When kids are younger it seems like they can’t grow up soon enough. They spend days dreaming about what adulthood will be like (I dreamt that I would be a nun who smoked cigarettes), and they mimic the adults they see in their lives — parents, teachers… Jessica Simpson.

As nail care grows in popularity among these adults, it’s also becoming one of the cool kids on the playground. As a tech or owner you can’t keep putting the age topic in time out. Decide now when kids can come out to play in your salon.

Science Is My Favorite Subject
Nails of the young aren’t just miniature adult nails. There are a few key differences: growth rate and the amount of oil in the nail plate.

You probably know that each fingernail grows at a different rate (and those rates differ from our toenails), but nail growth rates also vary by age. According to Nail Structure and Product Chemistry: Second Edition by Doug Schoon, nail growth rate peaks between the ages of 10 and 14 and begins a slow decline after age 20. Speeding up nail growth even more is nail biting — which is often a nasty habit of kids and teens. The human body’s oil production in nail plates also varies with age. “When you’re younger, nails are much more filled with oil,” says Jan Arnold, co-founder of Creative Nail Design. You should remember both of these differences as you decide if, and what, you’ll serve younger clients.

But Everyone Else is Getting Enhancements!

With famous actresses and song-stresses playing dress up every weekend, nail enhancements are everywhere in celebrity coverage. It’s no wonder kids and teens want them too. Should you give them what they want?

Playing by the Rules
The fine print in the nail world doesn’t really give much guidance. Three of the manufacturers we talked to had no printed recommendations regarding a minimum age for nail enhancements. “We leave it to the professional to decide,” says Elaine Watson, Star Nail global education director.

Creative Nail Design’s policy is similar. “We don’t have any age minimum,” says Arnold.

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, OPI Products’ executive vice president, also said her company has no printed recommendations. “I would recommend that it’s up to the parents,” she says.

Insurance companies are also open in their acceptance of enhancements on younger clients. Allen Financial Group, Bell-Anderson Insurance, and Palomar Insurance Corp., all offer coverage for beauty industry professionals, and representatives from each company all say they generally have no exclusions regarding age. One, however, did say that an exclusion like that would be up to the policy’s underwriter; so although age exclusions are not common practice, you should still check your policy (or a potential policy) for exclusions.

Is It Really Alright? Check Yes or No
Although the manufacturers have no written recommendations, each person still had a personal opinion on applying enhancements. Weiss-Fischmann sticks by the parents-are-the-litmus-test rule. “It should be up to the parents,” she says.

Arnold thinks working on teenagers is generally an acceptable practice. “There is no down side if you do it right and get them on a regular maintenance schedule and if the tech handles it with good responsibility,” she says.

Watson takes an opposite stance: “As a professional and an educator, I just don’t recommend it. It’s not that the chemicals are bad, but kids are just still in the developmental stages. They’ve got so much more oil and chances of breakage, and they’re not as careful.”

They Say It’s OK, If You Say It’s OK
So, manufacturers are leaving it up to the techs and parents to make the decision about minimum age. Many of the techs we talked to thought that if the client isn’t old enough to drive, then she isn’t old enough for enhancements.

“I will not put enhancements on a client who is under 16 and only on clients 16-18 with a parent’s permission,” says Bethany Boyd, a tech in Tucson, Ariz. “I would rather do natural nail manicures on younger girls for the health of their nails.”

Lori Jensen Preato of Las Vegas agrees on the age minimum but has a different reasoning. “I personally would prefer not to put enhancements on anyone under 16 due to the responsibility factor,” she says. “At 16 they are old enough to hold down a job to be able to afford nails, and by paying for them, they appreciate and know the responsibility.”

One exception to age policies seems to be if the client has a special occasion. “The youngest client I’ve put enhancements on was 9, and it was a treat for her for a wedding,” says Phoenix’s Toni Carrano.

Competition veteran John Hauk has tried enhancements out on even younger kids. “I have no age limit, but it would depend on the reason and having the consent of the parent,” he says. “I put nails on my daughter Nikki for her fifth birthday and for Christmas. She now is eight years old and has worn every product enhancement known to man. She’s a nail queen!”

