Life in Italy

A Brief Beauty Guide for the Female Expat in Italy

One of the most harrowing aspects of moving abroad for me was having to find new hair, wax and nail salons. I know; it sounds completely ridiculous. It’s not that I’m high-maintenance (literally cut my hair once per year and go to the nail salon only during the seasons that begin with “s”), or even that I’m the most perfectly groomed human on earth (just got waxed this past weekend after ~5 weeks)…but… having a go-to hairdresser, esthetician and nail technician is always a good idea for us females regardless of where we live, no?

Although I’ve yet to narrow down a trusty nail spot here in Milano, I did manage to find both amazing hair and wax salons thanks to expat groups on Facebook and lengthy Google reviews. With that said, I figured I’d share some of the things I’ve learned/experienced regarding the beauty realm here in Italy, as well as some recommendations for those living in Milano. Let’s start…

DAL PARRUCCHIERE (at the hair salon):

Some keywords to know are:

  • parucchiere–hair salon, but can also mean hairdresser
  • taglio–cut
  • piega–style
  • spuntata/spuntatina–trim

Italian hair salons, in my opinion, are pretty much the same as salons back in the States–staff all dressed in black; same services are offered; two to three people washing, cutting and styling hair; etc etc. However, there is one major difference–no tips! As with other service-based jobs in Italy, hairdressers and salon employees do not collect tips since they already earn a living wage. Of course, if you feel the service was exceptional and want to leave one, feel free to! Just know that it is absolutely not the norm in Italy.

MILANO REC.: Caruso Portaromana 131 is a upscale salon in the Porta Romana area with an attentive and talented English-speaking staff. The owner, Dario, opened the salon five years ago after having lived and worked in London for many years. His brand is affiliated with AVEDA, the American cosmetics company, and he sells its natural hair products at the salon. His younger brother also works at the salon, and actually gave me my fabulous cut a few days ago πŸ™‚

For other beauty needs, you’ll have to make an appointment at a…

CENTRO ESTETICO (beauty salon/center)

If you’re looking to get waxed in Italy, you’ll need to stop by a centro estetico. Other services offered usually include laser hair removal, manicures, pedicures, facials, massages and more. Honestly, it’s not much different than an American beauty salon, except that the latter usually offers hair services as well.

Since I quit shaving back in 2014, here’s a short glossary of some terms I’ve had to familiarize myself with while living in Italy:

  • depilazione–hair removal
  • cera–wax
  • fare la ceretta–to wax/get waxed
  • ceretta alle sopracciglia–brow wax
  • ” ai baffetti–upper lip wax (doesn’t it sound so cute in Italian??)
  • ” all’ascelle–underarm wax
  • ” alle gambe–leg wax
  • ” all’inguine–bikini wax

Although it was a f*cking struggle when I first moved here back in 2016, this time around I’m pretty fluent in Italian hair removal lingo. In fact, I’ve even upgraded from the classic strip (strisce in Italian) wax to a ceretta brasiliana (not to be confused with the classic Brazilian wax). If you’re familiar with sugaring–a hair removal technique of ancient Egyptian origins that calls for a mixture of body-temperature sugar, water and lemon juice to be slathered onto the skin and removed after a few seconds once it hardens–a ceretta brasiliana is essentially the same thing, except that the product applied to the skin is sufficiently hot. I made the switch to this hot wax method because strip wax A) is much more painful, B) takes much more time and C) leaves me sore/red for days afterwards. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, watch this video!)

Besides pricing, I noticed a couple of major differences between waxing here and waxing in the States. During a classic strip wax, Italian esthethicians use short, swift movements (often repeatedly over the SAME area and causing MANY ingrown hairs–just another reason for me to switch to hot wax!). Secondly, they usually do not touch your ‘intimate areas’ with their hands–even if they are wearing gloves. Every single time I’ve gotten waxed here in Italy, regardless of which salon I visit or what kind of wax method I choose, the sweet estheticians kindly ask me to (sorry, TMI) spread and stay put while they get to work.

