InternatioNAILS: Mexico and Central America: Nails Are Hot and Getting Hotter

Increases in disposable income translate into more clients enjoying colorful nails south of the U.S. border.

<p>Attendees are welcomed to EBS. Photo by Expo Beauty Show</p>

Like the tropical climate that is native to the region, the nail looks of Mexico and Central America are bright, hot, and luxuriant. “Women in Mexico and Central America are less shy when choosing colors, shine, crystals, and bright colors than in the United States, and also more apt to ask for nail art in nail salons and beauty salons,” says Triana Ramirez, a Colombian-born nail tech and U.S. military wife who previously worked in Central and Latin America for nail manufacturer Masglo. “It’s common to choose 3-D nail art, bright colors, and splashy art, and these themes have been in the nail culture for a long time.”

The market for nail services in these countries — that is, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, and Honduras — is heating up, corresponding to a rise in overall living standards and disposable income. “Mexico is also likely to emerge as a major spa and beauty salon market in the coming years, thanks to the country’s growing GDP [gross domestic product] and the resultant increase in the purchasing power of the consumers,” according to the Transparency Market Research report “Spas and Beauty Salons Market - South America, Central America and North America Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast 2014 - 2020.”

<p>Mexican nail tech Roberta Flores created this vibrant nail design.</p>

After operating for many years on only a small scale, beauty salons and spas in Central and South America now benefit from a surge in urbanization and increasing development in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina, the report finds, stating that this development “has been vital for the market for spas and beauty salons in South and Central America. With increasing disposable income and health consciousness, consumers in Central and South America have shown increasing demand for spas and beauty salons in the last few years. The steady economic growth witnessed in the region over the last few years has also handed consumers the purchasing power to avail [themselves of] premium spa and beauty services.”

The report estimates the Americas’ spa and beauty salon market will be valued US$138.2 billion between 2014 and 2020, if an estimated 7.2% compound annual growth rate comes to fruition.


Today’s Techs

In her role as Cuccio global educator and Cina brand manager for Star Nail International, Marilyn Olemma Garcia sees much of this growth firsthand. She also notices the country-by-country differences in nail techs’ knowledge and education. Of all the countries south of the U.S. border to the northern border of South America, Mexico has the most vibrant and diverse nail scene. In Mexico, Garcia says, “Nail techs are always looking for the next trend or the newest thing. Nails are more colorful and the clients are willing to try new things.” She contrasts Mexico with Costa Rica, where she says the trends are more simple and the industry more conservative. “The nail techs there want to learn more and have more classes,” she says. In El Salvador and Honduras, nail techs are interested in manicures and color, and clients there are conservative as well. There are many home-based salons in El Salvador and Honduras, Garcia says.

<p>When Colombian-born nail tech Triana Ramirez taught acrylic and gel classes for manufacturer Masglo at Central American beauty schools and nail supply shops, she found that most of the nail techs were women between the ages of 18 and 40.</p>

Licensing regulations vary by country, but Garcia’s impression is that none of the governments in this region are sticklers for rules. “There are only a few countries that actually have schools,” Garcia says. However, Ramirez, who spent a lot of time educating in Costa Rica from 2001 to 2007, says, “To work in a salon in Costa Rica, a person needs to be certified by a beauty school as a manicurist. The course takes roughly eight months to a year. If a person wants to be a salon owner, she also needs permission from ‘Salud y Municipalidad,’ which basically is the city health office.”

Government oversight or no, being a nail tech in Mexico and Central America is a good way to make a living, our sources say. “Yes, it is a serious full-time job and gives the opportunity for a lot of women to be professional and sustain their homes,” Garcia says. Ramirez says, “Working in the beauty industry is a very good business for nail technicians, stylists, and also for customers, as service prices in Mexico and Central America are more affordable than here in the U.S.” Like in the United States, most of the nail techs in this region are women, though there are a few male nail techs. Ramirez found the most common  demographic was females ages 18 to 40.

For nail techs who seek out education, opportunities are available, with the most comprehensive being Expo Beauty Show (EBS) in Mexico City. Billing itself as “the largest professional beauty event in Latin America,” EBS boasts more than 80,000 attendees over three days, 34,000-sq.-m. of exhibit space, and educational arenas. “Every year EBS grows in number of exhibitors and visitors — about 5% per year — and every year we have new launches, an education area, international shows, etc.,” says Lili Carballido, EBS’ show director. “Visitors can find professional nail products from America, Asia, and Europe; they will also discover new trends and launches, and can learn application techniques from the classes and workshops. At the 2015 show, a nail polish with a silver mirror effect was very popular,” Carballido says.

<p>Full sets of nails, like these by Triana Ramirez, complement the princess dresses worn at quincea&ntilde;eras.</p>

Throughout the year, many nail manufacturers based in the region and outside of it (including from the United States) offer brand-specific education to nail techs. These include Star Nail/Cuccio, Organic Nails, Masglo, and Mia Secret. “Our education program throughout the American continent has also been a key for our products’ success,” says Roberto Mejia, founder of Mia Secret, a U.S.-based brand that has a strong user base in Mexico and Central America.


