The latest in nail enhancement technology has transformed the manicure industry. Artificial nails no longer have that fake look that transforms an elegant hand into a weapon-like talon. Instead, advancements in acrylic, gel and soak-off gel nails are making it easier for women to achieve a natural, polished look with minimum effort, even if they have busy work schedules. Chilly Yeung, who has been a nail technician at ManiPedi, owned by Christine Cheng, for over seven years, reports that office ladies, OLs, are the salon’s main clientele. Nail enhancements come in three forms: acrylic, gel and soak-off gel. Acrylic nails are the oldest form of nail extensions. They are formed by the chemical reaction of a liquid and powder to form a rigid structure that dries into a hard resin, binding to the nail. This lasts three to four weeks. Acrylic nails are not as glossy, and frequent usage tends to damage the fingernail. Helen Leung, owner of Rainbow Nails, notes that they are also thicker than other nail enhancements, making nail looks slightly lumpy. Fret not, because there’s an even better nail solution. Gel nails are crystal clear, thin, lightweight, damage-free, odorless, and natural looking. They are the most common nail enhancements these days, and need not be removed, only refilled when the nail grows. Once considered a ritual reserved for special occasions, gel nails have become the rage. The procedure is simple: a technician applies the gel formula to each nail, and uses a UV light to set the nail. Once the nail is set, the technician shapes each nail to achieve the look you desire. Leung says that women are now incorporating the grooming practice into their daily lives in order to look “confident and beautiful.” In addition to looking great, gel nails also have the added benefit of protecting your nails. “Gel nails save my nails,” says Jessica Wong, a nail technician at In the Buff. Having worked at In the Buff for four years, Wong says that they offer a full guarantee on the products. If any damage does occur to the nail, it is because of over using the machine when filing the nail, which makes the nail thinner and weaker. The latest technique that’s catching on with many women is soak-off gel nails, also known as soft-gel nails or by the brand Calgel. They do not enhance your nails, but help sustain your nail polish for two to three weeks—depending on your nail care regime—and only takes an hour and a half to do. Most of the demand for soak-off gel nails comes from OLs who do not want excessively bling nails, but who are seeking a simple and elegant-looking manicure without having to slot a weekly salon visit into an already tight schedule. Leung, who has over ten years of experience with nails, says that with soak-off gel nails, the gap that occurs when the nails begin to grow can be temporarily filled with OPI nail polish. It’s very convenient because OPI offers the same colors in its polishes and soak-off solutions. You can even do it yourself between salon visits, though eventually you will need to return to the professionals because soft-gel nails do require UV light for best results. In addition to being low maintenance, soak-offs look spa fresh even after weeks, and does not harm the natural nail. “They cause absolutely no damage to your nails and are much easier to apply and even to remove,” says ManiPedi’s Yeung. Nail enhancements are beautiful, trendy and a quick nail fix for the client, but are they easy for the technicians to do? Rainbow Nail’s Leung says that it requires a lot of patience, practice, hard work, and a definite love of nails in order to do them perfectly, while not damaging the client’s nails, and yet still striving to provide customer satisfaction that’s equal to price of the treatment. But for Leung, the best part is that “each client is different, and so it is never monotonous. You keep learning something new each time.” She says that the most significant job of the technician is to make sure that she solves the client’s problems—whether it’s nail biting, distorted nails, or weak nails. The prices for acrylic, gel and soak off nails range from $200 to over $2,000. The question is, is it worth the price? Edun Sun, a client at In the Buff, says that she spends around $4,000 annually on nail enhancements. “Because they last for around four weeks, way longer than nail polish does, it is worth the price,” she says. Leung says that good, branded nail products are fairly expensive, and with over an hour’s worth of effort in doing the nails for each client, $500 for a full set of gel nails is worth it. It’s good to note, however, that if you’re paying over a grand for them, you’re paying for the experience—the ambience, the ginger tea, a comfortable massage chair, and soothing music to give yourself a treat. The Nail File Whether you’re in search of a proper pamper or a no-frills fill, we located the five best salons in town for your gel and acrylic fix. In the Buff Gel or acrylic nails from $399 for the first visit, $590 for subsequent visits. Private parties from $5,000. 2/F, 19 Yun Ping Rd., Causeway Bay, 3585-7031, www.inthebuff.com.hk . ManiPedi Gel or acrylic nails from $800. Room 902, Abdoolally House, 20 Stanley St., Central, 2815-3319, www.manipedi.com.hk . N4Nail Gel nails from $168. Shop 393ABC, 2/F Chungking Express, 36-44 Nathan Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui; 3/F, Percival St., Causeway Bay, 2312-0021, www.n4nail.com . Nail Salon Gel nails from $480. 22/F, The Loop, 33 Wellington St., Central, 2104-7898. Rainbow Nails Gel or acrylic nails from $650. Unit 503, 5/F, Canton House, 54-56 Queen’s Rd. Central, Central, 2840-0660, www.rainbownails.com.hk .