Editor’s note: Unless you’re a newbie, chances are you’ve witnessed the changes that have taken place in the nail industry over the years. Besides booming into a $6.84 billion dollar industry, we’ve witnessed an abundance of revolutionary new products and services (spa-style pedicure systems or colored acrylics, anyone?), a higher level of professionalism and standards, and a higher awareness from the public that nail technicians aren’t just manicurists. Need proof? Open up the pages of any magazine and you’re likely to see the name of the nail tech who did the model’s or celebrity’s nails right alongside the hairstylist’s and makeup artist’s names.
We wanted to get a better feel for how you think the nail industry has evolved over the years, so we thought who better to ask than nail industry veterans themselves? After all, 45.7% of you have been doing nails for nine years or more, so we figured you’d have a lot to say on the subject of change over the years. Most of the nail techs in this article have been doing nails for 20 years or longer, so they’ve witnessed some major changes and had plenty to say.
Nail tech for 24 years
“Nail techs now have better quality products to choose from. I love doing all kinds of nail art, and I’ve seen a tremendous change in that over the last four years or so. It opens up a whole new world for your clients.
The downside to the nail industry has been the lack of education, and in some cases, salon sanitation. I’ve seen it firsthand. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to send a prospective client to the doctor because she had some kind of trauma, infection, or fungus on her nails she got at another salon.
I get tired of seeing the negative publicity the nail industry gets in the media. For that reason I take every opportunity I can to educate the public about the positive side of this business.
Since the beginning of my career I’ve always wanted to be the best and learn as much as I can. Competitions have helped me achieve that. I have five children and three of them are young, so I don’t get to compete like I used to. But I stay as involved as I can. I’ve been a judge, as well as a coach for other competitors. I also hope to open my own nail school when my youngest starts kindergarten (he’s 2) and do a NAILS cover!”
Just Nails, Fitchburg, Wis.
Nail tech for 21 years
“When I started out in the nail industry I was one of about six nail techs in Madison. I was issued license #265, so there had been very few nail tech licenses issued in Wisconsin as of 1983. Since then, I’ve witnessed a huge growth in the state.
What I have known since the beginning is to stay on top of the trends by getting lots of education. The people in this industry who stay in it and make money are always looking ahead.
I’ve noticed how popular certain services and products have become. For example, about six years ago we were getting lots of calls asking if we did pedicures and we weren’t even advertising them. This past summer we were turning away walk-in pedicures every day even though we were doing more each month than we have ever done before. As a 20th anniversary gift to the salon and clients we added a third whirlpool spa to our pedicure suite and turned two little-used areas into pedicure lounges so we can now do five pedicures at a time instead of the three we could do for the last five years.
In terms of products, polish now dries so fast and rarely bubbles. Acrylics are much easier to work with and look so natural that it just isn’t work doing nails; it’s fun.”
Vicki Lee Gattis
Hair N’ Nails, Columbia, S.C.
Nail tech for 20 years
“Education has greatly improved in the years that I’ve been a nail technician. We’re also looked at a little differently than we used to be. But we still have to fight lots of uphill battles because of unsavory news reports.
For example, I had a reporter approach me after she saw my nails. I told her I had done them myself. She thought it would make an interesting story on our local nightly news, sort of a ‘Hometown Girl Does Good’ kind of thing. After she had to break her appointment a few times to cover breaking news my messages got lost along with the story. But let a salon do wrong and it will make headlines in a heartbeat.
I do state board testing and have seen lots of scary things in the past few years so I decided to be involved in the industry to help make a change. I also teach continuing education classes and am a local officer with the NCA. If you would have told me 20 years ago that I’d be working for a major manufacturer, a few major department stores, won several nail competitions, and became an educator all to help make this industry a better one, I would have thought you were crazy.”
Perfect Ten Nail Salon, Worland, Wyo.
Nail tech for 12 years
“The school curriculum for becoming a licensed nail technician has not changed much, but the products have. When I was in school we were trained on an odorless product, which was not so odorless. You had to remove a tacky layer then file for what seemed like days to thin the product. Due to all of the filing you had immediate lifting so you oil buffed. Nowadays the products are self-leveling with great adhesion and clarity that filing is not necessary.
Now you can get all sorts of enhancing products: acrylic, dip acrylic, gel, gel with acrylic, silk wraps, fiberglass wraps — many of which are available in every color under the sun. And if you don’t have a color your client desires you can create one.
Then there are all the choices for tips: colored tips, clear tips, white tips, designed tips, tips with wells, etc. Don’t get me started on manicures, pedicures, and nail art. There is truly a product and service for everyone. The nail industry has become very creative and upscale.”
Salon Velocé, Lynnwood, Wash.
Nail tech for 13 years
“I originally got into this industry because all I saw at the time were dollar signs and working gravy hours. It seemed like an easy job. I found out it wasn’t as easy as it looked and the products we used were the cheapest, bottom-of-the-barrel products that could be purchased. The liquid and powder system I was taught with had to be cured in water!
Nowadays, schools have become more attentive and have a deeper interest in the nails segment of the beauty industry. It seems as if they are offering their students better education and quality products to their students.
Nail techs seem much more interested in the products they are using and are more inquisitive about product features and benefits. I have noticed that products continue to improve. They’re easier to work with and are less damaging to the natural nail. And I’ve seen continuous revolutionary technological breakthroughs, which is great for our industry.
I have seen some negative things too, however. Nail techs continue to damage the nail plate and nail bed. They’re still using dremel tools without the proper education, removing too many layers of the nail plate, permanently damaging the matrix and damaging the reputation of this industry.”
Hair Today, Nails Tomorrow, Fresno, Calif.
Nail tech for 23 years
“Product descriptions have gotten better over the years. Now manufacturers offer better descriptions on how to use their products and what they contain. Acrylics are not as harsh on the nails as they were before and there is a better selection of acrylics, from clear to black.
People seem to appreciate nail art more. I’ve seen styles evolve from flat art to 3-D art. And implements such as nail files and electric files have gotten better. There’s more of a variety to choose from and they’re not so expensive. My first electric file was a demo drill from a hardware store.
Being a nail tech today is so much easier because a lot of the work is pre-done for us. Before we had to sculpt more of our nails. Now you basically put on the tip and you’re done.”
VIP Nails, Riverview, Mich.
Nail tech for more than 20 years
“With so many salons around it has made it harder to be a nails-only salon. The overhead is just too high. The fortunate thing I have seen throughout the last few years is that it practically forces us to diversify in order to survive, which in turn educates us to expand and grow.
I have added many new services and learned much more than if I would have offered nails only. We have also been able to expand our services and offer packages with other services involved. So all in all the negative has created a positive.”
Nail tech for 28 years
“The nail industry has changed tremendously. Before we weren’t even an industry, we sort of just existed. We didn’t have any magazines, classes at shows or distributors, and we were referred to as shops, not salons.
Acrylics were coarse and cured extremely hard so there was lots of filing with small, coarse files. Today we have wonderfully smooth, creamy acrylic polymer and the odor in the monomer has been greatly reduced. The quality of brushes has improved, too. I used to purchase my brushes at art stores. And I’d purchase buffing blocks at the hardware store.
I feel an excitement I don’t remember from my early years. I think part of it is due to the fact that there is so much to learn now such as colored acrylics, colored gels, and design nails.”