The Secret Lives of Nail Techs

Life outside the salon is the norm for a number of techs who enjoy a variety of alternative careers in nails. A few of them share what their life is like working on photo shoots, on luxury cruise liners, in hospital-based spas, at resorts, and as manufacturer’s educators.

My name is Natasha Marks. I’m 22 years old and from South Africa. I’ve been a nail tech for fours years. I got this job on board the Queen Mary II at the Canyon Ranch Spa 11 months ago.

On board we work 10 hours a day with two days off per cruise. I have seen more than 20 different ports during my time on the ship and have special memories of each.

No two days are the same working on a cruise liner. We travel the world, waking up in a different place every day.

Most days I wake up at 7:00 a.m., take two steps to my bathroom, shower and dress before going to breakfast. There is a variety of food each day, although it is not so interesting all the time.

The spa and salon are on deck 7 and 8 forward — so we have a wonderful view of the “sail in” of every port.

As there are only four nail techs and four stations, we each set up our own station and get ready for our first clients. If it is a busy transatlantic cruise we all say our prayers before jumping in head first for a very busy day. If it is a slow cruise (like the Caribbean) we just catch some rays on the open deck.

We offer four different pedicures, two manicures, and acrylics — so our day is usually filled with a variety of services.

In the evenings, we flop in our beds for a well-deserved rest, or dress up in ball gowns and go out to find our prince charming, or just throw on jeans and wander up to the Pig & Whistle, the crew bar.

All in all, my experience on board has been one I’ll never forget and one I would definitely recommend to anybody with a strong stomach.

My name is April Foreman and when I first became a manicurist, it was simply a way to put myself through college. I never thought years later I would be working for magazines, celebrities, and consulting for salons. Before moving to Los Angeles, I never knew that a manicurist could require an agent. Until then I had worked as a booth renter in a salon working 12-hour days. After six years of working those long hours I got bored.

The agency I’m with represents hairdressers, makeup artists, stylists, and manicurists. In a nutshell, I have to be ready to perform any service at any time. The trunk of my car is a full-service nail salon. My agent will call and tell me I have a job booked.

If it is a fashion shoot or an ad campaign there is either a fashion editor or an art director who will then communicate a concept to the stylist, hairdresser, makeup artist, and me. We will then all work together to achieve the concept. Usually we will all work at the same time on the model because there always seems to be “good light” that the photographer is worried about missing.

So many people have the misconception that this is a glamorous job. They don’t know about the hikes up steep hills balancing foot tubs, lotions and every polish imaginable because there is a really beautiful location at the top that you can’t reach by car. But this is also the part of the job I love the most.

This kind of work is like an adventure. I never know where I will be or who I will meet. Instead of flipping through a fashion magazine when a client misses her appointment, I am now a part of creating the magazine.

My name is Jennifer Holt and I have been a cosmetologist for five years. I was fortunate in school — my teachers knew nails and loved to teach them. They were all educators and reps for a manufacturer. They inspired me. I developed quickly and have been teaching others and educating since graduating from school.

As a nail technician in the salon I maintain a full clientele for artificial nail services. My clients are versatile and are willing to try anything. This is good for me because as a manufacturer’s educator/rep I find myself trying new products that have not even come out on the market, which means it could be good or it could be bad. When we find a bad product, my clients shrug it off and say, “well, let’s not do that one again.” When it’s good, they want to know how soon they can get this all the time.

I find myself in interesting situations each day and that is how I continue to learn new techniques and applications that make my experiences real.

The best part of working as a manufacturer’s educator is that I have the opportunity to always be on the cutting edge of things, and also develop and provide direction for what other technicians are going to have to work with. I also enjoy the opportunity to visit the unknown places that a typical nail tech career would never have allowed me to go.

The most difficult part of being an educator is the stress of the long hours and hard work. When you work a full salon week, get on a plane, fly for hours, work a trade show, and then fly home on a late flight to hit the salon the next day, it’s not easy. As a mother of two — show season is tough.

My name is Mary Smith and I am a nail technician at the five-star five-diamond Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo. This is a high-pressure, challenging, fun job.

I work in surroundings that include a fountain, fireplace, and mountain-view room. My guests can receive their treatments and partake in the lake and Rocky Mountain views. I am able to provide services to all types of people from all walks of life and other countries.

Working in a resort environment makes for enjoyable, interesting, and fun experiences. At our hotel we have very high security right now. We have VIP government officials holding a conference at our hotel. We’ve all had our backgrounds checked to confirm we are who we say we are. We must go through a search similar to what you encounter at airports.

It is interesting to see the Secret Service really do look like the movies. I will fear no cuticle after this!

Saturdays are traditionally a day full of adventure. One thing you can count on is being very busy with brides and their families. All nervous, all excited, all who will smudge and smudge again. Nerves can be very dangerous combined with wet polish.

First-time male clients are also fun to work with. One gentleman was so nervous during his first manicure he only placed his left hand on the table. He seemed shy about his right hand, so I gave his left hand the best service ever. At the conclusion of his left-handed manicure, he lifted his right hand on the table. I shared with him my concerns about his right hand potentially not existing and he chuckled telling me he needed to test the waters before he dove in.

Nail technicians Dorlene Voyta and Nancy Tran work at Condell Medical Center’s Inner Spa in Libertyville, Ill. The spa is located just off the hospital’s main lobby, and provides services for the public and for patients at their bedside.

Nancy: It’s very family-like here at Inner Spa. It’s laid back, and we really support each other.

Also, the staff is very knowledgeable and experienced. We have certified technicians who provide microdermabrasion — one even has experience in sports medicine.

Dorlene: The Inner Spa is very clean and organized. We sterilize all nail care and other salon tools in the hospital’s autoclave — the same place where surgical instruments for the hospital are sterilized. Another advantage is the great medical benefits. Management spares no expense when it comes to products. We use only the highest-quality lotions, polish, everything.

Also, as employees of the hospital, we must have an annual tuberculosis test and pass a written exam about hospital policies and regulations.

A lot of the OB/GYN doctors recommend massages for their pregnant patients, and along with that maybe they’ll get a pedicure, too. Our spa also offers bedside salon services for patients, so Nancy and I sometimes bring a portable nail care kit upstairs into patients’ rooms. Everything is a lot of smiles after having a baby, and it’s nice to be part of that.

Whenever someone has a baby at the hospital, the Brahms lullaby plays over the intercom system, and we’ll say, “Oh, I wonder who just had her baby — maybe it was one of our clients!”

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