(If threading is more your thing, it’s called depilazione con filo; however, it’s not so common in Italy!)

MILANO REC.: About two months ago, I had my first appointment at SUGARWAX and I am officially hooooooooked. This wax salon utilizes natural ingredients (honey and beeswax), and is conveniently located right near Parco Sempione in the center of the city. I’ve only had two appointments thus far, and both were extremely pleasant with amazing estheticians. They also sell skincare products that smell so good you’ll want to eat them, including organic body and lip scrubs!

As I mentioned above, I still need to scope out a good nail salon. Since I don’t get manicures and pedicures often, in the past, I’d usually just pop in to random centri estetici where the walking distance was short and prices, low. Consequently, the service ended up being of the same caliber. I think I’ll loosen the purse strings a bit, though, and treat myself to a proper visit at a…

NAIL SPA/SALON (oops, same in English)

You can get a manicure and pedicure at most Italian beauty salons, but–in Milano–more and more shops dedicated to just nail services are popping up all over the city. (Or maybe they were always there, and I never realized it? Boh!) ALSO, I realized not too long ago that the words “manicure” and “pedicure” derive from the Latin “manus” (hand) / “pedis” (foot) and “cura” (care)… so there’s no need to translate to English. Kind of obvious when you think about it, but fascinating nonetheless πŸ˜€

The only downside is that getting your nails done here is really expensive. Whereas I would pay less than $40 for a gel manicure and regular pedicure at a nail salon in the Bronx, here it will cost a minimum of €50 / ~$56. I’m not sure if it’s because I live in the center or what, but I do recall from years past that nail services in general cost a pretty penny in Italy. However–like I said earlier–you don’t need to tip, so I guess it balances out?

A few important words to remember when getting your nails done in Italy are:

  • smalto–nail polish
  • cambio smalto–color change
  • semipermanente–gel manicure
  • ricostruzione–tips

If you have any advice or experiences (or recommendations if you live in/near Milano!) to share regarding Italian salons / salon etiquette, let me know! Unfortunately, I don’t have a Milano nail rec. at the moment, but–when I do–I’ll be sure to update this post. Luckily for me, the weather took a drastic turn last week and temperatures dropped; so, I can wait a bit more until my first nail salon visit of the season πŸ™‚

Until then, keep calm and beauty on, belle!


  • Lise

    I’ve had two manicures and one pedicure in the last month in Termoli. I don’t know if it’s the Italian way or just in my area, but is it normal that they don’t soften your cuticles before cutting them and don’t use any hand cream? Furthermore, I’ve had the worst experience today with my pedicure. They don’t soak your feet, or treat your heels and again, no use of hydrating cream. Basically, it was just a change of nail polish with a little nail filing. I was very disappointed and am wondering if this is how it’s done here.

    I am now looking for a place that gives you a full service similar to the one in the States or in Canada where I come from.


    • Rosa P.

      Thanks for reading! πŸ™‚ Overall I’ve had better experiences with manicures here than pedicures. The treatment is definitely not the same as it would be in North America, but maybe it depends on the salon?

  • Lauren P.

    I always pay €30 for semipermanente (gel color) and my nail salon does a better job than any Italian-run salon or any American salon I’ve been ever been to. Every time I have them done in the states, I’m disappointed. People recommend Tong Tong a lot, but I think my nail salon is better. I went to the Tong Tong near San Babila once, and they only lasted about two weeks.

    Nail Spa Smile Milano
    Via Giovanni Pacini, 6, 20131 Milano MI, Italy
    +39 388 646 0900

    • Rosa P.

      Thanks for the rec., Lauren! I will have to check it out (once nail salons open again :/). I had read that Tong Tong was one of the best, but never been. Infinity Nails in Brera has become my go-to, but I’m always open to suggestions!

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