Service and Salon Profile

In Mexico and Central America, “manicures and pedicures are affordable for everyone, the rich and the poor,” says Julie Zepeda, chief executive officer and president of the National Latino Cosmetology Association, a U.S.-based non-profit membership organization that addresses needs of the Latino Beauty community. As such, there are a wide array of nail services offered.

Most salons and spas that offer manicures/pedicures in Mexico and Central America are full-service, or at minimum offer both hair and nails. But there are exceptions, and nails-only outlets are slowly growing. Uñas Finas, headquartered in Mexico City, is a large chain of nails-only salons that has been in business for more than 20 years. It franchises three different sizes of nail salons and spas. Nail techs sometimes work in production-line mode, meaning that a row of techs will each perform a different portion of the service for the client. “They work in individual stages, not where a nail tech fully attends one client,” Garcia says.

<p>Colored acrylic demos are popular at EBS. Gels are starting to gain ground.</p>

Manicures are the most popular service, and acrylics are the extension medium of choice. Ramirez says, “Most Latin American countries celebrate quinceañera where the big, puffy, crystal-decorated dress is the center of attention. A lot of teens, excited about their quinceañera, get full sets and pedicures to accompany their extravagant dresses. The majority of Latin girls pay special attention to their makeup and nails.” Men also get manicures and pedicures in Mexico and Central America; though fewer in number than female clientele, men’s numbers are growing.

Though acrylics sets reign, gels and gel-polish are finding a niche, particularly for clients who desire short to medium nail lengths. At Mia Secret, Mejia says, “Acrylics products have been the most popular in Mexico and Central America for many years, but we’ve noticed that the market is growing more and more for our gel-polish line Gelux and builder gel line Formagel.” He adds that he also sees a different nail medium trend that is going the other way: colored acrylics are migrating upward from south of the border into the United States. “Five or six years ago, colored acrylic powders were not that popular in the United States; the nail sets we used to see in magazines were mostly French and/or one color for all nails. So Mia Secret started to develop new colored acrylic powders, launching new collections every year and advertising colorful nail sets in magazines. Now colored acrylics are very popular in the United States, as well as Puerto Rico.”

Nail Style

The most popular nail colors in Mexico and Central America are bright reds and pinks, as well as natural shades and whites, Mejia says.

Popular nail shapes vary from square to stiletto to almond to round. Coffin-shaped nails are currently trendy, Ramirez says. Nail art is hugely popular, including encapsulated embellishments and eye-catching crystals. “Thanks to social media, a nail design globalization is happening,” Ramirez says. “Social media has brought easy access to all kinds of techniques and designs with specific cultural tastes.” The nail art style varies significantly by locale. “For example, in the north of Mexico, ‘bling bling’ nails — 3-D long nails full of crystals — and bright colors are more popular,” Ramirez says. “A zone called Sinaloa offers the ‘Sinaloense style,’ which is known for its shiny bright colors with a lot of crystals. In southern Mexico, medium to short nail are more popular, but they are still not ‘simple.’ They are embellished with gel-polish, crystal stones, pastels, nudes, and summery color designs.”

 <p>Expo Beauty Show (EBS) attendees watch demos by the Eon division of Jalisco, Mexico-based nail manufacturer Organic Nails. &nbsp;Photo by Expo Beauty Show</p>


For U.S. nail techs who want a new challenge, learning Mexican and Central American nail art techniques could expand a salon’s service menu. “The perfection of 3-D nail art in combination with crystal application is a good technique to learn and then use here in the U.S.,” Ramirez says. “This technique requires a lot of practice and precision.” Learning how to create encapsulated designs can also make a nail tech more well-rounded, Ramirez says, as these designs require the nail tech to master balance. She says, “The technician needs to find the right balance between the correct application of enhancements, glitters, and nail accessories, and keep the perfect nail shape including the right thickness to get a strong, balanced, and delicate nail as a final result.”

Even if U.S.-based nail techs don’t want to go to such nail art extremes, our sources say that U.S. techs can still learn from the unique color theory of their Mexican and Central American counterparts. What bright colors work well together? What combinations will create the most eye-catching nails? That way, even on a chilly overcast day in the temperate climate of the United States, nail techs can take pride in giving their clients the hottest nails on the block.


Snapshot: Mexico and Central America

Market size: $138.2 billion (estimated between 2014 and 2020 for South America, Central America, and North America)

Licensing: Varies by country, but typically minimal or nonexistent

Trending nail styles: Bright colored acrylic sets and eye-catching nail designs

Salon types: Mostly full-service; a few nails-only salons

Popular products: StarNail/Cuccio, Organic Nails, Masglo, and Mia Secret

What they do well: Making professional nail services accessible to most of the population; creating technically difficult nail art designs

Room for improvement: Increased educational opportunities for aspiring and established nail techs

You can find a slideshow featuring more photos from the nail scene in Mexico and Central America at

Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of our bi-monthly InternatioNAILS series. To read all the articles in this series, go to


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