Nail Technician Careers

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Acrylic, gels, nails, and silks—beautifying nails is big business. In 2012, the dollars spent in nail salons increased to a record $7.47 billion, with manicures and pedicure services leading the charge.

Nail care specialists, nail technicians, or more informally referred to as manicurists and pedicurists, are experts in the business of nails. Toenails, fingernails, artificial nails, decorative nails—you name it. They are the go-to professionals for women and men who want to look their best, and their skills include everything from preparing cuticles to filing nails to a perfect shape.

Nail care technicians build their business on referrals and the clients they serve come back time and again, because of their professionalism, cleanliness, and attention to detail. Developing strong customer relationships is at the heart of any nail care specialist’s business, and customer retention is the key to their survival.

Nail Technician Job Duties and Responsibilities

A day in the life of a manicurist often includes massaging clients’ hands, feet, and calves with soothing oils and lotions; pushing back and cutting cuticles; buffing and shining nails; and applying wraps, artificial nails, polishes, and nail art.

Many manicurists and pedicurists also offer luxurious spa therapies for their clients, including such techniques as hot stone massages and paraffin wraps.

Other duties of a nail technician include:

  • Discussing nail services and treatments with clients
  • Removing nail polish
  • Exfoliating and removing rough skin from the hands and feet
  • Cleaning and trimming nails
  • Promoting and selling nail and skincare products

Beyond the manicurist’s chair, however, nail care specialists must accomplish a number of tasks on any given day, such as:

  • Interacting with other members of the salon or spa team as to provide a seamless customer experience
  • Adhering to the highest standards of sanitation, which includes cleaning and sanitizing tools and equipment
  • Recording and updating client records
  • Marketing and working to build their business

In addition to possessing the skills required to perform a wide array of manicure and pedicure procedures, nail care technicians should:

  • Enjoy a team environment and frequent interaction with their co-workers
  • Be customer-service oriented and friendly
  • Possess excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Be organized and tidy
  • Be able to multi-task
  • Be flexible and cooperative
  • Have a high energy level
  • Be well-groomed and professional-looking
  • Be prompt and possess a good sense of time

Training to Prepare for Nail Technician Jobs

Nail technicians must be licensed in the state in which they practice through their state’s board of cosmetology or public health department. To become licensed, nail technicians must have a certain number of practice hours under their belt. Although the exact number of practice hours varies from one state to the next, the standard is between 300 and 600 hours. As such, the completion of a cosmetology or nail technician program is generally required to achieve state licensure.

Individuals may receive their training through a comprehensive cosmetology program, or they may choose to complete a program designed specifically for nail technicians. Many beauty and cosmetology schools offer a gamut of programs, ranging from comprehensive cosmetology programs, which include study in nails, makeup, hair, and massage therapy, to nails-only programs that can be completed in less than a year.

Regardless of the type of program, students learning about nails can expect to receive instruction in the following:

  • Cuticle and rough skin removal
  • Equipment and table maintenance
  • Equipment and tool storage and use (safety, sterilization, and sanitation)
  • Manicuring theory
  • Massage techniques for the hands, feet, arms, and legs (reflexology)
  • Nail filing, shaping, and polishing
  • Nail growth
  • Nail irregularities and diseases (disorders of the nails)
  • Product storage and use (safety, nail care chemicals, and their uses and technical applications)
  • Skin anatomy
  • Sterilization and sanitization
  • Customer service
  • Laws and regulations related to the practice of manicuring (personal hygiene, public health)
  • Business practices

Nail care specialist classes also educate students on specific beauty treatments for the nails, including:

  • Nail design and artistry
  • Fabric and sculpting procedures
  • Light-cured gels
  • Nail extensions, tips, and wraps
  • Acrylic nail forms, application, fills, and removal
  • Nail products (gels, polishes, etc.)

Nail specialist programs are designed to provide students with knowledge of advanced techniques for basic nail care and artificial nail care, as well as critical business planning and communication skills. Of course, hands-on training is the fundamental component of these programs.

Where do Nail Technicians Work?

Nail care specialists may work in a number of settings, including:

  • Nail salons
  • Full-service salons
  • Spas (hotels, day spas, resorts)
  • Home-based salons
  • Mobile salons

According to a 2012-13 Nails Magazine publication, the majority of nail technicians (56 percent) worked in a nails-only salon, while 29 percent worked in a full-service salon. Nail care specialists working in mobile- or home-based salon totaled just 4 percent of the total workforce, and just 3 percent worked in day spas and hotel or resort spas.

Of the nail technicians surveyed in the Nails Magazine report, 54 percent worked as the only nail technician in their salon, while 17 percent worked with one other nail technician, and 10 percent worked alongside two other nail technicians.

The survey also found that 55 percent of nail technicians were in business for themselves, either as salon owners or with rented booth space in an established salon. Just 14 percent of technicians during this time were employees of a salon, while 9 percent were full-service cosmetologists and 7 percent were students or apprentices.

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