Acrylic Nails

Cleaning Up Another Tech’s Mess

What do you do when a new client arrives with a truly awful set of nails from her previous salon? Learn when to remove, when to repair, and how to achieve the best fix possible.   

How many times have you had someone call to book a first-time appointment, then been rendered speechless by the amount of work her nails needed when she arrived? Working after another nail tech’s less-than-stellar nail job can leave you horrified, crestfallen, or completely baffled, depending on the state of the nails. The most common issues you may encounter are improperly balanced enhancement edges, nail damage, bacterial infection, and excessive thickness or length. These issues can take extra time to deal with, putting you behind schedule for the rest of the day, and are potentially embarrassing for your client. The challenge is to handle the situation professionally at the consultation and to grasp the technical issues well enough to get the nails back into good shape.


Unbalanced Nails

The client who arrives with a poorly balanced nail perimeter may have requested this shape. But unfortunately, styles like duck nails, flair nails, and bubble nails are not structurally sound. They create an imbalance that is more likely to lead to surface breakdown or natural nail damage. That said, it’s up to each individual nail professional to decide what type of work she wants to be known for and whether she wants to grant the client’s request for a certain type of nail. A balanced nail perimeter gives the enhancement strength. When the two sidewalls are parallel, it gives the natural nail or enhancement more strength than if they flare out too much from the stress area or cut in at the stress area. Don’t confuse this with an extreme nail, which walks the line of sidewall balance very carefully, ideally narrowing after the stress area.

<p>Danette Boatwright, a nail tech at Twisted 7 Salon in Nevada, Mo., offers this photo as an example of nails that have come to her from another salon for a “facelift.” These nails need the sides and the arch balanced.</p>

Fixing the unbalanced nail perimeter is usually just a matter of either filing off the excess on the sides or applying product to the under-arch area (the spot where the sidewall grows out), depending on whether the nail is too wide or too narrow. If you are going to reshape nails that are too wide at the extension edge, start at the widest point of the nail and bring it in to match the natural sidewall. When finished, your file should align parallel from the natural sidewall to the tip of the finger [see photo on next page]. Then you can begin creating whatever shape you and the client have agreed on.

In some cases you may see the opposite problem: The sides are cut in too far at the stress area instead of parallel to the natural nail. This is commonly seen when tips that are too small have been used. As the nail grows out, it leaves a bit of an inward hook that will begin to catch on things like hair and clothing. This is a slightly more difficult fix, assuming you’ve chosen to do a repair versus removing the set. Begin by fitting a nail form snugly into place. There shouldn’t be any gaps that would allow product to seep under the nails. Once the form is in place, you can apply product to bring the sidewall area flush with the natural nail.


A Matter of Time

Both of these fixes will take some additional service time, which you should explain to the client upfront. The additional time may make you late for your next appointment. There are a few ways to handle this. One option is to offer to reshape the nail edges as well as the arch with some finish filing work, then do a mini manicure and polish application. The client can then rebook to finish rebalancing the nail with additional product applied. This should keep you on time and keep the service around the price point the client was expecting. Another option would be to explain the time and cost of the extra work to do a complete fix, then see if you can reschedule your next appointment. When approaching the next client to ask her to reschedule, it’s a good idea to offer some sort of compensation to show your appreciation, such as a complimentary hand massage or nail design.


Dealing With Damage

Unfortunately, we see damage all too often in the salon. Clients arrive with nails that are paper thin, stained from bacterial infections, grooved from aggressive filing, or in many other disturbing states. As a first course of action, it’s a good idea to thank them for entrusting you with the care of their nails. During the service, be sure to educate your client on what to look for in a quality nail professional and what home care will be required for her nails.

<p>Kimberly Andrews, a nail tech at The Woodhouse DaySpa in Carmel, Ind., discovered these badly damaged nails when she removed product from a new client who had been a regular patron at another salon.</p>

In cases of extreme damage, the client should be made aware that she may not have much luck with nail coatings until the damage has grown out. One analogy that’s often used by industry scientist Doug Schoon is that the natural nail is like the foundation of a house; how strong and healthy it is can affect the adhesion of the enhancement, just as the strength of a house’s foundation will determine if it’s structurally sound. With this in mind, you may need to guide your client in selecting the coating, length, and shape that’s best during the roughly six-month period while the nail grows out.

The fix for surface damage will vary from one client to the next, depending on the type and severity of the damage. It may also be impacted by the client’s preferences and nail goals. Ideally the nails need a protective coating, so if your client is willing to put in the effort of proper home care, an enhancement may be the best option. Most traditional polishes and gel-polishes are meant to be used on nails in good, if not great, condition. The length should be kept very short to avoid any excessive pressure on the stress area. You might also consider rounding the corners to a round, oval, or squoval shape to make it less likely that the corners of the nail will catch on things and have a prying effect.

<p>When a nail coating is removed, the natural nails should be in the same condition they were when the client first came to a salon, if not better. Note the healthy condition of these natural nails belonging to a long-time client of Kimberly Andrews after enhancements were removed.</p>

This service may take a little longer as you will need to be very gentle and some of the steps may require extra time. One option for handling the time is to ask the client if she would be willing to schedule a polish application separately. This will keep you on time for the next client as well as give the current client a day or two of wear in which she can keep an eye out for any lifting or problem areas caused by the underlying damage. In cases of extreme damage, it might be a good idea to implement this as a routine policy since most issues will show up within the first 48 hours. If a client strongly objects to having clear product on her nails, there is always the option of cover pink powders or gels that will still allow you to notice lifting around the edges.


When to Remove

You might see bacterial infection — usually a greenish spot or splotch along one or more nails — along with nail damage or as a standalone issue. If you spot this problem through an existing enhancement, removal of the product is necessary. Product may be reapplied after removing the enhancement and cleansing the natural nail. Another situation where you might consider removing instead of fixing is if there is more than 35%-50% lifting on most or all of the nails. The time you spend filing off the lifted portions and sealing the enhancement back down could exceed the time for removal. Either way, you should be charging for the extra time and work needed. You could also handle as discussed above — in two separate services or by rescheduling your next client.

 <p>For a strong nail, the natural sidewall should be flush from proximal nail fold to the tip of the finger.</p>

Excess Thickness

Ever sit down at the nail table with a fully booked day ahead of you, someone squeezed into your lunch, and a favor service booked when you would normally be done for the day? Then, to put the icing on the cake, your first client of the day, who is new, sits down and you see she has enough product on each nail for three or four nails. The fix for these nails is a serious amount of file work. Whether you hand file or e-file, this will put you off schedule and require you to rearrange your day or do the file work and product application in two different services.

Your client may argue that the thickness is necessary for strength. Make sure you know if your product is designed to be stronger when used in thin layers versus thick ones, so you can speak knowledgeably. Explain to the client that the arch will act as a shock absorber to give strength to a well-balanced nail, and that certain products function at peak performance when applied more thinly. Should your client insist on wearing overly thick nails, it comes back to your choice of what work you want your name on.

When a client sits in your chair, it’s important to listen to her nail goals and desires so you can make suggestions that will help her be successful. You should also take into consideration how much effort the client is willing to put into home care. Establishing yourself as an expert will help build client loyalty, especially when you save a new client from a poor experience at a previous salon. Remember to educate with positive tips, going forward without bashing another salon — this will reinforce your professionalism and expertise. 

<p>Holly Schippers</p>


Holly Schippers is a contributing editor to NAILS and a member of Team CND. Follow her FingerNailFixer blog on


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