According to the US Department of Labor, there were 86,900 manicurists and pedicurists licensed in the United States in 2012. By 2022, this number is expected to increase to 100,400, representing an increase of 16 percent. In all states, except Connecticut, nail technicians must hold a valid state license in order to practice legally.
NAILS Magazine reported in a 2013 survey that 78 percent of nail professionals were licensed specifically as nail technicians, while 17 percent were licensed as cosmetologists and 9 percent were licensed as estheticians.
The shortest route to working as a manicurist in the U.S. is to earn a nail technician license, which requires the successful completion of a formal nail technician program or apprenticeship and a nail technician licensing exam.
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Completing a Nail Technician Program or Apprenticeship
To achieve licensure as a nail technician in the U.S., candidates must first complete a course of education and training, either through a traditional nail technology program or by participating in a nail technician apprenticeship.
Nail Technology Program
The duration and structure of nail technology programs are typically designed around the state licensing requirements of a particular state. Although each state has similar licensing requirements for nail technicians, the length of the program and the program’s curriculum will likely mirror the requirements for licensure in the state in which it is located. Many state boards of cosmetology maintain lists of approved nail technician programs in the state.
It is important that students understand their state’s requirements for achieving a manicurist license when choosing a program as to ensure the program meets state requirements. For example, candidates for a nail technician license in California must complete a program that is at least 450 hours in duration, while in Pennsylvania candidates need to complete a program that is 200 hours in duration. Some states, like California, require as much as 600 hours of training through a nail technician program, while other states, like Virginia, require as little as 150 hours of training in a nail technology program.
A nail technology program generally consists of two, distinct areas of study: theory (classroom) study and practical (hands-on) study. Classroom study may involve curriculum such as:
- Personal hygiene, public health (HIV/AIDS)
- Safety, sterilization, and sanitation
- History of nail care
- Nail care tools, machines, or apparatuses
- Nail care chemicals
- Bacteriology and disorders of the nails
Practical training, which often times takes place in fully functional salons within the institution, includes:
- Nail design and artistry
- Light-cured gels
- Fabric and sculpting procedures
- Acrylic nail forms, applications, fills, and removal
- Massage techniques of the hands, arms, and feet
- Nail extensions, tips, and wraps
Nail Technology Apprenticeship
Some states allow nail technician licensure candidates to complete an apprenticeship in lieu of a formal education program. Those states that accept an apprenticeship as a route to licensure have specific requirements that must be met. For example, candidates for licensure through an apprenticeship must select a licensed nail technician or cosmetologist as a sponsor, and complete a specific number of training hours.
Apprenticeship hours, like nail technician program hours, vary by state. For example, candidates for licensure in Alabama must complete at least 1,200 hours of training through an apprenticeship, which is twice the hours required for licensure through a formal nail technology school program. Likewise, candidates for licensure in Hawaii must complete 700 hours of training through an apprenticeship, but just 350 hours through a nail technician school program.
Passing a Nail Technician Licensure Examination
The second, necessary step to licensure as a nail technician is the completion of a nail technician examination. Depending on specific state requirements, the examination phase of licensure may include a written examination or a written and practical examination. Some states have their own state examination, while others use the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology’s (NIC) practical and/or written examinations.
To date, 14 states utilize the NIC’s nail technician practical examination, while 33 states utilize the NIC’s nail technician written examination.
NIC’s written nail technology examination assesses candidates in the following areas:
- Scientific concepts
- Infection control procedures
- Safety procedures
- Basic human anatomy/physiology
- Nail anatomy/physiology
- Basic chemistry
- Product function
- Nail technology procedures
- General client procedures
- Function of nail equipment and nail implements
- Nail service preparation
- Manicure services
- Pedicure services
- Basic massage movements
- Nail enhancement services
NIC’s practical nail technology examination assesses candidates on six, core domain services:
- Setup and client protection
- Nail wrap
- Nail tip
- Sculptured nail
Additional Requirements for Nail Technician Licensure
In addition to meeting the educational/training and examination requirements for licensure, candidates must meet age/education requirements set by their state board of cosmetology, which typically include being at least 16 years old and/or having completed at least the 10th grade (or its equivalent).
Other requirements for licensure often include the completion of an HIV/AIDS course and a course in state laws/regulations.
Some state boards of cosmetology require nail technicians to complete a number of continuing education credits to maintain their licenses. Nail technicians in Washington D.C., for example, must complete at least 6 continuing education credits during their licensure period, while nail technicians in Florida must complete at least 16 continuing education credits.
Although the majority of states do not require continuing education to maintain licensure as a nail technician, all states require the completion of a renewal application and the payment of a renewal fee at the end of the license period, which is usually every one to two years.