Winners of the Canada Nail Cup’s CND 20min Gel Polish Challenge show off their certificates.

Winners of the Canada Nail Cup’s CND 20min Gel Polish Challenge show off their certificates.

While nail techs in Canada certainly get excited by new product launches that may improve their manicure and pedicure services, they generally focus more on conservative looks and on enhancing the natural beauty of their clients’ nails. As the second largest country by land area, Canada does contain hotspots of progressive nail looks and boasts several world-renowned nail artists. But the everyday Canadian woman who goes to a nail salon expects to leave with her own nails, just better. She’s looking for professional shaping, a nude or natural color, and skin or nail products that cater to her health-conscious lifestyle.

The Canadian beauty salon market serving these female consumers has room to grow — particularly in less populated areas. “Although Toronto, Vancouver, and other major cities have competitive beauty industries, the rest of Canada offers little-to-no market saturation — which makes starting a beauty business much easier than in other countries,” reported Business Review Canada in 2015.

According to the Canadian Business Patterns Database at Statistics Canada, there are 18,450 beauty salons in Canada, with the highest concentrations being in Ontario (where 39.2% of all salons are located), Quebec (19.3%), and British Columbia (15.3%). Growing per capita disposable income will lead to steady industry revenue growth, predicts IBISWorld in its February 2016 Hair & Nail Salons in Canada: Market Research Report, which estimates salon revenue at $5 billion and annual growth at 3% from 2011 to 2016. “The industry, which relies on discretionary purchases of services, has benefited from growth in per capita disposable income and consumer confidence, as well as an increase in the number of adults aged 20 to 64, who demand these services,” states IBISWorld.


Akzéntz ACE certified educator Robyn Schwartz created this sparkly nail look.

Akzéntz ACE certified educator Robyn Schwartz created this sparkly nail look.


Only three out of Canada’s 13 government jurisdictions (that is, 10 provinces and three territories) require nail professionals to be licensed: Manitoba, which requires 600 hours; New Brunswick, which requires 300 hours; and Nova Scotia, which requires 250 hours. There are other professional regulations that vary by region. “For example, Saskatchewan requires nail professionals to go through a rigorous apprenticeship process, and nail professionals in British Columbia, while not being required to be licensed, do qualify for industry insurance and beauty association discounts if they can prove they attended qualified institutions for their training,” says Jennifer Ponzi, owner of Ontario-based The Academy of Nail Design (TAOND), which offers myriad educational programs for aspiring and established nail professionals. Some Canadian distributors also require proof of nail education or credentials in order to purchase nail supplies, which may incentivize some to enroll in formal beauty school programs.

At British Columbia-based Blanche Macdonald Centre’s campuses, the beauty school typically sees three demographics of nail students enroll: those who sign up immediately after high school or college to open a business; those who are pursuing nails as a second career or for flexibility when starting a family or retiring; and current beauty professionals (such as hairstylists) who want to add nails to their repertoire. “The majority of our students are female; however, in the last couple of years we have had an increased number of male students who enroll in the program too,” says Simona Gozner, Blanche Macdonald esthetics program director.

TAOND student Brittany Cahill created these monochrome textured nails.

TAOND student Brittany Cahill created these monochrome textured nails.

Blanche Macdonald’s six-month program covers both technique and business. “The nail art portion of our classes is always special for the students because they really enjoy the guest speakers we bring in, such as award-winning Japanese nail artist and fellow Blanche grad Keiko Matsui,” Gozner says. “They also enjoy the Biz Whiz class, where they learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and business management.”

Likely due in part to the distance some aspiring nail techs are from in-person education, online nail training programs also flourish. TAOND offers a web-based full-certificate program that covers industry theory and practical applications of manicures, spa manicures, pedicures, spa pedicures, fiberglass, acrylic and UV gel, and includes a final written and two final live exams. “Most of our students are looking at this as a second career in an industry they’ve always loved and would like to start their own business either in a small retail space or in a home salon setting,” Ponzi says. Also popular are TAOND’s UV Gel Mini Certificate program, which focuses on UV gel enhancement and gel-polish applications, and its DCNS (Derma Care Nail Specialist) Advanced Professional Designation Program in which students create advanced natural nail care services and are eligible to earn their professional DCNS designation for the Canadian Examining Board of Health Care Practitioners. 

Continuing education via platforms such as Lably (, a website that hosts live and on-demand classes with beauty industry professionals, are another option levied by Canadian nail techs. British Columbia-based tech and Akzéntz ACE-certified educator Robyn Schwartz, says, “Getting accessible education out to techs is so important. I offer one-on-one Skype classes and now being able to reach a bigger audience with the mylably platform is amazing!”


Stefania Flex does nails at CurliQue Beauty, which is within Blanche Macdonald’s Atelier Campus Downtown Vancouver.

