Just ask Donna Rodriguez, a four-year veteran of the nail business who made her competition debut at Nails Show in East Brunswick, N.J., earlier this year. Rodriguez, a nail technician at Jade Hair Salon in Strousburg,Pa., explains.”I used to think that I could never be good enough to compete. Then I realized I’d never get better if I didn’t try.” Although she didn’t place at the competition, Rodriguez did learn some valuable lessons about what to do differently next time. Novices, take note.

  1. Use high-quality products. I was using a generic brand of acrylic product that was acceptable with polish covering it, but definitely not up to par with competition-quality products. I will also be more choosy when it comes to picking out a buffer. The one that I used left too many noticeable scratches.
  2. Bring extra supplies. I had one tube of glue with me and it was bone dry. Another competitor was kind enough to lend me an extra tube. When I opened the tube, the entire nozzle fell off. I had to dip the nozzle into the tube and all the tips wound up with too much glue. They took longer to dry and every one of them popped off at least once.
  3. Be choosy about a model. My model, who is a friend of mine, was not the best choice. I thought I could get her cuticles into shape before with the competition and, while I managed to improve their appearance somewhat, they were still not in competition shape. Unfortunately, her nail beds were also too short.
  4. Bring a stop watch. Next time, I’ll have my model keep track of time so that she can tell me how much time I’ve spent on a particular area and how much time I have left. 
  5. Bring a heat pack. All the top competitors had one. It can help deter crystallization in a sometimes frigid competition room.
  6. Get to know some of the other competitors. I think that talking to others around you before the competition begins will help put you at ease since they are probably just as nervous as you are.
  7. Have a good breakfast, no coffee. Next time I’ll definitely stay away from the complementary coffee.
  8. Buff your tips before applying them. Many nail technicians probably already do this but I didn’t. It would have saved me a lot of time since several of the tips that I had applied using too much glue came off when I tried to remove the shine from them.
  9. Take advantage of prep time. I should have looked more closely at my model’s hands. I may have been able to correct some of the flaws that the judges picked up on.
  10. Make time to see the winner’s nails. Since I had an evening dinner date with 1 1/2hour drive ahead of me, I didn’t get a chance to see the winning entry. Next time, I’ll keep the entire day clear so I won’t feel rushed to leave.

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