Focusing on the nails with both your eyes and hands through the entire service will improve your salon speed significantly.

Focusing on the nails with both your eyes and hands through the entire service will improve your salon speed significantly.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part story by NAILS contributing editor Holly Schippers on reducing your service times. You can find part two, which focuses on application, brush use, and finish filing, in the June 2017 issue or at

If you find yourself frustrated by your inability to move through services more quickly, you’re hardly alone. Whether you are placing the pressure on yourself to go faster because another local salon offers quick in-and-out services, or because an owner who’s never done nails sets the service times and expects you to stick with them, speed is an intimidating part of the job. While it’s true that speed isn’t everything, when you are feeling stressed from the constant pressure to go faster, that sentiment is not much comfort. Instead, let’s focus on things that can actually improve your salon speed without cutting corners on the excellence of your service.

There are a few things that you may not realize intrude upon your service time. First, make your clients aware they are expected to wash their hands as soon as they enter the salon. If they wash while you are finishing up or checking out the client ahead of them, then they will be ready to sit right down as soon as the chair is vacated.

The next piece of advice is an oldie yet goodie: Talk to the hands! If you were raised with the notion that it’s rude to talk to someone without looking into their eyes, then this is actually more difficult than you would think. Talking to the hands allows you to keep moving continuously during the service without pausing your hands while looking up. Talking with your hands is another culprit. How many times do you catch yourself waving a file or tool in the air to make a point during a story or explanation?

Keeping your eyes and hands focused on the service from beginning to end will streamline things more than you think. If you want to test this theory, invite a few trusted clients to bring in headphones and listen to music or a book during a service, completely ignoring you. The difference in your service time will be an indicator of how much you lose focus on a regular basis while taking care of clients’ nails.


If the curette is not flat to the nail, it is not lifting the cuticle tissue and removing it from the nail.

If the curette is not flat to the nail, it is not lifting the cuticle tissue and removing it from the nail.

Reducing Prep Time

Beginning with prep — whether for natural nails or enhancements — you can maintain a solid pace by keeping the client in your chair and using tools properly to get the job done. For those using a cuticle removal product that requires deactivation by water, keeping a spray bottle filled with plain water or slightly soapy water at the table will enable you to quickly wash the nails without oversaturating them, as well as keep the client in the chair.

If you are asking clients to use a sink, teaching them how to effectively wash their nails to remove cuticle product could be a big help in the time factor. Also, a small clock with a second hand near the sink could be a visual aid for your client to wash for 60 seconds so that they don’t get lost in thought or conversation and stand at the sink longer than necessary. Another time-saver: Make sure the tools you use for cuticle work are good quality and that you know how to use them.

All nails have cuticle over the surface. The first time a client sits in your chair the cuticle needs to be removed from the extension edge to the proximal nail fold. You should see a thin layer of tissue lift away from the nail plate. The purpose of the pusher is to lift and separate the cuticle from the nail so that you have a clean surface to work on. If you don’t ever feel the pusher slightly catch on that tissue or see any tissue come up, it may be time to evaluate if your pusher is effective. Some inexpensive pushers are very dull and do not help lift the cuticle.

Another way to improve speed in this area is to use a professional removal product. If the product does the work for you by breaking the bond between the tissue and the nail plate, your tool is allowed to be more effective and efficient. 

It is important you use your pusher at the angle the manufacturer suggests. If you also use a curette, it is critical that the more open side of the scoop face is as flat to the nail as possible. The curette is only an amazing power tool if used properly. You should see the cuticle coming up from the sidewalls and corners of the nail while moving the curette in small circles, which should give you a clean working surface and prevent lifting.

Once you have removed the cuticle from the entire nail plate on the first visit, the only tool needed on return visits would be the curette, as there will only be cuticle in the regrowth area. Cuticle work done properly may add a little time to the first visit, yet it will save you time in the long run because the nail plate will be clean and free of waxy tissue that causes little bumps in polish or gel-polish or lifting in enhancements.

Some services require the surface of the nails to be gently buffed in order to remove surface shine. Having the cuticle wholly removed makes this step faster and easier. According to industry chemist Doug Schoon, the direction of filing on the natural nail does not disrupt the nail plate. Having just learned this myself, it is a huge help in improving speed for prep work. This means you can quickly and gently buff the nails to remove the shine with the file going back and forth in the direction that is most comfortable for you to move. Unless your product manufacturer calls for the nail to be “etched,” removing the shine should be a very brief part of the service. Make sure you are pulling back the lateral folds to remove shine from the entire surface so that you do not have to come back and catch it later or spend time on repairs due to remaining shine.


Applying Gel-Polish

A crisp, thin application of gel-polish ensures that it will perform to manufacturer specifications, saving time by eliminating the need for repairs.

A crisp, thin application of gel-polish ensures that it will perform to manufacturer specifications, saving time by eliminating the need for repairs.


