HOW TO NAIL THAT LOOK; Get the perfect manicure and pedicure.
WOMEN - and some men - have long had a fascination with growing their fingernails and embellishing them in the name of fashion.
In the ancient world natural dyes and lacquers were used to stain and paint nails and in some cultures both men and women wore long nails as a sign of high social status.
Today, manicures, pedicures and nail art are so popular that nail bars are springing up just about everywhere and beauty therapists have to work hard to keep up with the trends.
"Many women don't feel properly dressed without having their nails done," says Rachael Kenyon, principal lecturer at the White Rose School of Health and Beauty. "It's not seen as a luxury or a treat - it's a necessity."
The school, one of Huddersfield's training providers for the beauty industry, runs post-graduate courses in the latest nail techniques. It is seeing a dramatic rise in interest for places.
Training courses for Minx nails, for example - a relative newcomer to the industry - take place several times a year. In the past 12 months the college has trained more than 80 people in that technique alone.
For women who want to enhance their natural nails there is an almost bewildering range of possibilities from simple buffing to full-on diamante-studded acrylic tips.
Today we're offering a guide to the main players: Minx - The new kid on the block, Minx is a technique that involves 'wrapping' nails with a plasticised sheet which is then cut to shape. Invented by an American who wanted something hard-wearing and chip-resistant, it arrived in the UK about two years ago and, says Rachael, "demand is very high."
This trademarked nail system involves the use of an infra-red lamp to heat the nail film. It has attracted a lot of celebrity attention and is worn by Victoria Beckham, Lady Gaga and Rihanna, to name but a few.
Advantages: On the toes Minx can last for several weeks. Expect it to last for less on the fingertips but it still beats traditional polish. It comes in a wide variety of colours and designs - patterns and images not possible with ordinary techniques. Better than varnish for people with an allergy. It has no drying-down or curing time.
Disadvantages: Does not extend the length of the natural nail and can take up to an hour to apply. It is more costly than a conventional file and polish.
Expect to pay pounds 20 to pounds 25 in a salon.
Shellac - Another new and increasingly popular trademarked technique. Shellac is a tough, long-lasting varnish applied like conventional polish and then hardened under an ultra-violet light. A salon-only treatment, it looks set to take over from ordinary varnish. "You get a chip-free finish that is instantly dry and people think it's amazing," says beauty therapist Helen Wood, who teaches nail techniques part time.
Advantages: Being able to walk out of the salon with no worries about spoiling the polish. Extremely hard wearing and glossy. Strengthens natural nail and 'irons out' any bumps or ridges.
Disadvantages: You need a good natural nail as the polish doesn't lengthen the nail. Still quite costly and some salons will not have a particularly extensive collection of colours. If peeled off it will remove a layer of natural nail so Shellac needs to be removed by soaking in acetone for 10 minutes.
Expect to pay pounds 20 to pounds 25.
Gel - An alternative to Shellac to strengthen and smooth out imperfect nails. The gel is applied with a special brush, hardened under ultra-violet light and then sculpted and polished.
Advantages: A tough, hard-wearing finish that is good for restoring damaged nails. The odourless gel is less likely to cause an allergic reaction than some techniques.
Disadvantages: Unfortunately the removal of gel nails by soaking in acetone and filing away the residue can damage fragile or brittle nails. Expect to pay around pounds 20 to pounds 25.
Acrylic - The fashion for adding acrylic tips to short nails has been around for nearly two decades now and its popularity is only starting to wane. Rachael says there are some health and safety issues relating to the use of the acrylic powders and solvents used in this technique. Anyone now working on acrylic nails all day should wear a protective mask. Advantages: Acrylic tips can extend nails to any length and are strong.
Rachael said: "They are still popular with people who have a job where they are using their hands a lot, but if you haven't got good nails to start with they're not really a good idea.
"They last until nails grow to the point where there is a need for 'in-filling' at the base of the nail.'' Disadvantages: Most likely to cause allergies and because they can lift skin away from the nailbed they are a slight infection risk.
Destructive to natural nail when they need to be removed. Silk and fibreglass wraps give a similar effect with fewer disadvantages. Expensive.
Expect to pay a minimum of pounds 30 to pounds 35.
Conventional polish - The cheap and cheerful option and one that can be done at home but without a good base coat to prevent the nail from staining and a top coat to give the varnish staying power, traditional polish has a relatively short life.
Advantages: You can do it yourself and there's a huge range of colour choices. A salon treatment will be around pounds 10 to pounds 15. Disadvantages: Many polishes contain toxic or carcinogenic substances such as phthalates, toluene and formaldehyde. However, in the past decade nail varnish manufacturers have been under pressure to phase these out for kinder, less harmful chemicals. If in doubt, check the 'ingredients' label. Four layers of varnish can take several hours to dry properly.
Buffing - The only natural enhancement. This involves rubbing the nails with a mildly-abrasive surface to erase the fine lines and ridges. A good technician can get nails looking glassily smooth as if they had a coating of clear varnish.
Advantages: No chemicals, no fuss, no drying time.
Disadvantages: You need good nails and, obviously, there's no colour involved. Too much buffing will thin the nails. Expect to pay pounds 5 to pounds 10.
* STAR APPEAL: Rihanna (left) and a close-up of her Shellac nails. Lady Gaga goes for the golden touch * FINISHING TOUCHES: Helen Wood (above) and Rachael Kenyon, of the White Rose School of Health and Beauty, * HAPPY FEET: Examiner Editorial support assistant Sarah Bull (below) was our Minx nails model. After nearly two weeks her sparkling pedicure was still d looking good