Offering deep relaxation and healing, reflexology is a natural addition to a nail tech’s skillset. Experts speak about the technical and business aspects of this alternative therapy and its potential as a nail salon add-on.
Reflexology works well as an adjunct to many treatments: It has been incorporated into the physical therapy regimens of injured athletes and into cancer treatment protocols for patients receiving chemotherapy. But perhaps no field is so well suited to incorporate reflexology as the professional nail care industry.
“Reflexology and manicure/pedicure services are a match made in heaven,” says Karen Ball, director of success at the Academy of Ancient Reflexology. “One of the reasons that many folks visit a nail tech is for the touch aspect of the service. Imagine what it feels like to actually receive intentional touch by someone trained in that, as well as receiving quality foot care and painted nails! And to have the added benefit of the effects of reflexology elsewhere in the body.”
Reflexology is based on the theory that there are reflexes in the feet, hands, ears, and face that relate to all the other parts of the body, explains Ball, who is also a board-certified reflexologist and educator, as well as vice-president and chair of the education, PR, and technology committees of the national board of the Reflexology Association of America. “Application of comfortable pressure to these points, as well as other techniques unique to reflexology, increases the flow of blood and lymph and, by shifting the nervous system into a parasympathetic state, establishes the internal environment in which the body can rest and heal itself,” Ball says.
Nail salons that offer reflexology can benefit from U.S. consumers’ awareness, which has grown thanks to mentions on mainstream media outlets like “The Dr. Oz Show.” The term “reflexology” is now in the common vernacular and the service should be marketed by name. “People who are accustomed to receiving reflexology will seek out a business that can offer it,” Ball says. “Just make sure the technician is actually trained by a reflexology school. People who know reflexology get very angry when a foot massage is passed off to them as reflexology! Many spas have learned this the hard way, having to refund the price of a service, losing a client, and earning the reputation of false advertising.”
A La Mer Nail Institute instructor advises a student on proper technique.
What Reflexology Is and Isn’t
First, to clear up a misconception: Reflexology is not massage (nor is it a category of massage). “The primary way in which reflexology and massage differ is in their intent,” Ball says. “The intent of massage is to relax muscles, reduce or relieve pain, and in some cases, re-align structure. The intent of reflexology is to introduce deep relaxation and influence the functioning of the internal systems of the body, such as the respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems. It is reflexology’s effect on the nervous system that relaxes the muscles, rather than direct contact with them, such as in massage.” As such, reflexology falls into the category of alternative therapy.
Reflexology charts exist for the feet, hands, ears, and face, with feet and hand reflexology being the best fit for nail salons. Adults of all ages can benefit from reflexology, but in general, middle-aged and older adults are more likely to seek out the service due to the increase in aches, pains, and chronic illnesses as they age.
Why Add Reflexology to Your Menu?
If you decide to invest in reflexology training (see sidebar), there are several competitive advantages your nail business could reap. Moana J. Kida, principal at La Mer Nail Institute in Honolulu, explains why the beauty school teaches reflexology principles in its 350-hour nail technician training course. “We incorporate reflexology principles into our manicure/pedicure massage to maximize the benefit on clients, decrease the stress on technicians, and to differentiate our graduates from other nail technicians,” Kida says. “Many of our graduates report back to us that even though they just started working in a salon, many clients are impressed with their massage and left a big tip! It also helps them to build a client base faster by creating regulars.”
La Mer doesn’t teach reflexology as a standalone subject but incorporates its principles into manicure/pedicure massage training, using reflexology (as well as lymphatic draining techniques) as an adjunct to a traditional nail service massage. Nail students spend about 12 hours learning specific aspects of reflexology, including the time they practice on clients in the student salon. “We find reflexology and lymphatic drainage to be the most ergonomic and effective techniques for our students even for someone who has difficulty applying strong pressure. The techniques work together well and make a big impression on customers,” Kida says.
At Bellus Academy, with multiple California campuses and a Kansas campus, students in the spa nail program spend two to three days on reflexology education, including theory and hands-on training. Students also incorporate reflexology into their manicure and pedicure services throughout the five- to six-month program. “Since we believe ‘touch’ is an integral element of every professional nail service, Bellus incorporates reflexology into our nail program’s approach to beauty and wellness,” says Lynelle Lynch, Bellus Academy president. “Reflexology knowledge allows Bellus graduates to deliver the highest level of guest experience while providing a competitive skill that differentiates them from other professional nail providers.”
