Before a lot of today’s high-tech products, nail technicians often had to use makeshift supplies, like sandpaper for filing and teabag wraps for nail repairs, but today’s nail professional has the most up-to-date tools at her fingertips. In the past decade, the nail industry has taken a giant step forward---offering huge advances in product technology and continuing education. Whereas in 1983 nail technicians worked with chemicals they barely understood, in 1993 nail technicians insist on product knowledge and chemical expertise.

NAILS talked to several prominent nail technicians who have been around during this decade of change to find out what have been the most significant movements. Almost to the person, sculptured nails were the most popular service in 1983, but these veteran salon professionals have also seen changes in the salon itself, they’ve seen manufacturers come and go, they’ve seen an improvement in their professionalism, and they’ve watched how their clients have changed.

Maggie Boyd, Nails Industry Association (NIA) founding director and owner of Avanté Nail Studio (Barrington, III.) : Sculptured nails were my most popular service. I was also doing a lot of china silks, manicures, and pedicures.

Nail technicians can now find out the chemical ingredients in their products. We aren’t in the dark anymore about what we’re working with. We live in the information age and product information is readily available, where it wasn’t 10 years ago. Today’s nail technicians and consumers are much more aware.

Joey Brown, western regional manager for OPI Products (N. Hollywood, Calif.) : Salons didn’t do much retailing 10 years ago, except for nail polish, but within the past five years, we’re seeing an upsurge in retail nail care products.

Ten years ago, technicians worked in the back of the salon because of our smelly liquids and powders. At the time, we were probably an annoyance to hairdressers and we were treated like the stepchild in the beauty industry. But today, we’ve moved to the front of the salon and have become a vital part of the business.

Debi Burger, owner of Nail X’tasy (Northridge, Calif.) : Nails used to be a very specialized industry. Now you can see up to six salons on one block offering competing prices for services. Today, there is more opportunity today for a nail technician to further her education outside of school, partly due to the continuing education classes offered by manufacturers. Clients have become more knowledgeable and educated. And not only are they interested in a technician’s ability, but her personality, too.

Jewel Cunningham, Du Shons Salon (Downey, Calif.) : My most popular service 10 years ago was acrylics. At that time, consumers were completely uneducated. All they wanted was an extension that beyond the free edge of their finger. They were pleased as punch to have nails, but they didn’t really care what they looked like. Today’s customers know what they want and are much fussier. They are interested in the products as well as the application. Ten years ago critics said getting your nails done was a fad and it would never last. Today, we can safely say they were wrong.

Liz Fojon, owner of Phenomanails, (Fair Lawn, N.J.): I started in the business as a nail artist doing very primitive nail art using old-fashioned tape and gems. No one was doing nail art at the time, so I got a big response. Today, people are more open to creative nail art designs, where years ago they weren’t that daring. Over the years, nail art popularity has grown immensely. Tradeshows have also gained popularity and competitions have grown significantly.

Paula Gilmore, NIA founding director and co-owner of Tips Nail & Image Center (Foster City, Calif.) : My most popular service 10 years ago was sculptured nails and paper wraps. The most significant change in the nail industry has been education. Ten years ago there was no such thing as a nails-only show with classrooms or manufacturer classes. There is a lot more chemical awareness among today’s nail technicians in regards to health and safety concerns. As recently as three years ago a lot of technicians didn’t know what an MSDS was.

Kathy Haller, NIA founding director and co-owner of Eleganté Nails (Arlington, Texas) : Today’s clients are asking more questions about what products are being used on them. Ten years ago technicians weren’t telling what they were using, and clients weren’t asking. The public awareness toward products has changed. Clients want to know what products their technician is using on them. A client’s attitude toward getting her nails done has also changed---no longer is it considered a luxury like it was 10 years ago, but part of her professionalism.

Patricia Johnson-Rambo, owner of Nail Care Center (Glendale Heights, III.) and program director of Bailey’s, Nail Division (Markham, III.) : The most popular service I did 10 years ago was manicures. Products left a lot to be desired back then. There has been a significant change in product consistency and curing. Education has also improved. All they taught in school was very basic nail care, like manicures and pedicures. There was no education on artificial nails in school at that time.

Corie Lefkowitz, director of education and Midwest account executive for Star Nail Products (Valencia, Calif.) : I was living in Florida at the time and I didn’t have a license to do hair so I decided to do nails because at that time Florida was unlicensed. The only product around for doing nails was Mona. It was so coarse that we went to the hardware store to get sandpaper to use as files. And at that time we were still going to dental supplies to buy primers.

Karen Lessler, president of National Nail Technicians Group ( Huntington, N.Y.) : The most significant change in the industry has been the aggressiveness of today’s nail technician to achieve professionalism. Nowadays a technician knows the difference between saying, “I am a professional” and really being one. Today’s professional technician practices good sanitation, offers a full spectrum of services, and seeks continuing education.

