There is a phenomenon that plagues many nail technicians. It may first appear during nail school, or it may not surface until the technician begins working in the salon. It occurs the first time the technician sits down to do a fill, and to her surprise the customer is missing nails — it could be just a few or it might be all 10. That’s when the guilt starts.

It hits full force when a client insinuates that you didn’t do something right. She says things like, “I don’t know how this happened. I was just sitting there watching TV and my nail fell off.” And that is usually followed by, “I’ve never had this happen before.”

I remember the day I was hit with the plague. It was early in my career, when I was a self-taught technician (before Illinois had licensing laws) working in a salon. I attended a product class where the educator was demonstrating a fill on a perfectly intact nail. So I raised my hand and asked, “What do you do if the nail is lifting or has stress cracks?” The educator replied that if you do the nail right in the first place you will not have any lifting or cracks. Ouch! It hit me. I felt sick and inadequate. I must be doing this all wrong. For years, every time a client had a problem those words echoed in my mind. Today, I realize that broken nails or nails with stress cracks or lifting aren’t always due to the technician’s error. Now I play detective, immediately referring to a mental checklist of possible reasons. I address the issue with my client, asking questions to try to determine the source of the problem. If a client comes in with a broken nail I’ll ask how it broke. If she is wearing a set of tips and the acrylic is still attached at the base of the nail, but the tip and the well are gone, I suspect that my adhesive may have failed. If the tip was sheared off with the well intact, I look at the occupation or habits of that client.

As a salon owner with an apprenticeship program, I see the plague—nail break guilt syndrome—hit many new technicians and have come to feel this is a positive quality. When a new technician asks questions about why a nail breaks or lifts, I know the next question will be, “Do you think it’s something I did?” This shows that the nail technician cares and is sensitive to the clients’ needs. And by asking questions she is on her way to being cured.

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