coat, two layers of the color gel, and a top coat (regular, mate, or shiny). At each stage, you'll need to cure your gel in a UV lamp. In the end, they'll apply some cuticle oil for nourishing. Remember, if you want any design, you should book an appointment with a nail artist trained to do this job.

Nail shapes you can ask your nail tech for:

  • Round
  • Oval
  • Square
  • Squoval
  • Almond
  • Coffin
  • Stiletto
8 type nail shapes

Types Of Manicures

Today, nail salons offer so many different types of manicures that customers don't always know the best option for them. Non-native English speakers are getting even more lost because of the unfamiliar nail salon vocabulary that nail professionals use. All they know is that it's not the 2000s anymore, so a regular lacquer is not the only option. But the difference between soft gel, hard gel, acrylic, dip powder, and sculpted nails is a real mystery for English learners who first come to get their nails done abroad. If you don't want to catch yourself thinking, "What is the nail tech saying?" you definitely need to sort out some basic nail vocabulary, especially types of manicures. 

Regular lacquer/Nail polish / Nail varnish

Regular nail polish is a lacquer applied to fingernails or toenails as decoration. It has been on the market since 1916. The Northam Warren Corporation was the first company to introduce innovative products to women. Since then, the nail varnish formula has undergone many changes to become what we know today. It's been the only way of decorating nail plates almost for a century before nail tech companies came up with more long-lasting solutions. 

You can get your nails done with a regular lacquer at home or a salon. In both cases, you should stick to the correct application procedure so it would last at least for several days. The pros of the manicure with regular nail polish are its low price and easy removal. However, many customers switch to other types of manicures because, with this one, you must wait 20-10 minutes until it's fully dry and you can do your things. Plus, regular nail polish doesn't last long and can start chipping off after the slightest pressure on the lacquer. And making any nail art with it is pretty challenging, the options are very limited. The manicure with regular nail polish will fit people who have a tight budget for the nail procedure or tend to change the color often. 

Soft gel

Soft gel became a revolution in the nail industry because it allowed keeping the manicure fresh and shiny for more than two weeks. Such manicures must be cured under an LED lamp or UV light to make the coating hard. Soft gel mani became popular in the 2010s and remains one of the most convenient solutions for nail clients in the busy world. They don't need to wait an extra half an hour until the coating is fully dry, it is cured in less than a minute. Even though a soft gel manicure requires to be soaked off with acetone and foil to get removed, the risk of chips is minimal. Plus, you can ask for any type of nail art you want.

Full-coverage soft gel tips

Full-coverage soft gel tips are a perfect manicure for those who want to get long nails quickly. First, the nail tech glues special plastic tips in different sizes and shapes to the natural nails with more gel. Only after that do they apply a soft gel onto the tips. The main benefit of such a manicure is that it can even out your nail shape. On top of that, extra length allows a nail artist to go crazy with practically any design that a client may require. Full coverage soft gel tips would last even longer than soft gel manicures - more than three weeks - but will also cost a bit more money. 

Hard gel

Hard gel is another example of the manicure and nail words you can hear at a salon. As in soft gel manicures, the nail tech uses gel to coat the client's natural nails, but it's much thicker. The protocol for applying hard help is the same as for soft gel. First, the manicurist taps into a base coat, then colors, and ends up with a top coat. Then, all the layers must be cured under a UV or LED light. You should pay attention to this type of manicure to strengthen your nails. It will last up to a month and help you to protect your nails from mechanical damage so you can from them longer. However, remember that the hard gel removal procedure is different. Nail techs file it off with the special drill. It's totally safe if performed by a trained professional. 


An acrylic manicure combines liquid and powder mixed and applied to the nail plate, which gets harder after a few minutes. It is the best option for those who like really hard nails, dramatic length, and/or nail art. Acrylic nails last from two to three weeks. And they cost more or less like hard gel. It doesn't require curing under an LED lamp or UV light. The nail technician will soak the coating in acetone or file them with a drill to remove it. 

