For some nail techs, it’s not just about working in a salon and doing nails. While working with clients is rewarding in itself, some nail techs have a desire to branch out and do more. They become industry activists, fighting for a cause they believe in with one purpose in mind: to bring a higher level of professionalism to the nail industry.                    

We decided to profile the four following nail techs because we believe they exemplify the true spirit of industry activism. They weren’t satisfied with the way things were being done, so they decided to take action and do something about it. Some have been actively involved in industry issues for years; others have recently joined the cause. Whether fighting for licensing, battling for better regulations, or working to ban harmful chemicals from salons, these nail techs are working for themselves as well as other nail techs and inspiring others to follow their lead along the way.

Woman of the boards: Nancy King

Burnout and stress prompted Nancy King to take a working vacation in Florida a few years ago. While there, she attended a trade show where she attended a sanitation class. “I found out that alcohol kills nothing but time, and that my state board’s sanitation practices were outdated.” says the 25-year nail veteran. “I went back to my state board in Maryland and asked why I had to go to Florida to find out what is safe and should be used.”

She was also prompted by the many women who would come to her salon with different types of damage from nail services. “My original intentions were to educate both the public and others in the industry that nail services are safe when performed by trained nail techs using products the way they were meant to be used,” she says.

That first encounter between nail tech and state board didn’t go well, but the relationship gradually turned friendly. King became an informal advisor to the Maryland Board of Cosmetologists on nail industry related issues. That also led her to the state capitol, where she was instrumental in obtaining sponsors for new laws. In two years, she successfully got four new laws passed. That led the media to her and to date she has been involved in more than 22 television stories on salons.

“While some of the media attention has been negative, looking back, it has actually had a positive impact on the industry. Many nail techs had no idea that what they were doing was potentially dangerous,” she says. “They do now and are making changes, some slower than others, but still a change for the better”

King was also appointed to her state board, opening the door to networking with other states As a result, she formed a nonprofit organization for state boards that provides support data for new rules and laws, as well as new guidelines for licensing examinations. “Over the past seven years, I have had direct impact in changes and additions to either laws or rules in 42 states,” she says “When I looked back at how many changes I have participated in, I was surprised at how far we as an industry have come “

The largest obstacle King says she’s had to overcome is having others understand how legislation and regulation apply to the salon world “While most of the salon world does not un­derstand the meaning of legal terminology, I found that most regulatory and legislative bodies did not truly understand how these words and concepts applied to salons,” she says. “Quite often, what a regulation or law seems to mean is very different from what it truly means.”

King no longer does nails and now lives in Arizona, where she acts as an industry consultant. Besides working with state boards, she also acts as a salon consultant and works with industry associations.

She was also instrumental in founding the Association of Electric File Manufacturers (AEFM), a nonprofit product-neutral education organization that sets the industry standard for safe electric file use in salons. “In the mid-1990s, several state boards said they wanted to eliminate electric files because they were too dangerous,” she says of her reason for forming the organization. Today, she is director of the association. AEFM guidelines have been adopted by more than 26 states in the curriculum for licensing for nail technology, and several states require an AEFM certificate of training if a nail tech or cosmetologist is using an electric file.

She also works to educate consumers about nail salons, sending press releases to news stations “The more aware the consumer is the less chance there is that those of us in the industry who go above and beyond will suffer due to salons that practice poor sanitation,” she says

Woman of all trades: Leesa Myers

Leesa Myers, owner of Advanced Nail & Skin Care in Midvale, Utah, has been actively involved in different aspects of Utah’s nail industry since 1993, when she first began lobbying for licensing. It all began when she attended a National Nail Technician Group meeting She and fellow nail tech Karren Hyatt were the only ones who showed up for the meeting.

The two soon began building up the association’s membership. At one meeting, 50 nail techs and members from the Department of Professional Licensing and Department of Health showed up “We had a panel discussion and were able to ask them about licensing possibilities. They were negative and tried to get us to drop our efforts,” says the 12-year nail veteran.

She then tried to get the Department of Health to issue nail techs health cards for sanitation purposes. That didn’t happen, but it did plant the seeds for something else: The Department of Health began implementing yearly salon inspections.

Myers and Hyatt then came up with another idea’ Why not open a nail school? In 1994, Academy of Nails and Reflexology opened its doors for business in Salt Lake City. However, the two discovered that nail techs were not willing to invest in their education if they did not have to. After four years in business, the school shut its doors.

