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What is a Paraffin Manicure?

By Kristin Allen
Updated May 21, 2024
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A paraffin manicure is a beauty treatment for the hands that combines nail polishing and buffing with skin softening and moisturizing. The entire hand is dipped in paraffin wax, either before or after the nails are polished, in order to seal in softness and moisture. The wax is usually left on the skin for some time, usually between five minutes and half an hour. When it is removed, the skin will typically feel silky soft, and the hands are refreshed and revitalized.

Difference From a Standard Manicure

Most standard manicures focus only on the fingernails. Manicurists may rub lotion into the fingers or provide brief palm massages, but theses activities are usually designed to increase blood flow into the fingers, which can help nail enamel adhere. In a paraffin manicure, the health of the whole hand is a priority, and ultimate relaxation is usually the goal. The incorporation of the wax is typically considered a luxury, and this sort of manicure is usually among the more expensive offerings at salons and spas.

Moisturizing Properties

Paraffin wax is quite oily, and is known for its ability to lock in moisture. When applied to the skin, it can help restore suppleness and vitality by opening pores and increasing circulation. A treatment also can have therapeutic properties, such as relieving sore muscles and joints, providing better range of motion in the hands, and easing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, eczema, arthritis, and other ailments.

Basic Process

Most salons and spas melt paraffin blocks in specialized manicure “basins” designed specifically for hand soaking. As the wax melts, manicurists usually rub patrons’ hands with a moisturizing exfoliating scrub to remove dirt and dead skin. In some cases, the nails may be shaped and polished first, but they must be given time to dry completely before the paraffin dip. Once the nails are dry and any scrubs are rinsed off, the skin is ready for the wax.

In most places, the person getting the manicure will remove any jewelry and then dip his or her hands into the softened wax in the basin. It should be warm, but not overly hot. A single coat is usually enough, but it is common to double or even triple-dip, just to ensure a good seal. The manicurist will usually slip a small plastic bag over each hand next, which helps the moisture lock in even faster. Warmed towels may be placed on top. The wax is then left to “set,” which can take anywhere from five to 30 minutes.

Some clients are concerned about sanitation in salons, and they may not want to share a basin with other customers. Although there is no indication that sharing a basin can spread bacteria as long as proper cleaning procedures are followed, manicurists may use what is called the "ladle technique" to relieve any fears. A scoop of melted wax is put in a plastic bag and the client's hands are coated inside the bag.

Wax Removal and Nail Care

Most of the time, the paraffin will easily peel off of the hands once it has had time to cool. The hands usually feel very soft at this point; manicurists may amplify this feeling by rubbing lotions or creams into the skin. If the nails are to be polished after the treatment, a dehydrator should be applied to the nails to remove any residual oils that will prevent the polish from sticking. The manicure can then proceed as usual, with the selection of nail color, nail trimming and buffing, and eventual polishing.

Added Extras

Some spas and salons will add essential oils or fragrances to their wax to make the manicure experience even more luxurious. Others will commit to more intensive hand or even full arm massages. A lot depends on the salon, the price, and the customer’s needs.

At-Home Tips

Though paraffin manicures rose to fame in the professional services sector, it is also possible to recreate the experience at home. Many stores and beauty suppliers sell the wax blocks and home-use basins for both hands and feet. It is also possible to simply melt the wax on the stove or in the microwave, although this isn't usually recommended since it may get too hot. In most cases, professional basins are preferable, because they are able to keep the material at a near-constant temperature, which will prevent premature hardening or inconsistent melting.

Precautions and Safety

Burning is the biggest risk with a paraffin manicure, so it is very important that users check the temperature before submerging hands or other body parts. The wax should be creamy and melted, but never bubbling or smoking, and it is flammable. A comfortable warm is almost always better than hot.

People with existing skin irritations like rashes or cuts should wait until they are healed before undergoing this type of treatment. When applied to broken skin, the wax can cause infection or discomfort. Used wax should never be remelted and used again, since it can contaminate the basin with dead skin and other debris.

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Discussion Comments

By animegal — On May 07, 2011

How often can you do a paraffin manicure? I usually get my nails touched up once a week. Is this too often for the wax treatment?

By manykitties2 — On May 07, 2011

For those of us wanting to add a paraffin wax treatment to our manicures, do you need to worry if you have mild eczema?

With very dry skin, I am worried that it might be painful to try. Does anyone have any experience with this?

By Sara007 — On May 04, 2011

Paraffin wax treatments are a great addition to any manicure. This is a wonderful product because it really traps moisture into your hands and leaves them feeling amazingly soft.

If you want to do the treatment at home, it can be very inexpensive and safe. You just need to make sure to carefully test your wax before putting your hands in it. No one wants a bad burn.

Usually paraffin wax can be heated to over 95 °F (35 °C) without burning. To be safe, use the double-boiler method of melting it. This basically entails one larger container with water in it that will be boiled, and a second container sitting inside that will have its contents melted through the steam produced by the evaporating water.

If you want a lovely scent to your wax, just add a few drops of an essential oil to it and stir it in with a spoon.

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