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You probably have your pedicure routine down pat—the salon you like, the polishes that work for you, the colors that make you feel your best. But there's a new approach to the service, and it could be more hygienic, better for your nails, and better for the environment: the waterless pedicure.
Here, find out what you need to know about the service, including its benefits, what to expect during an appointment, and why you’re likely seeing waterless nail salons pop up everywhere, straight from waterless pedicure pros Rachel Apfel Glass, Karen Kops, and Lauren Dunne, and board-certified dermatologist Elise Barnett, MD.
Meet the Expert
- Rachel Apfel Glass is the founder of Glosslab, a waterless nail salon with locations in several states.
- Karen Kops is the founder of Nashville-based waterless nail salon Poppy & Monroe.
- Lauren Dunne is the co-founder of Varnish Lane, a waterless nail salon in Washington, D.C., Charleston, and Atlanta.
- Elise Barnett, MD, is a board-certified Atlanta-based dermatologist and the founder of Atlanta Skin Wellness Center.
What Is a Waterless Pedicure?
While the name might be unfamiliar, Apfel Glass tells us that waterless pedicures follow "every step of a usual pedicure, just without the water." Essentially, waterless pedicures remove the soaking step. “It just means there's no soaking tub involved,” Kops explains.
Barnett elaborates on why the treatment is effective without water, noting that “it uses heat treatments, creams, and lotions (with or without exfoliants) to hydrate and soften the skin and cuticles."
What Are the Benefits of a Waterless Pedicure?
If you think removing a soaking tub means your feet won’t get clean, think again—there’s an argument to be made that waterless pedicures are more hygienic than typical ones. For Apfel Glass, going water-free in her salons was a no-brainer. “Water is a breeding ground for germs. Even when the water is changed out between clients [at a regular nail salon], germs still live in the bowl,” she explains.
By forgoing water you can also lower the risk of water-borne infection, something Dunne often encounters as an impetus for visiting her salons. “I have people come in all the time saying they haven’t had a pedicure in years because they had an awful infection,” she says. Kops, who worked in textile design before opening her salon, says the hygiene issue sold her on the concept. “Anytime you’re dealing with skin or other gunk in a tub, especially a tub with jets, that gunk can come right back into the water, even if you clean the heck out of the thing.” (She and Dunne noted that the plastic liners only do so much to keep bacteria at bay.)
Better for the Environment—and Providers
On average, a waterless pedicure can save anywhere from 12 to 15 gallons of water per service—which, when multiplied over the number of treatments per day per salon, can add up to a lot of wasted water. Plus, says Kops, going waterless makes the services more portable. Poppy & Monroe often does its nail services in its garden on pretty days because they can.
Dunne points out that a huge benefit is that waterless treatments are also safer for Varnish Lane’s staff. By going waterless, exposure to harmful chemicals and water-borne bacteria is reduced. “It’s important to us that they have a safe space and they’re not breathing in chemical fumes,” she says. “Our providers are at the heart of the service.”
Better for Your Polish
Another reason to try a waterless pedicure is that your polish might last longer. “When your nails are soaked, they absorb water and change shape; they expand," Dunne tells us. "Then you polish your nails. Your nails will not shrink back to their natural shape until hours after the polish has dried, which can cause the polish to chip prematurely."
Are There Cons to a Waterless Pedicure?
Barnett points out that if the skin around your feet is particularly dry or scaly or if you have eczema, there could be a benefit to soaking. “Soaking the skin in water before applying moisturizers retains moisture in the skin,” she says. If this applies to you, this can be separated from your waterless pedicure and done at home instead.
What to Expect During a Waterless Pedicure
Most waterless pedicures will start with some sort of remover; for example, at Varnish Lane, the treatment begins with a plant-based polish remover instead of petroleum-based acetone. Next, there is usually a cleanse via a hot towel, which could be soaked in essential oils.
You might be offered a physical scrub instead of a callus-removing tool, which Kops says sheds dead skin much more efficiently. “When traditional salons use the callus tool with feet soaking wet, you’re not going to get as much skin off versus if it's dry and there’s friction,” she points out. You might also get a longer massage in place of the soak. “We focus on a longer massage because that’s the best part of the service,” says Dunne.
Polishes fall into familiar territory, with most waterless nail salons offering brands you might be familiar with, some of which are non-toxic. Many waterless nail salons use brands such as CND, DazzleDry, and Zoya, to name a few, and Glosslab and Poppy & Monroe both have in-house nail polish brands.
Not all waterless nail salons are the same, so check before booking an appointment to find out what kinds of emphasis the salon puts on which services and products to ensure your expectations are in line.
The Final Takeaway
For Apfel Glass, it makes sense that people are turning more and more to waterless pedicures: They last longer, are better for your nails, are better for the environment, are more hygienic, and, in some cases, are more efficient. Dunne thinks waterless salons are the way of the future as more and more in the industry have started paying attention to how waterless is changing the game for everyone involved. “The industry has been stagnant for decades and needed to change, and waterless salons are raising the industry standard as a whole. I think it’s great that consumers have more options for clean, safe places,” she says. “You don’t have to have water [for] an exceptional nail service.”