Terri Lundberg, national educator for Simply Elegant (Huntington Beach, Calif.) : Sanitation practices and product quality and technology have been the most significant changes over the years. The health-related issues of today are real and we need to be aware of sanitation so we can be in control. For example, 10 years ago we used to lick the tip of the acrylic brush to bring it to a point. We didn’t know any better. I remember thinking when sanitizable files came out, Why would I need a sanitizable file? We sure have come a long way.

Debbie Nichols, NIA founding director and owner of Beautique Salon (Westbro, Mass.) : The biggest change in the industry has been consumer awareness about the effects of different nail services. More women today are seeking professional nail care because there are many more women in the workplace. Today’s clients, especially those who have natural nails, not only like having nice nails, but really enjoy the relaxation of the service.

Linda Nordstrom, senior educational sales consultant for Creative Nail Design (Carlsbad, Calif.) : A natural nail manicure was my most popular service 10 years ago. Product quality and the quality of ongoing education, provided by manufacturer classes, have changed. Today’s consumers are more aware of what the technician is doing, how she is doing it, and why she is doing it. This has created more loyalty and long-term business among clients.

Vicki Peters, manager for NAILS Magazine Shows (Redondo Beach, Calif.) : My most popular service 10 years ago was sculptured nails, and back then, they all looked the same. Today, you can give the client individualized service using the same service because there are so many different product variations, colors, textures, primers, etc. Depending on a client’s skin tone and wearability, you now have a choice for each client’s needs. I call it Product D’Jour. Also, the education foundation wasn’t there 10 years ago, but today we even have manufacturer hot lines to answer technician questions.

Jackie Randolph, owner of Nail Expressions (Washington, D.C.) and immediate past chair of Nail Technicians America: The only service I did 10 years ago was acrylic sculptured nails. Overall, the professionalism that technicians have developed over the years stands out most in my mind. We have worked diligently to raise the consciousness that we are just as professional as accountants and doctors. The advent of NAILS Magazine thrust us forward and helped us recognize in our own minds that we are indeed professionals.

In the beginning, manufacturers borrowed the technology employed in the dental industry and applied it to nails. Since then, the industry has grown into various derivatives of acrylics---different resin products, odourless acrylics, and gel products.

On the downside of the nail industry, since many salons are popping up in certain areas, salon owners have been forced to lower their prices for the services rendered because of all the competition. Unfortunately, consumers look at price first, service second. Clients don’t realize how important the quality of the service is until after the damage is done.

Nancy Schweizer, NIA president and owner of NNP Consulting (Lake Wales, Fla.) : Thirty years ago, we used to repair broken nails with cigarette papers, tea bags, and perm end papers. Today’s products are much more pliable, such as acrylics, fibreglass, and gels. We used to use sandpaper for filing and today we’re using silicone-covered files, submersible files, and cloth files. In the past 10 years, the nail industry has gone from cosmetologists doing manicures on their customers to one-girl salons to four-girl salons to nails-only salons. We also now have nails-only competitions and nails-oriented tradeshows. The nails-only business is thriving. The industry has changed so much that we now have specific nails-only associations, whereas 10 years ago the nail technician had a hard time getting insurance and health care.

Mona Townsend, president of Nail Stuff-N-More (Sacramento, Calif.) : 1983 was when I started developing the fibreglass wrap. In 1983 I don’t think nail technicians had the credibility they do today and clients didn’t have the selection of services.

Today is all about choice. Now you’ve got several different methods of wraps, gels, odourless acrylics.  And nail art, sanitation, and pedicures have all taken their place. It’s become a very lucrative industry.

Ten years ago women were aware they could have long nails, but they often looked like lima beans on the ends of the fingers. Better products are available now and nail technicians have refined their technique so that nails are thinner and more natural looking.

Jessica Vartoughian, CEO of Jessica Cosmetics (Los Angeles, Calif.):  Consumers are more concerned about the health of their own nails. Today’s clients are going back to basics---back to the natural manicure. And since many more women are in the workplace, having nice nails enhances their beauty and is important for a professional image.

Nailco Salon Marketplace, a full service beauty products distributor in Livonia, Mich., developed the Salon of the Year awards to recognize nail salons and tanning salons as integral and successful parts of the beauty industry. Four outstanding salons received this honor in 1992 based on their excellence in salon design, innovation, and business acumen.

Representatives from Nailco and NAILS Magazine judged the nail salon entrants, and representatives from Tanning Trends magazine assisted Nailco in judging the tanning salons. Leading nail industry manufacturers such as IBD, OPI Products, Orly International, and Star Nail Products also sponsored the event.

First-place winners received $1,500 in cash and products, an engraved plaque, and free admission for two to the Nailco ’92 Carnival show. Runners-up received $650 in cash and products, a plaque, and free admission for two to Nailco ’92 Carnival. The awards were presented at an evening ceremony during the Nailco fashion show on October 4,1992.

Salons were judged in one of four categories, depending on their size and specialty. Emerging Nail Salon (one to three stations), Master Nail Salon (four or more stations), Emerging Tanning Salon (one to six units), or Master Tanning Salon (seven or more units).

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