Tanis Darling

Tanis Darling

Nail salons may not be the biggest business in America, but its growth has taken the world by storm, particularly in the last 20 years. Today, free- standing nail salons dot the commercial blocks and strip malls of cities from Southern California to South Carolina.

There have been many milestones, from product inventions to industry status to technical innovations. Growth in the industry has caused some celebrated and some unwelcome changes.

Who better to reflect on the past 20 years than the nail technicians who started out when manicurists mostly worked in shadowy corners of hair salons or served the wealthy? You can bet they have a thing or two to say about why things have changed dramatically, and why they have not.


Says 19-year veteran Tanis Darling: “The biggest change I have seen developing is that we are no longer the ‘nail girls’ in the corner of the hair salon. We are an industry unto ourselves. This is evident by the amount of products that are manufactured for us, classes geared to nail technicians, and, of course, the number of nail booths at the trade shows. We even have celebrities in our own industry; the ones we strive to become like in skill and follow their careers through the magazines. We’ve learned to become self-employed business owners and to not treat our careers as a hobby to dally with. We have men in our industry, something we never saw in the early ‘80s and we welcome them.”

Says 17-year-veteran Phyllis Italiano: “In Australia, the price of a foil set of nails 15 years ago was $40 compared to today at $90. Advanced training courses have been made available to the veteran techs allowing them to keep updated, which in turn has improved the quality of nail technicians. Nail techs have become aware that their role does not just involve extending the length of the artificial nail enhancement product; it involves the treatment and care of the entire hand, arm, foot, and leg to the knee. Also, looking forward to the seasonal enamel collections has added such a spark to the shelves of nail techs across the globe. Clients are really branching out and trying different colors to stay up with the current trends.”

Kim Stevens

Kim Stevens

Says 20-year-veteran Kim Stevens, and owner of Puttin’ on the Tips Salon & School in Ocala, Fla.: “Having artificial nails was a rarity, it was a luxury for a few exclusive women. Over the last 20 years women have made great strides in the workplace. Along with those changes women have had an exponential effect on the amount of money they have put into themselves via the nail industry This has more than likely been the one factor that has pushed the nail industry to new explosive growth. Just like fashion trends change in hair, so do nail trends. Nails were thick, square, and two inches long in the early ‘80s. There was no doubt ladies had artificial nails. Nail extensions have progressed to a thinner, more natural look”

Says Benee Borowy, nail tech and salon owner for more than 2G years, owner Of VIP Nails in Riverview, Mich.: “The first change Over the last 20 years that comes to mind is that acrylics today are much more natural-looking. Years ago it took us hours to do what some technicians can do in less than an hour today.”

Cathy Marrone

Cathy Marrone

Says Cathy Marrone, a 20-year-veteran and nail technician at Gut-N-Loose in Little Falls. N. J.: “Just in product knowledge alone, we are better able to service our clients and know their needs and wants. We have many new services such as paraffin, masks, gels, AHA creams, and electric files. I feel we meet clients’ needs on an individual basis now. Clientele today is much more diverse. If s not just a luxury any longer to get your nails done; it’s a way to complete a person’s individual look.”


Says Darling: “We’ve learned more about the chemicals that we use and the anatomy of the nail upon which we work we’ve learned to protect the natural nail as the strongest foundation of a nail enhancement and to embrace the natural nail business and accept it as a valuable part of our career as well.”

Says Italiano: “Over the past 20 years there has definitely been a huge improvement in the quality of the products available to nail technicians. This improvement has proven to make the life of the nail tech so much easier. Top quality product lines provide highly refined powders, technologically advanced monomers that make problems of the past no longer a challenge No more crystallizing, yellowing, thick, long, unnatural-looking nails. Quality products allow the nail tech to apply her product thinner without consequence.”

Debbie Doerrlmann

Debbie Doerrlmann

Says Stevens: “There is much more education now in nails. I learned how to do nail extensions when I was attending cosmetology school in South Daytona, Fla., at the International Academy of Hair Design in 1982. One of the main reasons I chose it was they were the only school that taught nails. I wanted to learn nails as much as hair. There were two nail techs in Daytona at the time. They had to bring someone in from Orlando (an hour away) three evenings to teach us since the two local techs did not want any more competition. It was almost a secret society back then that was difficult to join. Most people were self-taught, but I wanted more. I had to drive five hours south to Ft. Lauderdale one year and fours hours north to Georgia the following year just for the few hours of educa­tion I could find. Now, the availability is all around us. I find those that take ad­vantage of it are the most successful in the industry. Years ago, many clients could not go natural due to many problems with fill lines and discoloration. With more clear, non-yellowing products and less lifting, we now see pink-and-whites as a big trend. Clients like the clean look that matches everything in their wardrobe.”

Says Borowy: “I feel we are much more educated regarding lifting causes and fungus problems, allowing us to ‘diagnose’ problems with our techniques much quicker. The use of MMA is now more well-known and the public is aware of the dangers of having it used on them. And with all of the new techniques with pink- and-whites, it’s allowed us to charge higher prices and create a higher echelon of acrylic nails and skillful technicians to do them. I think one of the biggest areas of change is pedicures. Pedicures are now in a class by themselves and most consider it a necessity rather than a luxury.”


Says Darling: “It’s unfortunate that we cannot get the misinformation regarding chemical usage and the lack of sanitation up to the standards that they should be. Although many technicians know what is correct and what is not, a vast number of technicians do not choose to care about these issues in their drive to make money at their chosen profession. The lack of a large amount of properly trained educators and school instructors and lack of mandatory annual classes, lack of licensing or regulatory boards are all part of the big picture when it comes to this problem.”

Says Stevens: “One area that’s gone backwards over the last 20 years is price. Twenty years ago, the minimum price for a full set in Florida was $40 for a beginner. Once you built up a clientele, this went up as high as you could get away with. Today, with the many nail salons in Honda, $40 has become outrageous to clients. We were getting $20 for fills and most average salons in my area still are. We have to cater more to the customer to be able to charge what was then average and now considered top-dollar”

Says Debbie Doerrlamm: “Our road is still bumpy no matter how much progress we’ve made. Distributors still put nail products m the corner, the public still has that gum-snapping, 18-year- old in mind when they think of a nail technician, and education for nails is still glossed over or non-existent.”

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