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Just the Right Touch - Massage Techniques for Manicures

Give a client natural-looking nails and she’ll book another appointment. Give her a melt-to-the-floor” hand or foot massage, and she’s yours forever.


When was the last time someone touched you? Made you stop and think, didn’t it? The fact is, most of us could benefit from a lot more warm, caring touches than we get in our hectic, daily lives. So it’s no wonder, then, that many clients consider the massage the best part of the nail service. “The massage is what all my clients rave about,” says Robin in Hamburg, N.Y. “They say they come in just to be rubbed.”

“I look at the massage as the highlight of the service because that’s where I really connect with my clients,” adds Debra J.Krasniak, a nail technician at Bubba’s Hair Styling in Brunswick, Maine. “That’s when the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ come.”

If the same can’t be said of your clients, chances are you could use a refresher course on your manicure and pedicure massage techniques. “Everyone can do a nice manicure or pedicure, but not everyone takes the time to do a nice massage, which is the part that keeps clients coming back,” says Mende Gibbs, a nail technician at A Perfect Face Day Spa in Ocean City, Md.

Attitude Is Everything

When it comes to massage, most nail technicians know everything they need to about hand and foot anatomy, says Della Perry, marketing director and certified massage therapist at the Mueller College of Holistic Studies in San Diego, Calif., (800) 245-1976. In her work doing educator training for Creative Nail Design, Perry focused on the psychological and emotional aspects of massage.

While massage offers many therapeutic benefits, including improved circulation and reduced swelling, lower blood pressure, greater joint flexibility, and pain relief, Perry asserts that from a nail technician’s perspective, the mental and emotional benefits a client reaps are more important. Hand and foot massage, as part of the nail service, can satisfy a client’s need for a caring and nurturing touch, reduce stress and anxiety levels, and increase her awareness of the mind-body connection, she says.

“For a lot of clients, their nail technician is the only person who listens to them and spends so much time in physical contact with them, holding their hands,” Perry notes. If you view massage as taking that physical contact to a higher, emotional level, Perry says it becomes clear what a positive impact it can have on a client’s sense of well-being.

“In society as a whole, there is a huge lack of self-esteem,” she says. “I think for people to build their esteem they need to do self-honoring and pampering things, such as getting manicures and pedicures. If you, as a nail technician, can view the massage part of the service as where you’re sending the message, ‘You are worthy; I care about you’, that client will go out feeling great.

“The whole idea is to have a domino effect. If you can get someone to experience their body through massaging their hands or feet, as they relax they’ll suddenly remember to breathe slowly and deeply, relax their shoulders, and let the tension ease away.”

For these reasons, Perry urges nail technicians to remember, as they review the basic manicure and pedicure techniques below, that their attitudes and intentions are just as important as the mechanical moves they use.

“As you work, you should be focusing on the client and thinking to yourself thoughts like, ‘I hope this feels good to her; she will leave feeling great,’” she reminds. “Your mental mindset has to be good. I teach students that we are projectors and receptors: Clients pickup on what you’re putting out, and you have to be careful not to pick up what they’re putting out. The three most important points I teach are to be grounded in your emotions and energy, have boundaries, and have clear intentions.”

It’s All in the Hands

A good hand or foot massage usually incorporates four basic massage techniques: effleurage (long, gliding strokes), petrissage (kneading movements that press and roll the muscles under the hand or fingers), friction (a light or firm rubbing back and forth of the hands across the skin), and pressure point (direct pressure on a hard, knotted spot). A massage should always begin and end with effleurage.

“The most important principle of massage is that the strokes should always be toward the heart,” says Allen Boxam, a licensed massage therapist and owner of The Relax Station massage therapy school and day spa in Kingwood, Texas. “The most distal points from the heart are the hands and feet, so stroking toward the heart helps increase the circulation and remove toxins.”

As a general rule, he adds, you should always massage lightly at first. “You need to warm up the tissues and get them ready; then each stroke can go deeper, stretching the muscle and bringing in endorphins,” he says. “A minimum of three strokes over every area is the rule for massage, so spending 10 minutes on both hands or both feet would be very effective. In a full body massage, we usually spend 3-4 minutes on the hands and five on each foot.”

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A nail technician who works directly for a product manufacturer, usually as an independent contractor; duties include demonstrating products at...
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