Stefania Flex does nails at CurliQue Beauty, which is within Blanche Macdonald’s Atelier Campus Downtown Vancouver.


Accessibility to professional products has historically been a challenge in Canada; however, in the past several decades, tradeshows and other events have increasingly connected nail techs with nail product manufacturers and distributors. 

One such series of shows is hosted by the not-for-profit Allied Beauty Association, a trade group for hair and nail manufacturers and distributors. Its ABA Beauty Shows are held in five major Canadian cities each year, with attendance averaging more than 30,000 beauty professionals annually.

Several nails-only events have also debuted in recent years, including the CNTC (Canadian Nail Tech Connection) events launched by nail tech Dayna Knight in 2009. “I had been to the U.S. multiple times for education, networking events, and tradeshows. I also purchased all of my supplies from distributors in the U.S.,” Knight says, discussing her inspiration for launching a Canada-based nail event. “I was certain that there were great educators and distributors in my own country. I knew that if I started a networking event in my area then I could help out the nail professionals near me find these resources as I had.” CNTC events are now held in several Canadian cities. “Our first one had 20 people including educators, and it was more of a networking-style event. Our current events host more than 30 educators and 150-400 attendees in a tradeshow style,” Knight says, adding that it also hosts nail competitions.

In 2014, the Canada Nail Cup debuted. The nail competition is the brainchild of director Pat Griffin and founding judges Mami Griffin and Chris Mans. The goal was to “make multiple categories where it would be possible to compete in all of them with just one hand model in one day for one price in categories that were challenging and fun,” they say.

The most popular Canada Nail Cup category is the CND 20min Gel Polish Challenge, which simulates a real-world task of creating a gel-polish set quickly. Also popular is the Swarovski BLINGED! competition, which includes a “secret sachet” of stones to replicate the excitement of a secret ingredient TV cooking show competition. Competitors are encouraged to discuss their score cards with the judges afterwards.

Also accepting entries annually is the Contessas awards, organized by Salon Magazine. The digital photo competition is primarily for Canadian hairdressers, but a Canadian Nail Artist category is included and a nail tech winner and finalists are recognized.

Blanche Macdonald Nail Studio graduate Stefania Flex proves that, though conservative looks are most common in Canada, Canadian techs can also nail eye-catching 3-D looks.

Blanche Macdonald Nail Studio graduate Stefania Flex proves that, though conservative looks are most common in Canada, Canadian techs can also nail eye-catching 3-D looks.

The nail products seen at these events are virtually identical to those seen in the United States and include brands such as CND, Gelish, Nouveau Nail, Star Nail, Young Nails, Cuccio, and NSI, though several of the techs we spoke to note a penchant for homegrown brands such as Akzéntz Nails and En Vogue (both based in British Columbia). CNTC events attract more distributor exhibitors than manufacturers. “Canada is still widely influenced by the U.S. when it comes to nail manufacturers, so the distributors step in to sell product. For example, CanWest Wholesale Esthetics carries over 45 different international lines of nail products,” Knight says.



Home-based nail salons are common in Canada, much more so than in the United States. “A typical nail salon in Canada is a sole proprietor working in a home-based business,” Knight says. “Canada still has efficient and high-end salons; however, the home-based salon is much more popular with nail technicians.”

In 2014, 61.1% of Canadian beauty salons employed between one and four employees, according to Statistics Canada. The rest employ between five and 99 employees (what Statistics Canada considers a “small” establishment), and no beauty salons employed more than 100 employees. Within the small establishment category fall most of Canada’s full-service salons and its chain salons. A noteworthy nail salon chain is The Ten Spot, which has about 20 nail salons throughout Canada including multiple outposts in Toronto. The Ten Spot offers services in an environment that combines the efficiency of low-end nail salons with the quality standards of high-end spas, according to the chain’s website. (Read our profile of The Ten Spot at

Blanche Macdonald Global Makeup and Nail Studio graduate Paige Roy created these butterfly-inspired nails in a trendy almond shape.

Blanche Macdonald Global Makeup and Nail Studio graduate Paige Roy created these butterfly-inspired nails in a trendy almond shape.

In general, nail salon services focus on maintaining health and on natural looks. “The majority of Canadian nail salon clients are more modest in their approach to nail length, shape, and art (although that is changing in some regions depending on the skill of the nail professional), and therefore most request a natural looking final look,” says TAOND’s Ponzi. “They also are very health conscious, so they are interested in advanced natural nail care, from more natural nail product choices and spa services to extended massage and services based on ‘just relaxing’ and enjoying the health benefits that come along with these services as well. They are also very interested in obtaining information and being educated on what goes in (and on) their hands and feet during their services, along with understanding proper decontamination protocols.”