Dip powder

Dip powder is an acrylic manicure with a different protocol for applying the material. Here nail techs don't mix the liquid and powder before applying them to nails. Instead, they use the brush to cover the nails with liquid and then dip the finger into the powder or sprinkle the nail with it, which is much more sanitary. After repeating it several times, they file the coating to smooth it out. Since it's also acrylic, there is no need to cure the material. It drys itself in a couple of minutes. Surprisingly, the price for such a manicure is lower than for the rest of the long-lasting options. 

Sculpted nails

Sculpted nails are a type of gel extension when the nail tech build off the free edge with a sculpting form. It also requires to be cured with an LED or UV lamp. After the material is cured, the manicurist removes the paper form and either adds another layer of gel or sculpts the perfect shape and buffs the coating with a drill to even it out. Sculpted nails are similar to natural nails meaning that they remain flexible and can be damaged. You will pay more to sculpt your nails because of the additional materials for building the free edge. The price can even vary depending on the length. 


When At Nail Salon: Description Words For Manicure

You might be interested in nail designs if you are tired of plain-colored nails. Some English nail design terms are easy to understand intuitively, but some require more profound knowledge. That is why we've made you a nail salon vocabulary design cheat-shit. 

French tip nails

French tip nails is a nail salon description for a nail design with a band of white polish across the tip of the nail and clear or pale pink polish below. It originated in 1975 when the President and CEO of Orly International, Jeff Pink, was asked to find a universal lacquer shade to match the wardrobes for different movie scenes. Directors were angry and upset that redoing nails on sets took a lot of time, equaling a lot of money. So they needed a solution from Jeff, who worked as an American beauty supplier in Hollywood then. And Pink did what he was asked to. The film industry was so grateful for his «invention» since it saved much money for film production. The nail design was named «French tips nails» after Jeff Pink introduced it to designers during fashion shows. 

Hailey Bieber nails         

Hailey Biber nails is a pearly iridescent mani, achieved by applying a light neutral gel base coat and topping with a chrome powder. This nail design became a massive trend on TikTok after folks paid attention to Hailey Bieber's nails at the Met Gala. After 78 million views for the search "#HaileyBieberNails" on TikTok, you won't find a nail technician who won't know what you are asking about. 

Chocolate-glazed donut nails 

This one is uncured from experiments with Hailey Biber nails. It's the same design, except in this case, nail tech covers the nails with a chocolate gel coat instead of the neutral and then tops it with a chrome powder. As a result, you end up with pretty nails that look like a chocolate-glazed donut. 

Euphoria nails 

The HBO Max trending series Euphoria led to a new nail trend called Euphoria nails. People want to create the surreal and extraordinary nail designs that the show's main characters wear. The makeup and now nail design of every main female character in Euphoria reflect their personality. The nail artist Natalie Minerva is the one who came up with the concept of nail designs for Cassie's, Maddy's, and Kat's characters. She personally creates every nail look for the show. And the Euphoria fans do appreciate them enough to ask their nail technicians to repeat it. 

Comic nails/Pop-art nails

The character features of the comic nails are thin black lines applied around the perimeter of the nails, white lines and dots that look like reflections of the light, and bright neon colors like those from the comic books. All of that helps to create the illusion of the 3D effect. The pop-art nails give a cartoon aesthetic and look like legit graphic drawings. Hot pinks, greens, reds, and yellows are the most used colors for this nail design. The mate top usually intensifies its graphic effect. 

Swirl nails

Swirl nails are one of those nail salon description terms that are worth remembering. It's been one of the hottest nail art trends in 2022-2023, even though the 60s inspired it. You could've seen swirl nails all over Instagram and TikTok. The beauty of it is that the nail tech can draw swooping and curving lines as you want, so the design will always look unique. 

Ombre nails

When one color of nail polish is blended into another, creating a seamless gradient, such nail design is called ombre nails. It can be done in several different techniques for applying the colors, but the result remains the same. In this design, you can combine any colors you want.  

Marble nails

Marble nails are a nail design when after applying and curing, the main color nail tech adds a few colored lines onto the clear top coat creating blurred lines, so it reminds the marble stone. Marble nails may seem like a complicated design to make. However, experienced nail techs will complete one nail in less than a minute. 

