Nails are a big business, with NAILS Magazine reporting nearly 54,000 nail technicians working in 380,000 nail salons across the United States. In 2013-14, NAILS also reported that more than $8 billion was spent on nail care services, which was a 12 percent increase from the year prior.
Nail technicians, also known more informally as manicurists and pedicurists, are beauty specialists who focus on grooming and beautifying a client’s fingernails and toenails.
A nail technician is trained to perform a wide array of services related to the care of the hands, feet, and nails:
- Cleaning, trimming, and shaping the nails
- Removing calluses
- Applying synthetic nails and nail tips
- Applying polish, fillers, and strengtheners
- Applying decorative details, such as airbrush designs and embellishments
- Wrapping nails with acrylics
- Trimming and removing cuticles
- Moisturizing the skin of the hands and feet
- Removing dead skin using scrubs, masks, and other exfoliation methods and products
- Massaging the hands, feet, legs, and arms
How to Become a Nail Technician: Schools and License Requirements
To date, all states in the U.S. require nail technicians to be licensed, with the exception of Connecticut. The licensing and regulation of nail technicians is typically done by state boards of cosmetology. Therefore, the licensure process is up to your individual state’s requirements, which can vary significantly from one state to the next.
Nail technicians may be licensed as either cosmetologists or nail technicians, although the majority (78 percent) of practicing nail technicians are licensed as nail technicians, reports NAILS Magazine. This comes as little surprise, as the requirements to become state licensed as a nail technician are often much less stringent than those to become a state licensed cosmetologist.
All states that license nail technicians require candidates to complete an educational program that is recognized by the state board of cosmetology as consisting of practice hours and curriculum that meet the board’s minimum requirements. NAILS Magazine reports that the national average nail technician program is 375 hours in duration, although your state board of cosmetology may require much more or much less. For example, a board-approved nail technician program is just 250 hours in duration, while in Oklahoma an approved program is 600 hours.
Although nail technician programs vary from one state to the next, you can expect a comprehensive program to include both practical (hands-on) and classroom study. Nail technician programs may be offered through vocational schools, junior colleges, and cosmetology schools. Typical coursework in a nail technician program includes:
- Personal hygiene
- Disorders of the nails
- Massage techniques
- Gels, tips, wraps, and extensions
- Public health
- Nail design and artistry
- Safety, sterilization, and disease prevention
- Nail care chemicals and products
- Nail care tools and machines
- Nail design and artistry
- Acrylic nail forms, application, fills and removal
Many of today’s nail technician programs also include courses in state exam preparation and business skills.
After you have completed an approved nail technician program, your state board of cosmetology will require that you apply for licensure and take and pass specific state examinations as to display your acquired skills and knowledge in all aspects of manicuring and pedicuring, as well as state rules and regulations, sanitation, safety, and health considerations.
Careers in Manicuring and Pedicuring: Where are Nail Technician Jobs Found?
According to the most recent statistics from NAILS Magazine, the majority (68 percent) of all nail technicians work in nail salons, while the remaining work in the following settings:
- Full-service salons: 20 percent
- Mobile-based/home-based salons: 3 percent
- Day/hotel/destination spas: 2 percent
- Schools: 2 percent
- Others: 5 percent
Just 11 percent of all nail technicians work as employees, while 40 percent own their own salons and do nails. Other manicurists and pedicurists in the industry work in the following employment situations:
- Booth renters: 24 percent
- Salon managers/nail department managers: 3 percent
- Cosmetologists who also do nails: 3 percent
- Students/apprentices: 3 percent
- Other: 12 percent
Salon owners lease or own their own property. They may hire employees; rent out booth space, or work alone; oversee salon décor, marketing, hours of operation, and retail lines; and provide equipment, supplies, and benefits for employees.
Employees receive a salary and/or commission. They must must adhere to hourly requirements, dress code requirements, and salon requirements; they have payroll taxes deducted from their salaries; and they may receive benefits, including health insurance and vacation time.
A booth renter works as an independent contractor and pays a fee to lease space in a salon. They must pay for their own supplies, products, taxes, and insurance, and they do not receive benefits. Many booth renters enjoy working in this capacity because it offers them more control and flexibility over their careers.
NAILS Magazine reports that the most nail technician jobs are found in California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois. In California alone, there were more than 95,000 nail technicians working in more than 7,000 nail salons.
As of 2013, nail technicians earned an average weekly salary of $421, according to a NAILS Magazine survey. The top nail technicians, though, earned between $651 and $750 per week. The highest salaries for nail technicians are found on the Pacific Coast; these nail professionals earned an average weekly salary of $656 in 2013.
How to Advance in the Manicuring and Pedicuring Industry
In addition to state licensure, nail technicians often pursue additional study or training as to ensure they stay on top of the newest trends in the nail industry. Many also pursue business courses, such as management and marketing, particularly if they work as independent contractors or plan to manage or own a salon.
Most new nail technicians also design professional portfolios that allow them to display their work to clients and employers. A comprehensive portfolio should include high-quality photographs of a wide array of services, such as natural manicures and pedicures, nail art and design, nail tips, and acrylic wraps.
Many nail technicians also choose to pursue membership in a professional association as to display a commitment to their profession, enjoy networking opportunities, and stay up-to-date on issues that affect their profession:
- International Pedicure Association
- International Spa Association
- Professional Beauty Association
- International Nail Technicians Association