Whether applying polish or gel-polish to the natural nail, most of the rules for improving salon speed regarding will be the same. The base coat should be applied as neatly and carefully as you would apply a red polish. Where the base coat goes the color flows, so if you are fast and sloppy with your base coat, you will be spending time cleaning up the color where it has flooded the lateral folds or the proximal nail fold. Cleanup wastes more time than a precise application of base coat, so don’t be afraid to put a little more time into a thin even application so that your color will seem to magically flow on neatly.

Apply very thin layers of color. Thick layers take longer to dry in the case of polish and may wrinkle or undercure in the instance of gel-polish. Two thin layers of color should give you beautiful, even color coverage every time. If not, ensure that your color is mixed well by either shaking or rolling, depending on the manufacturer’s suggestion for that product. Taking the time to add a third layer of color is going to be more of a time drain than if you had just ensured it was mixed properly.

Another tip to save time in application is to seal the edge before you polish the nail plate surface. This helps in a couple of ways. If your routine is to polish the nail, seal the edge, then pull back over the nail to remove excess, then you are duplicating effort and that takes time. If you seal the edge first, followed by polishing the surface, there is no additional time taken to remove excess from the edge. This also ensures you do not create the bulge or lump at the extension edge that causes chipping or extra dry time.

When it comes to top coat application, the timesaver is to have left a tiny margin of at least 1/16-inch around the color so that you are able to seal it with the top coat. The margin makes it easier to apply the top coat just past the edge of the color without getting it on the skin and requiring cleanup.

Neither breaking the seal nor removing top coat are accomplished by filing only in the center of the nail.

Neither breaking the seal nor removing top coat are accomplished by filing only in the center of the nail.

Overfilling adds time.

Overfilling adds time.

Removing some of the embellishments on top of the color will improve removal time.

Removing some of the embellishments on top of the color will improve removal time.


When your client returns and it’s time to remove her nail polish, your fastest removal medium is going to be pure acetone or an acetone-based remover. Using a non-acetone remover will slow down the removal process. If you’re concerned about dehydration of the skin, many manufacturers now offer an acetone-based remover with moisturizing properties.

A plastic-backed polish remover pad is most effective because it holds the remover on the cotton longer and can be used on more fingers as a result. It also keeps your skin from absorbing some of the remover and slows down evaporation slightly. If you have to use cotton balls, gauze, or any other non-plastic-backed medium, then wearing gloves can help efficiency just a bit by keeping your skin from absorbing some of the product and allowing you to use more of the surface since you don’t have to be concerned about transfer of color onto your fingers.

If you are using a gel-polish, chances are good that the manufacturer’s instructions are to remove the top coat or break the top coat seal before wrapping it with remover. This step can drag down your salon speed significantly, so let’s look at ways to do it that will make it a lot less stressful and more consistent.

Removing the top coat or breaking the seal can be done with a lower grit file such as a 180. Using too high of a grit such as a buffer will slow you down. Watch the color of the nails to keep an eye on your progress. When you end up with quite a few places where you file through the color, then you have taken more time than needed for filing. If you can learn to watch the nail for signs that you are finished filing, it will make the process more streamlined.

On the flip side of that, not filing enough will also slow you down since the top coat is the most difficult layer for the remover to penetrate. If, for example, the gel-polish has only been filed down the center, this means the edges are going to take much longer to remove since they are still protected by the top coat.

If you have added any embellishments to your gel-polish, such as glitter, pigments, and other fun things, then filing into them slightly will help with removal once the nails are wrapped up. Leaving a thick layer of glitter or spots of shiny top coat will impede the remover's access to the rest of the nail coating, which will again increase your service time and in most cases your frustration.

Having all of the shine removed, most of the embellishment removed, and the least amount of spots where you file through the color is going to look mostly like a matte nail. This is the best way to prepare it to be wrapped or clipped in your remover and come off clean and easy. When wrapping up the nails or securing them in a clip, it’s important to wrap the nails tightly or use the clips properly and encourage the client to sit still. Some find a warm towel laid over the hands is a helpful way to keep clients still while giving the service an extra spa-like touch.

Set a timer for the time your manufacturer suggests and do not shortchange it. Taking the remover wraps or clips off the nails prematurely will increase the time it takes to clean the nails. Air hitting the gel-polish will act to re-harden it and make it more difficult to remove. Having a timer gives you the advantage of always leaving the remover on the correct amount of time.

If you unveil a nail and the gel-polish is being stubborn, recover that nail with remover and move on to the next nail. Impatience in this step can easily cause damage to the nail plate, which will manifest in tiny white spots or in some cases large sections of white spots covering the nail plate. Whether or not you use a gel-polish that requires filing on the top coat, wrapping or clipping the nails correctly then leaving the remover on for the right amount of time will save time by ensuring a clean removal.    

Holly Schippers is a contributing editor to NAILS and a member of Team CND. Follow her FingerNailFixer blog at

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