Illustration/Marc Galindo

Illustration/Marc Galindo

The first signals may be subtle. A client reschedules appointments. She arrives late for her fill, uncharacteristic for her. She may show less enthusiasm when you’re done with her nails. She may begin to let three, four, even five weeks slip between her fill appointments.

A sensitive and alert nail technician may be able to identify these signs of restlessness as an indication that the client is no longer interested in having nail extensions. For whatever reason – boredom, upkeep, expense, need for change – a client will sometimes decide to have her artificial nails removes. But if you play your cards right, you can keep that client as a natural manicure client, and possibly earn even greater business in the long run with her weekly manicure appointments and selling retail products.

The first step to retaining this client is identifying her restlessness early enough so that she doesn’t attempt to remove her own nails and simply give up on coming to the salon altogether.

According to Brenda Baker of Fingertips and Finery in Calabasas, California, some clients don’t say anything when they want a rest from artificial extensions because they’re embarrassed. “They’ll do anything not to hurt the nail technician’s feelings,” she says. They find it hard to explain to you why they want a change, and they don’t always know what they want to change to.”

Baker suggests watching clients for signs of restlessness. Requests for shorter nails, different shapes, or thinner extensions may be small adjustments. But more than one request indicates deeper dissatisfaction. Ask the client if she’s happy with the service, and if she isn’t, make some suggestions for change. Sometimes, Baker says, she will tell a client about what another client wanted and what she did to make the client happy.

Most clients will tell you when they want to rest from artificial extensions. Occasionally, neither of you will have a choice because of a client’s health problems. Artificial products can irritate some clients, and other clients may suddenly develop an allergy to a product they’ve used for years. If redness, swelling, itching, fungal or bacterial infections, or separation of the nail from the bed occur, waste no time in removing all product from the nails and referring the client to a physician. Artificial products will only mask or further irritate these conditions, sometimes leading to more serious health problems for the client.

Don’t try to change a client’s mind or you may lose her. Don’t worry that she won’t came back once you remove the product. She will because she’s going to need your care. And when her natural nails regain their former strength, she’ll be hooked on your “salon-perfect” natural manicures.


The natural nail may be weak and thin after product is removed, but continuous professional care helps prevent permanent damage. The nail technicians we spoke to emphasize using cuticle oil on the cuticle area and underneath the free edge while the client has artificial nails.

Cuticle oil moisturizes the nail matrix and enhances new nail health. When applied under the free edge, it seeps into the nail bed and plate, helping keep the nail healthy and pliable. Discuss the importance of maintenance with clients.

On your part, use nippers sparingly, and be careful to clip only loose product. If you need to remove a nail for any reason, soak off the product to minimize damage that may occur to the nail bed or matrix. Likewise, some technicians recommend against using drills because if they’re used improperly they can damage the nail bed. Careful drilling should do no more harm to the nail bed than any other method. Proper removal of artificial product is the most important factor in determining the final condition of the natural nail, says Carshonn Shimer of Fingerprints in Deerfield, Florida. Explain to each new client why you are the only one who should remove artificial nails, and briefly describe what proper removal entails (just in case she decides to pry them off herself).

Soak off the artificial product with acetone or a remover designed specifically for this procedure, and allow plenty of time for the process. Allow at least half an hour; rushing only risks damaging the nail plate and matrix. For this first appointment, schedule at least an hour and a half for removal and a thorough manicure.

Removing product sometimes seems impossible, and it certainly tests a technician’s patience. The trick, however, is to soak the nails for a few minutes and quickly but gently scrape away the top layer (speed is crucial because acrylic will quickly set up again when exposed to air). Keep repeating this step until all the product is removes. Remember, don’t apply too much pressure on the nail. Once you’re close to the natural nail you can use a buffer to remove the last traces of product.


Once the product is removed and the natural nail exposed, be prepared for the look of dismay on your client’s face. The natural nails are probably white and flaky because they’re dehydrated from primer or glue, as well as from the removal soak. A hot oil treatment or a paraffin dip (or both) will help rehydrate nails – the first step towards beautiful nails.

Brittle, thin nails are also to be expected. Explain to the client that dehydration is mostly to blame for the nails’ appearance. It should only take a few weeks for the nails to improve visibly, although it will be three to six months before new, completely healthy nails grows out.

Before rehydrating the nail, take the length down to no more than 1/8-inch. Because the nails are so brittle and thin, if they’re any longer they might tear into the nail bed when they break. The client may have to keep her nails this short for several months.

This initial moisturizing treatment should bring back the natural nail plate’s normal color. You’ll have to wait for the rough surface to grow out, but you can lightly buff away excess flakiness (use caution because the nail plate is thin and probably sensitive).

Proceed with a natural nail manicure (see “Get Back to Basics” on page 58), explaining each step to the client. Show her the products you use, explain their purpose, and stress that her own regular use of those same products will help maintain her “new” nails. This is the perfect time to retail home maintenance products to her. Between her weekly salon manicure and her at-home regimen she will see a drastic improvement in her nails and associate their renewed vitality with you and your products.

After the nail is shaped and moisturized, choose a nail strengthener suited for this client’s needs. Although the technicians we spoke to are divided on this step, most seemed to object to treatments containing formaldehyde, saying they tend to dry the nail further. However, there are plenty of formaldehyde-free treatments available, and many technicians say they do make a difference.

The crowning touch to your “recovery” program is two coats of your client’s favorite polish. Although some clients may prefer a natural buffed look, encourage then to use a treatment or polish until new nails grow out. Treatments and polish seal the nail, says Baker, helping it retain the natural oils it needs during this regenerative period.

Shimer urges clients to wear colored polish for at least two months, saying that color makes them more aware of their nails. There is less of a tendency to dig in the garden when you’re wearing colored polish, for example. Also, clients wearing colored polish are more apt to apply top coats regularly and repolish when chips appear.

After this first manicure, write down a maintenance program for the client, including what products she needs, as well as how and when to use them. The most common retail items are a fine-grit file, cuticle oil, hand cream, nail treatments, polish, polish remover, and a top coat. At the least, she should apply cuticle oil once a day and a top coat once every day or two to protect polish color.

After the nails regain their former strength and pliability, Shimer says clients can grow their natural nails as long as they like. For most clients, anything longer than active length will be too long because natural nails just aren’t as strong as extensions and overlays.

After this first service, schedule your client for her next manicure in one week, bag her retail products, and encourage her to call you with any questions. This extra touch will go a long way in helping you keep her as a client. And be prepared; if all goes as planned you are now going to be seeing this client twice as often as you used to.

The following nail technicians contributed information for this article: Brenda Baker of Fingertips and Finery in Calabasas, California; Angela Gomez of Glamorous Hands in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Lori Ribar of Perfect 10 Nails in Mendota Heights, Minnesota; Carshonn Shimer of Fingerprints in Deerfield, Florida; and Stephanie Takahara of Tips Salon in Foster City, California.

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