But I Need Them!
One of the main reasons techs offer enhancement services to younger clients is to break them of their bad habits. “Ironically, the number-one solution to nail biting is nail enhancements,” says Creative Nail Design’s Arnold. “That’s why I recommend nail enhancements for teenagers. Enhancements give them instant order, and it completely conceals the rough or irregular edge, which removes the temptation to fix (bite) it. The nail enhancement protects the nail and gives the free edge and hyponychium a chance to settle down.”

That’s exactly why Renee Borowy, owner of VIP Salon, made an exception to her 15-for-enhancements policy. “I had a client whose daughter was a terrible nail biter,” Borowy explains. “When she was 10, I worked with her to try and break her habit. She was under strict supervision from me, and I required her to come in every five to seven days. That way I could make sure there wasn’t any kind of lift. It took more than six months, but it was well worth it. She is now in her 20s and remembers everything we went through.”

I Didn’t Want That Anyway

Not all girls want enhancements, and not all techs and salons want to offer them to younger clients. If you’re in the focus-on-natural-nails camp, you still have to decide how young is too young.

I’m a Natural Nails Kid
Many techs agree that 4 seems to be the age when kids are able to handle nail services. “I would do regular manicures on pretty much any age,” says Laura Campos, a tech in Gainesville, Fla. “I have been doing them on my own daughter since she was about 4. For infants and toddlers, I would only trim and shape their nails. I don’t use polish of any kind; they are more likely to put their hands in their mouths, and polish is not something they should ingest.”

Shari Finger, owner of Finger’s Nail Studio in West Dundee, Ill., agrees that 4 is a good age to start kids on natural nail care. “Manicures are a great way to teach a young girl how to take care of her nails,” she says. “They can head off problems such as biting and picking.”

“It’s never too young to do nails,” says Weiss-Fischmann. “I’m teaching my 12-year-old daughter about caring for the nails and feet. It’s like oral hygiene. It’s part of grooming.”

That’s Not Fair!
Salons that cater only to young adults, teens, and kids, often price their services slightly lower than the other local salons that cater only to adults. At Simon Says, a salon that caters to kids in Skokie, Ill., a recent package included a $22.50 per child fee for a manicure, pedicure, and facial. “The services are modified and tailored for younger kids,” says Simon’s Scott Knapp.

Techs who serve a broad clientele agree that a fair price to charge is your normal rate. “I charge $35 for a spa manicure, period,” says Hauk. “The spa system and products I use are the same no matter the age, so the price should be the same as well.” Jensen Preato agrees. “I give them the full service, and I do not think it is right to give less of a service and charge full price,” she says. The only time she charges less is if a lesser service is requested.

I’m a Princess, So Treat Me Like One
Lesser services may just be what techs need to offer if they want to expand their services to younger clients, and marketing to the younger clientele is key if techs want to get the little ones into their chairs.

When creating services specifically for younger clients, techs must think about who they’ll serve. Some popular options for kids and teens are nail-biters’ packages, natural nail manicures, polish changes, and nail art decorations.

The nail biters’ package could either be a six-month (or longer) acrylic enhancement program or a natural nail program using products created specifically for nasty nibblers. Sell the package as a multi-month package payable up front or with each weekly session, and make sure to give it an enticing name like Buh-Bye Biting, The Habit Breaker, or Enchanted Enhancements: Works Like Magic.

If natural nails are the services up for dibs, the manicures and pedicures would be similar to services for adults. Adjustments to consider are shortening the service (to account for the shorter attention span), using glittery lotions, and avoiding cutting the cuticles. Often called “mini manicures” or “mini pedicures,” these services can also be called Teen Treats, Glam and Glitter, or Kid Care.

Polish changes and nail art also need to have specific offerings for kids. Polish choices should be bright and glittery, and nail art can be anything from stickers applied before the top coat to elaborate designs.

Oh, Grow Up!
As the kids and grandkids of baby boomers make their way into schools and salons, techs and owners are only going to be seeing more and more of them — and at younger and younger ages. Decide now what services you’ll offer them, how much you’ll charge them, and how you’ll attract even more of them.

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