It used to be, when a client came into a nail salon, she asked the technician’s advice on what type of service she needed and then took that advice without question.

How times have changed Today’s nail client is likely to know almost as much as her nail technician about what types of services are available to her She’s heard and seen the bad press on nail services gone wrong She’s read the fashion magazines that tell her natural look is in. She knows what’s going on and she expects her nail technician to know too.

Today’s client also knows there’s more than one nail technician in town. If she can’t get what she wants at your salon, she knows the chances are good she can get it elsewhere. And if she can’t get a larger variety of services at another salon, chances are she can at least get one service for less money.

So what’s a technician to do? You know you are the best at the services you provide. You know your prices are fair, given your commitment to quality work. So how do you keep clients coming back?

Experts agree that the best way for a technician to stay competitive in today’s market is to diversity. Offer a variety of services. Become full-service. Becoming full-service does not mean you should learn to do - and do well – all aspects of nail care.

Tony Cuccio of Star Nail Products estimates that 85% of all women want natural nails. Some of these women accept artificial nails because they are unable to grow their own nails. Others are not coming into salons at all because they do not know what options salons offer.

Nobody will dispute that liquid and powder services comprise the bulk of services in most salons. However not every client is a sculptured nail or tip with acrylic overlay wearer. Offering a wide array of services allows you to reach the rest of the market, as well as provide an alternative to your current acrylic overlay clients. And knowing all the service options available enables you to maintain and enhance your professional image when clients come in asking about new services they’ve jest read about.

According to Lorenzo Mejia of International Beauty Design Inc., gel services are the fastest growing segment of the professional market today.

The natural look of gel nails is a major selling point with clients. In addition, the virtual lack of odor makes gels a popular service in full service beauty salons, where hair oriented salon professionals have for years used the odor complaint to relegate nail technicians to the back of the salon, or even keep them completely out of the salon.

The gel market actually encompasses three different technologies; ultraviolet (UV) light, visible light, and no-light systems In all three systems, the gel is brushed on the nail and cured (hardened), either with UV light, visible light, or a brush-on or spray catalyst. Whichever type of gel is used, the end result is a lightweight, durable, natural-looking nail.

As with many nail services, the technology for UV light and visible light gel systems originated in the field of dentistry. Since the early 1970s, dentists have used light cured gels for dental bonding, fillings, bridges, and crowns. The technology was adapted for the nail industry during the 1980s.

UV light-cured gels are perhaps the best known of the three systems. Basically, these systems consist of a urethane acrylate compound or acrylester gel and a UV light unit. The gel remains in a semi-liquid form until cured under the UV light.

Light-cured gels consist of monomers and photoinitiators, explains Nicolas Coomber of Light Concept Nails. When the photoinitiators (chemicals added to the gel to initiate the reaction to the light) come in contact with the right wave length of light, polymerization occurs, which results in the hardening of the gel. To put it simply, the light in a light-cured gel system works like the catalyst in a wrap system.

Visible light systems work in a similar fashion, but use light from the visible, rather than the ultraviolet, part of the spectrum (see box). Therefore the photoinitiators in visible fight gels react to visible light wavelengths, and the photoinitiators in UV light-cured systems react to the UV light wavelengths.

Visible light gels are either urethane acrylate or urethane methacrylate in composition.

No-light gels cure without light. Instead, they use a spray or brush-on activator, which acts much as catalyst does to harden wrap adhesive.

“The no-light (cyanoacrylate) gels were introduced in 1986 and came from the industrial market,” says Sunny Stinchcombe of Gena Laboratories Inc. “It was discovered that Freon/amine sprays would quickly set cyanoacrylate gels. The drawback was that heat was created in the chemical curing process. Acetones were used to “buffer” the heat, but too much acetone affected the finished product (left it “soft-set’ and porous).