Myers then became involved with the National Cosmetology Association of Utah Myers met a few cosmetology school owners in the association who helped her become a nail consultant “The school owners had a strong association and they were looking at licensing for nails and skin care,” says Myers.

In 1999, Utah set up a sunset committee designed to review all new licensing bills before arriving at the legislature. Myers spoke to the committee on behalf of all nail techs. The bill passed the committee, and then it was on to the legislature, where it faced a few hurdles. One legislative member opposed the bill, but speaking to plenty of representatives and having two lobbyists on their side helped the bill pass As of April 2001, nail techs have been required to ob­tain 200 hours of schooling or 250 hours of apprenticeship.

Although Myers was glad there was some sort of licensing in effect, there were still more hurdles to overcome As the law reads nail techs cannot do pedicures with any type of callus removal, they are only able to work on the nails of the feet.

“I’m working with the school owners’ association again to change the law and increase the hours to 400,” says Myers.

And that’s not all she’s doing Myers recently co-founded the Nail Education Competition Association (NECA). The association will focus on several issues, including legislative matters and continuing education opportunities.

Banning MMA is her mission: Diana Bonn

It all began about six years ago for Diana Bonn, a nail tech at Colours in Muncie, Ind. “In my salon we were warning clients about MMA and its hazards,” says the 12-year nail veteran. “The one question we were always asked was, ‘Is it against the law?’ We’d say no and they’d say, ‘Well, if it is so bad why isn’t it against the law?’”

Bonn thought it was a very good question and decided to see what she could do about it. Aftei asking hei uncle, a former Speaker of the House for the state of Indiana, about the ins and outs of getting a law passed, Bonn contacted her local representative. She was then referred to Mary Kay Budack, a state representative whose daughter was a nail tech.

“They had been trying to get this going, but they didn’t have any information on MMA.” Bonn was asked to testify at Senate hearings the following month.

Bonn was curious about how many states had a law banning MMA, so she posted the question on’s message board, an online forum for nail techs. No one responded, so Bonn spent several weeks calling every state board in the country. At the time, only 15 states had laws, rules, or regulations concerning MMA.

She spent the next month gathering information on MMA from several sources, including the FDA and “What amazed and shocked me was that several states changed their laws, rules, or regulations because of the information I sent them. It surprised me that many of these states hadn’t even heard of MMA,” she says.

Bonn did testify in Indiana and afterward, one of the senators came up to her and told her he hadn’t realized how unsafe nail salons were and that it was the most interesting testimony he had heard in a while.

The law did pass and MMA was banned in Indiana in July 1999. If a nail tech is caught using MMA in her salon, she will be fined $1,000. “The frustrating part is there is no way they can prove that someone uses MMA,” she says.

Others soon found out about Bonn’s involvement in her state. Newspapers began writing articles about her fight, the Indiana State Board of Health contacted her for information, and she was asked to speak at different events.

Currently, Bonn has been actively working with several board members to update sanitation and disinfection laws. She is also working on an online education program for her state.

Fighting for licensing: Wendy Updegrave

Wendy Updegrave, owner of First Class Nails in East Lyme, Conn., didn’t need much motivation to become involved in her state’s affairs “I chose to get involved because I’m tired of being a nail tech in the only unlicensed state,” says the 16-year nail veteran. “I feel we’re looked down upon in the nail industry. At a trade show in Atlantic City, N.J, I mentioned to two vendors that I was from Connecticut. One looked at the other with an ‘Oh, she’s one of those unlicensed people’ look. Just because we are unlicensed does not make us ignorant”

Indeed, the state passed licensing laws in 1999, only to rescind them in 2000 due to lack of funding.

Fed up with the lack of licensing and the seeming lack of respect from other peers in the industry prompted Updegrave to call the Department of Health, which regulates hairdressers and barbers in Connecticut “I spoke with the director who, though sympathetic, was unable to help much,” she says “After some convincing I was able to get him to agree to accept complaints about poor nail services so if licensing were ever implemented they would have an idea of where they should begin inspections.”

Updegrave has tried to not make it a solo effort, but hasn’t had much success so far “Other nail techs in my area seem disinterested so I haven’t been able to enlist their help,” she says “I’ve also written to the editor of my local newspaper to try to get the community involved — to no avail.”

One outlet she has found extremely useful has been’s message board. Her next step, she says, is to make copies of every state’s licensing requirements and send them to her state officials — maybe to inspire them.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.

Read more about