Clients don’t come to your salon to get beautiful nails.

The sooner you believe that, the more likely you are to succeed. While you may argue they can’t get nails as beautiful as yours in another salon, the truth is, the average client doesn’t notice the subtle difference between exceptional work and mediocre work. (If you don’t believe me look at the number of profitable salons pumping out mediocre work.) That’s not to say they don’t expect pretty nails when they leave. They do. But that isn’t what brings them back. The experience of your salon brings them back. You bring them back — your personality, your ability to listen and empathize, and … your touch. Nails are a tactile experience, and touch is a powerful connection.

We have a disjointed world filled with overcommitted, stressed, hurting people. As the T-shirt proclaims, “life is good” — but, let’s be honest, it gets overwhelming! So we find ways to unplug, and one way is through massage. Industry statistics suggest Americans spend more than $11 billion on massage services a year. However, that’s a combination of many services, such as chiropractic and acupuncture. So let’s cut it down by half. We’re still talking about a $5 billion industry. Plus, labor statistics predict a 20% growth in the massage industry in the next five years. We can conclude people enjoy their massages.

It is here, during the massage, that you have the unique opportunity to create a Zen experience for your client to help her decompress and rebalance — if even for only a few moments. The trouble is, most techs are trained in application technique, not in massage. So, we consulted a massage therapist to see how techs can improve the massage portion of any nail service.

“When you give a massage, you are sharing your energy with your client,” says Cinthya Bonilla, a licensed massage therapist and esthetician at Elan Skin Spa in Sarasota, Fla. The first moment of contact with the client is the most important, says Bonilla. As nail techs, you will have already made contact with the client during the manicure or pedicure. In your case, it would be beneficial to pause and hold the hand (or foot) still for a moment. Apply a gentle squeeze to signal the massage portion is about to begin. When appropriate, pause the conversation, too, by saying something such as, “I’m going to stop talking now so you can just relax for a few minutes.”

“Always keep a consistent flow,” says Bonilla, “and pressure that is medium to firm.” Everyone responds differently to pressure, so watch the client’s body language to gauge her tolerance. Once you’ve made the point of contact and have found a comfortable pressure, keep contact with the client the entire massage. A break in touch is the signal that the massage is over, so make sure you don’t lose a point of contact when you transition from the top to bottom of the hand or foot, or from one hand or foot to the other.

Bonilla walks through the suggested steps that should be included with every massage:



1. Start by holding your client’s hand with thumbs on the top of the hand and facing the client. Use your fingers and thumbs to squeeze the hand with gentle, consistent pressure. You’re signaling the start of the massage.

2. Move the right hand up the side of the arm toward the elbow, massaging in a continuous flow,  while the left hand still applies a gentle squeeze. Slowly begin to move your left hand up the client’s arm also until both of your hands are massaging her arm.

3. Continue the flow back down to the hand, pausing to massage the wrist area. The client’s hand is still in a position of “palms down,” so your thumbs are massaging the small joints on top of the wrist while your fingers massage the underside.

4. Without releasing your contact, turn the client’s hand over, continuing to massage the wrist. Be aware of her comfort level and range of motion. (If this is awkward for her, don’t turn her hand over. Instead, perform the entire massage with her palms down.) 

5. Apply gentle pressure with your thumbs as you massage the muscles at the base of the hand, the muscle at the base of the thumb, the center of the hand, and the muscles at the base of the fingers. In a smooth, gentle motion, massage between the fingers, then down the length of the fingers.

6. To end the massage, turn the hands over again and, without losing contact, lightly squeeze each finger until you have reached the tips. Both of your hands will be in contact with your client’s fingertips until almost the last moment, when you will move one of your hands to the client’s resting hand. (For a brief moment, both of your hands will be massaging both of your client’s hands.) Gently place the working hand on the table and release fully, moving to the opposite hand. Repeat the steps above.

Caution: Joints can be enflamed from arthritis, so be careful when you squeeze or pull the knuckles.

The area between the thumb and the first finger can be sensitive. Be gentle when rubbing the webbed area at that connection point.



The steps for a foot massage are similar to those for a hand massage, though Bonilla points out a few ways to make the experience memorable.

1. On step two, you’ll be massaging the ankles not the wrist. Stay here for a minute or two to massage the malleolus (the area around the ankle). This provides relaxing relief.

2. Effleurage the top of the foot to soothe and comfort the client. Move to the heel and perform reflexology on the heel.

Editor’s note: Effleurage is a French word that means “to skim” the skin with your fingers, touching it gently. It looks like a light tickle, but feels marvelous and relaxing.

3. After the heel, perform effleurage on the sole and arch of the foot. Add pressure to the movement and begin a medium-firm massage, squeezing the foot with thumbs at the arch. Develop the massage into knuckle kneading on the arch and sole area.

4. Move toward the toes and stimulate the pressure points between the toes. Give a soft pull to the toes.

5. Finish with effleurage on the whole foot, working with two hands. When appropriate, disconnect from the working foot with one hand to include the resting foot. Stay in contact with both feet until you can transition both hands to the second foot.

6. Note: An alternative ending is to gently release both hands from the working foot and then wrap the foot in a warm towel. Signal the start of the massage on the new foot with a gentle squeeze on the foot.

Caution: Be careful when massaging the feet of a pregnant woman. Pressure points around the ankle could put her into labor, so avoid massaging this area during a pedicure. Bonilla recommends techs rest three fingers on the area above the client’s ankle and avoid this area during the massage on a pregnant client. 



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