Cat eye nails/Magnetic nails vs. Velvet nails

The nail tech must use a special magnetic soft gel and a magnet to give your nail the reflective, dimensional look of a cat's eye. When held correctly, the magnet helps the magnetic particles inside the gel to move in a particular direction to create a desirable effect. However, it is a bit outdated. So nail artists developed a new trendy nail design with the soft magnetic gel. When the magnetic glitter polish is applied without a magnet, it reflects the light like crushed velvet.

Reflective nails

Reflective nails is a manicure done with a particular type of nail polish. It looks like a normal glitter nail coating a natural light, but once exposed to a direct flashlight or any other bright light, it creates the effect of a crushed diamond. It sparkles like crazy!

Nail Salon: Description Words For Manicure

How To Learn Nail Salon Terms With Promova

Learning such topics as nail salon vocabulary goes further than the standard English learning programs. Fortunately, the language learning platform Promova can offer you individual English lessons with a personalized learning plan considering not only your current level of fluency and goals but also your interests. Our professional certified tutors always listen to your requests and prepare lessons according to the desirable topics. So, we have no problem creating a private class with a tutor where you can learn and practice nail salon vocabulary. You can choose a 25, 50, or 90-minute lesson to explore a preferred topic. The most significant benefit is that we teach English through English to fully immerse our students in the language. And the cherry on top, the first trial class is free after signing up at Promova. 


This article aimed to give you as much nail salon vocabulary as possible. After reading this text, you should be able to participate in a client-nail tech conversation confidently. It shouldn't be a problem to ask for a desirable type of manicure, nail shape, or design. Your mani-pedi appointments in English will become even more pleasant with a significant amount of the nail salon terms in your glossary. 


Does a nail technician have to have a degree?

Nail technicians don't have to have a university or college degree to learn how to do nails. However, they must graduate from school and be above 16 to enroll in special training programs to gain all the necessary skills. In addition, future nail professionals must complete a nail technology or manicure program. There they will learn how to use all the tools and materials correctly and sanitary protocols to keep their equipment clean and safe. Only then will they be able to take an exam to obtain a license to start working as a nail technician. Overall, to become a nail technician, a person will need 3 to 24 months, depending on whether they decide to get a certificate course in nail technology or an associate's degree in cosmetology. 


What is a European manicure?

A European manicure is a grooming nail procedure when the cuticle remains intact. According to the technology, hands are soaked in warm water to soften the cuticle and make pushing it back to clean the nail plate easier before applying the nail color. European manicure involves trimming the nails with a nail file or drill without cutting the cuticle or horny skin around the nails with manicure scissors. The nail professionals end the procedure by applying cream or lotion to moisturize the skin. 

What are press-on nails?

Press-on nails are artificial nails made of acrylic resin, gel, or ABS plastic that are supposed to be glued to the natural nails. In most countries, they were popular back in the 90s and 2000s. However, many people in the US still use them as an alternative to pricy and time-consuming salon manicure procedures. You can buy press-on nails in stores or online and apply them yourself. You won't need any previous experience, just read the instruction that comes with a set. They come in different forms and colors and with various designs. When applied correctly, press-on nails can last up to two weeks. 

Are there any idioms with “nail”?

There are quite a few idioms with the word "nail." However, in most cases, the term refers to a small metal spike instead of the hard surface of the finger. The most useful idioms with "nail" that you can use in day-to-day life are "a bed of nails," which means something uncomfortable, "pay on the nail," which defines as paying on the spot immediately, and "hitting the nail on the head" which emphasizes that you've said or done the exact right thing.


Saige BishopFeb 6th, 2024
I live in London and have never been able to communicate well in a beauty salon, but now I know everything I need!
PromovaAug 1st, 2023
Thank you for your question! Safety is paramount in a nail salon to ensure the well-being of both customers and salon professionals. The article stresses the significance of maintaining a clean and hygienic environment. Regularly sanitizing tools, using disposable items when possible, and sterilizing reusable instruments are essential practices. Salon professionals should also wash their hands thoroughly between customers to prevent the spread of infections. For customers, it is crucial to inspect the salon's cleanliness and inquire about their sanitization practices before receiving any nail service.
Mercia BanfordAug 1st, 2023
What safety measures are important for both customers and salon professionals in a nail salon?
Andrew SkrypnykMar 3rd, 2023