Dummy Dictionary: Nails

Ok - so you wanna get your nails done. Do you know what you want? Maybe you’re just looking for a clean up and polish switch. Maybe it’s your first time in a salon and you’re totally overwhelmed by the colors and options. Maybe you wanna look like Cardi B and that’s ALL you know! We get it the confusion – figuring out what shape, style, or product will work best can send you down a Google rabbit hole, with 20 tabs open and no end in sight. So we’ve rounded up (no pun intended omg!) the basics here to help you make informed decisions and get the manicure of your dreams.

The Foundation


The true cuticle is a barrier to keep bacteria out of the nail plate. Any trimming should just be to tidy up the edges and be kept to a minimum. Excess cuticle trimming can lead to nail infection (especially if the tools are not sterile) and swelling. We recommend just asking for a “clean up” around the cuticle edges.

Nail Bed

This is the skin underneath the nail. Not to be confused with nail plate, below.

Nail Plate

What we consider the actual “nail”. This plate is made up of keratin formed by amino acids. It is connected to the skin at the tip of the finger and is constructed of several layers. The health of the cuticle also affects how healthy the nail plate is.

Britney had a totally square nail in her iconic Toxic video (so 2003. Loves it.)

Britney had a totally square nail in her iconic Toxic video (so 2003. Loves it.)

The Shapes

These can be achieved by filing your natural nail, or with tips.


The nail is essentially the same width end to end and squared at the tip with right angles. Super common in the early 2000s (think Britney Spears in Toxic)


A classic shape that flatters most hands. Very softly rounded and with no corners or edges at the tip. A great shape for people with weak nails since corners = more stress on the nail.

Square-Oval aka "Squoval"

A combo of square and oval. Rounded edges on a square nail. A very natural looking shape that does not create stress on the nail.


A common shape especially with shorter nails. Similar to square but with no hard edges as the corners have been rounded off. Generally mimics the shape of the nail at the cuticle. Like oval, a great choice to protect weak nails.

A round nail we love. Pic via  @unistella_by_ek_lab

A round nail we love. Pic via @unistella_by_ek_lab


Another classic and timeless shape (one of our personal favs) that flatters most hands. Slightly tapered towards the free edge with a narrow rounded tip. It’s v classic – think Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor. If you have weak nails you will probably need artificial tips or some sort of reinforcing to keep this shape from breaking.


A longer nail often achieved with the use of artificial tips. Very narrow on the sides and very pointed on the end. Common today with influencers and beauty bloggers (and on ya girl Cardi B.) Gives you a bit of a witchy vibe.

Coffin or Ballerina

A longer nail often achieved with the use of artificial tips that is narrow on the sides and squared off at the tip. Another beauty blogger fav. If you have weak nails, artificial tips will probably be necessary for these, too.

Coffin nails - a instagram model's fave. pic via  @kekedanae20

Coffin nails - a instagram model's fave. pic via @kekedanae20

The Style


Pre-molded plastic artificial nails used to create an extension and lengthen your natural nail. Bonded on and cut to your desired length and shape. This usually has an additional cost to your other services. It is also possible to create length without the use of plastic tips. These are referred to as “extensions” and are more time consuming and costly.

Note! If you’ve never worn fake nails then we don’t recommend starting with super long tips. It sounds ridiculous, you will literally have to relearn muscle memory on everyday tasks: texting, opening doors, brushing your teeth, wiping your booty...

Fill or Fill-in

When product is used to fill in the space between the new nail growth and the old product. Can be used with gel nails (not gel polish - this is different), or acrylic nails. This is required about every two weeks to maintain artificial nails, or you’ll have a gap at the cuticle where your nail grows in.

Silk wrap

A nail-sized piece of silk bonded and adhered to the nail plate. Used to help repair or strengthen a cracked natural or artificial nail (the WORST, right??) Can be polished over.

French Manicure (pink and whites)

The forever iconic pink nail and white tip look. Can be achieved several different ways, polish, gels, airbrushing, acrylic, etc. There are several variations to this look but  generally this refers to one color on the nail plate and another color on the tip.


Classic and simple. A color that is applied to the nail and dries with time. This is the step you’ve likely been doing at home your whole life. The good news is there are now several “safer” brands available than what we used when we were kids

Sometimes simple goes a long way. pic via  @nail_unistella

Sometimes simple goes a long way. pic via @nail_unistella

Gel Polish Manicure

Often referred to as “Shellac”. A common salon alternative to regular polish because it lasts longer and resists chipping. Applied like a traditional polish and then cured under UV or LED light. Can not be filled in or used with artificial tips. Cotton balls soaked in acetone and wrapped in aluminum foil will do the trick to remove your grown out gel polish.

Note! the word “Gel” can be very misleading as there are several different types of gels: Shellac, UV gels, Hard Gels, Builder Gels, Colored Hard Gel. Some are even acrylic/gel hybrids. It’s best to confirm with your manicurist that you’re both on the same page when it comes to this word.

Hard Gel/Builder Gel

Used to build a nail, either on the natural nail or with a nail form for a nail enhancement/extension. It can also be used with artificial tips. Cured under UV and sometimes LED light. Generally looks more natural than acrylic but is more costly. Hard gels must be filed off usually with an electric drill. Soaking in acetone won’t do the trick! Ask for a fill every two weeks to maintain this product.

Almond nails are a great way to do tips for a softer, less intense look (we do love intense, though). pic via  nailpolishaddicted

Almond nails are a great way to do tips for a softer, less intense look (we do love intense, though). pic via nailpolishaddicted


Generally cheaper than hard gel. Made by combining a liquid acrylic product (monomer) with a powders acrylic product (polymer) that form a soft ball that can be molded into a nail shape. Adheres well to a natural nail or artificial tip. Set with a UV light. Very strong and great for people looking to keep artificial tips or grow their natural nail longer. Can be maintained with fill-ins every two weeks.

Fun fact: Acrylic nails were invented by a dentist to prevent nail biters.


A colored powder that sets without the use of UV light. Layered and then buffed down to create a natural but robust nail. Can be used on top of a natural nail or tips. This is the only extension/tip option that can be filed and shaped in between salon visits to maintain the length you like. Can not be filled in – it requires a full soak off, so this option is great for one time events or the occasional falsie.

Press On

The DIY, one-night-only option! Pick these up at your local drugstore or beauty supply and with just a little glue you’ll be ready for party or photoshoot. Usually soak off with warm water if they don’t fall off on their own first ;)

Thank you @nailson7th @jennys_spa_bx love my nails ❤️❤️❤️OK I BEEN DOING MY NAILS WITH HER FOR 5 years!!!!!

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