“When freons became costly and ran into FDA restrictions. Trichlorethan III replaced them, still with amines and acetone buffers. In 1988, a brush-on ethyl acetate activator was developed and patented. This activator set gels smooth and hard with zero heat and no residual vapors. Several companies have incorporated brush-on activators with tri-III as the main ingredient.”

How Safe Are They?

We’ve all heard the warnings to stay out of the sun because of the danger of skin cancer due to over exposure to UV rays. Wouldn’t frequent exposure to UV light in the nail salon create a similar risk?

According to some opponents of UV light systems, there is a possibility of overexposure that, technically, could lead to skin damage. In reaction to the perceived danger, according to OPI Products, many dentists now use visible light-cured gels instead of UV light-cured gels. According to UV light gel manufacturers, however the risk is negligible.

Light Concept Nails’ Coomber says the danger lies in exposure to UVB and UVC light, not the UVA light used in many gel systems. Other manufacturers add that the minimal amount of time the skin is exposed to the light (generally less than 15 minutes a month) makes overexposure highly unlikely.

In the light spectrum visible light ranges from 400 to 700 nanometers (the unit of measure for light waves). Ultraviolet light ranges from 10 to 400 nanometers and is divided into three categories, UVA light ranges from 320 to 400 nanometers, while UVB and UVC range from 10 to 320 nanometers.

Based on these measurements the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set a standard for exposure to UVA light. This standard is recommended to prevent occupational exposures to UVA light from exceeding levels normally encountered outdoors. The standard equals less than 10 minutes of sunlight at the beach on a clear summer day at noon.

The NIOSH standard states: “For the 320 to 400 nanometer (UVA) region it is recommended that the total radiant incidence on unprotected skin and eyes should not exceed 1.0 milliwatt per square centimeter for periods longer than 1,000 seconds (about 16 minutes).”

According to one manufacturer’s chemist, the real danger of UVA light is eye damage due to overexposure. However, manufacturers agree that prevention is simple: Most light units are enclosed so direct exposure to the eye is highly unlikely. The only time a technician might look directly into the light is when she checks it to see if it is time to replace the bulb, UV lights do not “burn out” with a flash. Instead, the light’s intensity weakens.

A better way to lest the lights, which generally last for about 3,000 working hours, is to apply gel to a tip or test nail and cure it as usual. If it takes longer than the recommended time to cure completely, your light is probably weakening and needs changing.

Who Gets This Service?

As with any nail service, gels are more appropriate for some clients than for others. Promote gels as an additional service to draw new clients into the salon. They are not meant to replace liquid and powder systems, wraps, or any other service, unless, of course, a client tells you she is ready for a change.

Gels can be used as a “cap” over natural nails on clients who don’t want extensions but have trouble growing their own nails because they chip, crack, or peel.

Male clients can also benefit from gel services. Men who bite their nails may want more attractive hands, but shy away from liquid and powder systems. Although gels dry to a high-gloss finish, they can be buffed to remove the high gloss. A gel capped nail can look completely natural, and the smooth, hard finish will make the nail more resistant to chewing and picking.

Gels can also be used as a tip overlay for clients who do want tips, but for whatever reason don’t want acrylics or wraps. Some companies also provide a thicker gel designed to build, or sculpt, nail extensions.

Some gels can also be used over polish. When a client has her newly polished nails covered with a gel overlay, the polish is impervious to chipping, wearing away, or fading. This is an excellent selling point for clients who travel a lot or don’t always have time to come in to the salon for a polish change or to even touch up their polish at home.

Some clients, however, should not have gel nails. One of the selling points of gels used for extensions is that the finished nail feels lighter than a liquid and powder or wrap extension, with or without a tip. However, gel nails also tend to be thinner, which means they may not satisfy clients who are especially hard on their nails.

Obviously, gels should never be applied to a client who demonstrates sensitivity to the product or who has an allergy to the ingredients in the gel. It’s always a good idea, prior to servicing a new client, to have him or hell fill out a client card and list any known allergies or reactions to products during pervious services. That way, you know ahead of time if a certain product should not be used on the client.