International Institute of Reflexology president Dwight Byers, who has facilitated reflexology training for many nail techs and written multiple books on the subject, says reflexology services can also serve as a great lead-in to get reflexology-savvy clients in a nail salon’s doors — and to then introduce those clients to the entirety of the salon menu. He says the United States’ market is growing as “people are becoming more receptive to alternative healthcare.” He cites reflexology’s popularity in Europe as an example of the growth potential. “In London, every mall has a reflexology place,” he says. In Denmark, reflexology is the top alternative healthcare modality used, according to Byers.
A La Mer Nail Institute instructor adds foot reflexology into a pedicure massage.
How to Add Reflexology Services
Before adding any new service to your menu, be sure to check with your state board to ensure the addition is legal within your license scope. For reflexology, this varies state by state, and some states do not allow nail tech licensees to offer reflexology as a standalone service. Assuming you are allowed to offer reflexology as a standalone service, you then have three options (if not, then you likely have two options): incorporate reflexology into your manicure/pedicure massage at no additional charge; offer reflexology as an add-on option to your manicure/pedicure services at an upcharge; and/or offer a standalone reflexology menu and price accordingly.
If incorporating reflexology into manicures/pedicures at no additional charge: This strategy has the lowest barrier to entry. A weekend hands-on workshop may be enough to set your nail services apart from your competitors and to get bigger tips for your unique “massage.” “We recommend that techs incorporate reflexology into their standard manicure/pedicure massage to differentiate themselves from other technicians. We feel that by having a unique and effective massage, more clients will be attracted to their service, eliminating the need to charge extra,” La Mer’s Kida says.
If offering reflexology as an add-on with an upcharge: This strategy works best with thorough reflexology training, as you’ll want to promote the add-on using the term “reflexology.” The advantage is you charge more for this service, increasing your hourly income if you price it correctly. “If reflexology is being added to a nail service, I would definitely price it differently than just a standard manicure or pedicure. It’s a far superior service worthy of a higher price point,” Ball says.
If offering a standalone reflexology menu: This strategy is best employed by those who have earned a reflexology certification (generally, a 200-hour commitment). It also gives you the highest earning potential. Byers notes that in high-end Las Vegas spas, “reflexology stands alone as a separate service...and an expensive one.” At Rio Spa & Salon in Las Vegas, for example, a 50-minute signature pedicure is $90, while a 50-minute hand and foot reflexology session is $140 — 55.5% more.
To market your new service addition/add-on service, “give clients a free sample every now and then, and tell them the benefits,” Byers says. Specials such as “buy a pedicure, get a free reflexology sample” work well. He says once a client samples reflexology, “they melt” — and you get a client for life.
Depending on how you want to incorporate reflexology into your nail salon and how much you want to charge clients, you can select from a range of classes — everything from a single three-hour class to programs that will rival or exceed your nail school commitment.
If you want to offer standalone reflexology, a full-length program of 200+ hours is your best bet. The International Institute of Reflexology offers 200-hour courses throughout the year and throughout the country. Homework is assigned, and at course completion you have to pass a written and practical exam. Stop by the institute’s Premiere Orlando booth or visit www.reflexology-usa.net to find out more.
At the Academy of Ancient Reflexology, a 315-hour credit program called Therapeutic Hand & Foot Reflexology Professional Certification will teach you how to target sessions specifically for various conditions and imbalances. Learn more at www.academyofancientreflexology.com.
The Academy of Ancient Reflexology also offers weekend workshops, which will teach you how to give a full session for the purpose of relaxation. Learn more about workshops “Foot Reflexology” or “Reflexology for the Hands” at www.academyofancientreflexology.com.
Your local beauty school may also offer reflexology classes for licensed professionals. La Mer Nail Institute offers a three-hour class for licensed nail technicians, which goes over both massage techniques and the parts of reflexology the school feels are most effective.
Be sure to look into the instructor’s credentials prior to signing up for a course. Ball recommends the instructor be a professional member of the Reflexology Association of America (minimum of 300 hours of training) and nationally certified by the American Reflexology Certification Board (200 hours). The Reflexology Association of America also offers advice on choosing a reflexology school at www.reflexology-usa.org.