“When it comes to enhancements, acrylics and gels are both used. “Gel was just starting to overtake acrylic services in Western Canada when we started the competition years ago, especially with the number of quality gel manufacturers based in the West. Now that trend has certainly spread across the continent,” note the Canada Nail Cup founders, who also observe that handpainted artwork has regained popularity.


Stephanie Urmeneta, a nail artist and technician at Haus of Lacquer, created these marbled and gold-accented nails.

Stephanie Urmeneta, a nail artist and technician at Haus of Lacquer, created these marbled and gold-accented nails.


Having their nails carefully shaped is a service that spurs some Canadian consumers to seek out nail professionals, and coffin, almond, and pointed shapes are currently trendy. “What I always hear is shaping. People are never happy with the shaping and thickness of the nails they’ve received in the past. So my favorite thing to do is give them the shape they’ve been looking for,” says Stephanie Urmeneta, a nail artist and technician at Haus of Lacquer in Vancouver, who has earned worldwide acclaim for nail art via selling nail sets on the Internet and being featured on a Buzzfeed list of “17 Nail Art Salons You Have to Visit Before You Die.”

At Robyn Schwartz Nail Design, “clients are getting French ombre, solid colors with glitters, and lots of Swarovski stones. I’m finding the trend right now is leaning to the less is more, basic look,” says Schwartz, a Contessa 2017 finalist. Schwartz’s basic sculpted sets start at C$65 (US$49.50), and she adds C$5 (US$3.80) and up for extra glitters and colors, as well as C$5 and up for longer nails.

Popular colors in Canada are mostly classic pinks, whites, and nudes, though at Urmeneta’s salon she notes that smoky shades, like smoky purples, blues, and mauves, as well as gray tones, are popular. Akzéntz’s best-selling gel shades throughout Canada include Blush and Teacup Rose (both light pinks), Forever (dark pink), as well as the bolder shade of Lookout, a blue that sells well in Saskatchewan and Quebec. Its trendiest product is Shine-On, a UV/LED gloss coat that leaves a mirror-like finish on the nails. Quebec-based Akzéntz distributor Accent & Expression says, “The U.S. always seems to be about the latest and greatest. Eastern Canada seems to be more conservative, though more progressive clients are interested in chrome nails. From a social media standpoint, there seems to be faster push or adoption of novelty.”

The Akzéntz team works a tradeshow.

The Akzéntz team works a tradeshow.

For clients who are more progressive, a nail art-focused tech like Urmeneta, a graduate of Blanche Macdonald, is happy to oblige. “My most popular service is long, sculpted nail sets with lots of art. Prices range depending on how crazy the art gets, but usually falls in the C$120+ range,” she says.



Says Deborah Jacklin, owner of Alberta-based Akzéntz distributor DK Beauty, “Over the past couple of decades, I have seen many nail trends come and go, but what remains consistently the same for Canadian nails is our more reserved, conservative nail styles and focus on preserving the health and integrity of the natural nail. Understated elegance, thin, natural-looking, and uber pretty is something our Canadian nail technicians are known for! Of course we so love our U.S. counterparts, and, I truly admire their flare, creativity, and more flamboyant, flashy styles. Although we (Canada and the U.S.) are so close in distance and culture, we really have two very different, but equally beautiful nail styles.”

U.S.-based techs who wish to focus on or add natural nail services could pay a visit to our northern neighbors to observe back-to-basics techniques. And, as Canadians are known for their friendliness, they’d likely be greeted with open arms. U.S. techs can “certainly visit and learn the friendly inclusive multi-cultural Canadian way of getting along,” say Canada Nail Cup founders Chris Mans and Pat and Mami Griffin. “This translates into incredible mixes of artistic interpretations of cultural art. The manicurists seem very friendly and support one another during the competitions. We see people sharing brushes or tools when something is forgotten.”

Haus of Lacquer in Vancouver specializes in nail art.

Haus of Lacquer in Vancouver specializes in nail art.

As salon market saturation increases in Canada, more consumers will be able to enjoy professionally designed nails and new trends will likely take hold. But, if the past is any indication, classic looks and services will always be well-worn favorites. 


Snapshot: Canada

Market size: $5 billion (hair and nail salons)

Licensing: Only in Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, though outside of these jurisdictions some aspiring techs do still opt for formal education and training

Trending nail styles: Natural-colored nails with coffin, almond, or pointed shaping

Salon types: Home-based nail salons are more common, though standalone nail salons and full-service salons and spas exist

Popular products: Same as in the U.S., favoring Canada-based brands

What they do well: Health-consciousness means Canadian techs pay attention to product ingredients and maintaining the integrity of their clients’ nails

Room for improvement: Increase market saturation in order to serve clients outside of the big cities

You can find a slideshow featuring more photos from the Canadian nail scene at

This is the seventh installment of our bi-monthly InternatioNAILS series. To read all the articles in this series, go to


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