Artificial nail products, including gels, acrylics, and wraps, should never be applied to nails that show signs of fungus or other infection. Infections require the attention of a physician. Covering up the problem will, at the very least, make it difficult for a physician to diagnose and, at worst, compound the problem.

“I would never recommend using a UV light-cured gel on people who are using photo-sensitizing medications, such as tetracycline and certain tranquilizers.” says Ingrid Evans of GG’s Nails. “I would also avoid using the system on a person who had a previous episode of skin cancer. Why take the chance, when there are other services available?”

How Much Can I Make?

Of course, the bottom line with any new service is its profit potential. Gels, according to technicians who have incorporated the service, can be as profitable as acrylics, tips, and wraps.

Most manufacturers recommend charging the same rates for gel services as you would for comparable liquid and powder or wrap services. For example, if you charge $50 for tips with acrylic overlay, charge $50 for tips with acrylic overlay, charge $50 for tips with gel overlay as well. The key to pricing any service is determining the going rate for similar services in your area. If nobody in your area offers similar services, determine what the market will bear. The best way to do this is to base your price for the new service on what you charge for other similar services.

Like any new service, gels will require promotion in your salon. One of the best ways to promote a new service is, of course, to wear it yourself. When a client comments on your new look, explain it to her. And listen for cues that you should recommend the service. If, for example, a client complains that her polish chips after just a few days, tell her how a thin coat of gel over the polish will prevent the problem. When a client tells you she’s ready for a change from liquid and powder extensions, but isn’t sure she wants to go completely au naturel, suggest she try a gel overlay, either with or without tips.

Make sure you publicize the new service to non-clients as well. If you work in a salon that also provides hair and skin services, do gel overlays on the stylists and estheticians and ask them to show their nails to their clients who aren’t yet your clients. Offer to do a set, free of charge, on the women who work at your local department store, in exchange for word-of-mouth referrals. Give a waitress at a popular restaurant a full set and a stack of your business cards to distribute to her colleagues and customers who comment on her nails. The promotional possibilities for this service, as for all services, are limited only by your imagination.

When you inform the public that you offer gel services, you are likely to encounter at least one person who has seen gel systems for sale to the general public – at a swap meet, trade show, or even a beauty supply store. This client may have been told that, if she purchased the system, she would never have to go to the nail salon again. Naturally, she will wonder why she should pay you $30 (or $40 or $50) for a service somebody else says she can do in her own home.

If this happens, don’t panic. Remember, you are a professional. She is not, and the person who tried to sell her the home system probably isn’t either. Explain your training to the client. Tell her about the importance of sanitation in nail care services, how strict your salon’s sanitation standards are, and how you can protect her from fungal and bacterial infections. Acknowledge that yes, she can buy also ask her if the company who pitched her on the home system has a hotline she can call if she runs into trouble or if something goes wrong with the system. Ask if the company has taught her how to store gels properly, how to test the light’s strength safely (if she’s using a light system), and what to do if she accidentally gets the gel on her skin.

Then explain to her that the manufacturer of your gel system provides you with continual support in the form of educational videos, instruction manuals, a telephone hotline, in-house training, or whatever educational support your manufacturer does provide. Explain to her that, if she avails herself of your service and ever runs into a problem, you will have answers for her, or will at least know where to get them in a hurry. Remember, nail clients aren’t just paying for good-looking nails. They’re also paying for great, professional service. If you can provide that, and give them a choice of services to boot there’s no stopping you.

The following companies contributed to this article: DuBunne, European Touch Company Four Nails of Minnesota, GG’s Nail Systems. Gena Laboratories, International Beauty Design, Light Concept Nails. Nails Systems International (NSI). Nailite, OPI Products, Salon Essentials, Star Nail Products, SuperNail, Worldwide Cosmetics


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