For centuries women have gone to great lengths to look their best - spending hours primping and preening. But if you don't have time to soak, Cleopatra-style, in a bath of milk and honey, how can you achieve a polished, well-groomed look? A quick trip to one of Hong Kong's many nail bars might be the answer. A 30-minute manicure is an inexpensive, quick-fix solution for women who like to look good, but are short of time. Ten years ago, a manicure would involve grooming the cuticle, filing the nail to the desired shape and dabbing on some polish to finish off. Today it is more likely to include a French manicure, where a white strip is painted onto the end of each nail to give it an elegant, clean finish. Nail bars also offer nail extensions, known as gel nails, and nail art for the more adventurous. Nail art is the latest trend in nails and is very popular in the United States and in Japan. Gel nails are constructed by applying resin on top of the natural nail which hardens to create a false nail. These nails form the base for any amount of creative decoration, including sparkling powder, polish and semi-precious stones. In Japan, nail art is a huge industry. Specialist magazines feature pages and pages of new designs, and competitions are held to pit the country's top nail artists against each other. But Hong Kong is relatively new to nail art and most of the women here are shy of making such an elaborate statement with their nails. That's the view of Susan Yan Chui-wa, director and technical officer of Susan's Nails, which was set up by Ms Yan 10 years ago in the middle of a housing estate in Kowloon. It was her first salon and she now has three. 'Women in the beauty business love nail art, but women in executive posts prefer something more plain, more professional looking,' Ms Yan said. 'Professional women will still have gel nails applied because they last longer than a regular manicure but they will have a French manicure instead of bright colour or dramatic designs.' Pedicures are also becoming more popular and clients at the Mandarin Spa at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong would often choose a French manicure for their toenails, said salon guest relations manager Fathima Jowharsha. There was a definite trend towards natural looking nails and improved personal grooming in Hong Kong, Ms Jowharsha said. 'It takes a while to convince someone to [have regular manicures and pedicures], but once they do they are hooked because they know it gives the impression that they maintain themselves well.' The Mandarin Spa and Susan's Nails do all of their staff training in-house and are constantly updating their staff with the latest products and techniques, but it is possible to learn the requisite skills at one of Hong Kong's many beauty schools. At Frederique Academy, manicure, pedicure, gel nails and nail art is taught as part of an intensive beauty specialist diploma course which lasts seven months and costs HK$30,000. It is one of the few English-speaking courses in the region and demands a great deal of its students. 'I have students of all ages,' said Bernadette Ante Chrismas Tuti, educator at Frederique Academy. 'Some find it hard, particularly if they are older or if English is not their first language.' The students need to put in a lot of hours of practice at home and study the theory carefully, she said. Ms Yan has found that some young people are not prepared to put in this kind of effort. In her experience, young job seekers in Hong Kong look for easy options without being prepared to go through training, and they are not inclined to kneel down in front of clients to perform pedicures, which presents her with a significant obstacle. 'Kids are seldom asked to do housework by their parents any more, and they find it demeaning to get down on their knees to work. It is always the first question that I ask in an interview: Can you accept that you will have to kneel to give pedicures?' Despite this problem, Ms Yan said there were still good trainees to be found in Hong Kong and that paying commission to staff who stayed beyond the first six months ensured long-term loyalty. 'It is difficult to get good staff, but once we have found them and they have stayed beyond the first six months, they stay with us for years. They can earn a lot more here than elsewhere and we do their marketing and give them the backup they need, so they can concentrate on their job,' Ms Yan said.