Nails 101: How to Decipher the Lingo

Today’s nail techs offer more services than a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. We asked veteran practitioner Dawn Dale of Atocha in Pacific Palisades to define the myriad choices and the most common terms.


Nail tech: The new term for manicurist. It’s been around for less than five years.

French or French manicure: Actually a very American thing. A manicure with a pink base and a white tip or an off-white tip. Ask the French about it and they’ll just look at you funny.


Acrylic: Similar to porcelain, it’s used to extend the nail.

Full set: Basically you’re creating a new set of nails. This can be done by gluing on preformed plastic nails and painting acrylic over the whole nail. I make my own using a liquid form of acrylic and a powder form. You dip your brush in the liquid then the powder. Then you form a ball on the tip of your brush and you place the product on the nail to form the shape. After a client has this done once, generally all that is required is a fill every one to three weeks.

Fill: You’re filling in the growth (near the cuticle) with the acrylic or linen or whatever product you’re using so it looks like a fresh nail. Depending on the product, a fill is generally needed every one to three weeks.

Silk or linen wrap: Silk or linen fabric (cut into small pieces) is affixed to the nails in order to strengthen them and help keep polish on.

Juliet or liquid Juliet: Twenty years ago when people did liquid Juliets, they would take paper and glue it on the nail with clear nail polish and wrap the paper underneath the nail and put a liquid fiber on top. Today a polish with a milky consistency and fibers in it is used. You put two or three coats of liquid Juliet over the whole nail. Then you use regular polish. It’s supposed to keep your nails stronger so your polish will last longer.

Square: Popular nail shape in which the tip of the nail is flat.

Round/oval: An equally popular nail shape in which the nail is more the shape of your finger: not pointy, but more of a rounded, tapered look.

Square round: A combination of square and oval in which the tips of the nails are square but the corners are rounded just a little so they’re not sharp.

Paraffin treatment: You put lotion or mineral oil on your hands (or feet), then dip them into a liquefied wax that’s very warm but not hot. The wax molds to your hand, then you put your hands in a mitt to help the lotion or mineral oil penetrate.

Buffing: It makes the nails look shiny but goes away naturally after about five days. The process involves a three-sided file with an ultra-fine grit. You’re creating different textures. The last side of the file, which is dull, creates a high gloss. More men have their nails buffed than polished.

Nail art: When I first got into the business, we used to drill a hole in the acrylic and put a diamond in, like an earring. You can also hand-paint things, put decals on, rhinestones, glitter, anything you can think of. Flowers painted on the big toe are hot right now, usually with a rhinestone in the center.