How I Became a Nail Tech

Whether told as a childhood dream that grew into a reality or as a serendipitous career move, the story of how someone got into doing nails is always interesting to hear. Stories like these remind us of the opportunity available with a little luck and a lot of hard work.

Meggan Joy Anderson

Nail’D by Meggan, Burley, Idaho

As a little girl I always loved styling Barbie’s hair, so I made the decision to go to cosmetology school. During school, I fell in love with nails so much I didn’t even finish the hair course; I switched to become licensed as a nail tech. I did nails for about four years, but then quit doing nails to try something new.

After a long absence, I began doing nails a couple of days a week. I also began networking on Facebook to get ideas on nail art. Then, in January 2010, I attended a class with Young Nails, and I fell in love all over again. I had no idea you could do all this crazy stuff with nails! Now, I keep up with my education, and I love learning new things from fellow nail techs, Facebook, and NAILS Magazine. I was just voted best nail tech in my area! I love what I do, and I have dreams of becoming an educator and of owning my own salon someday. 


Colleen Murphy

A Finishing Touch Nail Studio, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

I was a single mom, and while we lived comfortably, I had to watch my pennies to have extra money at the end of the month. Pampering myself was a real (and rare) treat. A friend referred me to her tech who had lower prices because she worked out of her home. I loved it — not just the pedicure but the whole experience. That nail technician planted a seed that turned into a dream. It would be a huge risk to make the career change, but I wanted to be able to make women feel as wonderful as I had felt.

I found a school that offered an evening course for nail certification, saved for my tuition, and enrolled. I was old enough to be my classmates’ mother, or grandmother in some cases, but we had fun. After I finished the course and passed my exam, I quickly realized how unprepared I was to start performing services. This was the beginning of the real journey. 

I read everything I could find online about nails. I read NAILS and other magazines every month — and more than once. I practiced on anyone who would lend a hand, even if they only had time for one finger. During those days, my husband wore gels and got many pedicures! I spent hours and a small fortune with one-on-one educators. I remember one instance in particular where an educator talked me through the application while she performed a fill on my nails. I got into my car and drove away, then  pulled over, broke down, and cried. I was so frustrated! The nails were thick, flared and uneven — everything I was seeking help to avoid. I wanted to pack it in, but I persevered. I spent hours at my nail desk working on training hands, over and over and over. I started building confidence, and slowly clients started coming — and coming back. The best part was when I realized I had found my confidence. I could do this. To this day, I am still hungry to learn, and I doubt that will ever change. My next goal is to be an educator. 


Michelle Cordes

Gene Juarez Salon and Spas, Tacoma, Wash.

When I was 14, I began getting my nails done because I was a nail biter. I loved getting my nails done. I wouldn’t do them myself, and I wouldn’t let friends do them. I would babysit to have enough money to go to a salon. When I was 20, I was going to a nail tech who would say to me, “You should go to nail school” every two weeks when I went in for my appointment. For years she badgered me, telling me I should do nails. Finally I asked her why she thought so. She said I was the only person she had ever met who was as picky as she was. I took her advice and enrolled. She mentored me the whole way through school and then I rented a booth from her when I graduated. In my mind, I would do nails until I went to school for a “real” job. A year later, I opened my own salon. 

That was 15 years ago! I’m still in the nail business, and I don’t see myself getting out. Oh — and I finally did go to college. I gave up my salon and began working full time as an employee so I could also attend college full time. I’ve become so interested in the scientific aspect of nail products, I’ve decided to major in business and science.


Amanda Hearne

Laramie, Wyo.

I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy. I grew up on a farm and loved spending time on a horse or with the cows. I never dressed to follow trends, and I didn’t do much with my hair besides wear it in a ponytail. But I always did my nails. My grandma would paint her nails to match her outfit every morning before work, and I remember watching her drive in a way to avoid smudging her wet polish. Her nails always looked amazing. I guess I picked up on that because I loved doing my nails. I always painted them with different designs or crazy colors, and then began playing with the DIY kits.

When I was a freshmen in college, my mom told me I could attend school and earn my nail certification during the three summer months. So, that’s what I did: I attended school the summer between my freshmen and sophomore years. With the money I made doing nails, I put myself through college and supported myself for several years beyond graduation.

One of my favorite stories that captures how much I love nails is about the time I was changing a starter in my pickup. My cousin was watching me and commented, “That has to be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen: greasy hands and hot pink fingernail polish.” To this day, I still don’t do much to dress up or take pains with my hair, but my nails are always in good shape. I’m not working in a salon but find that people always ask my opinions about trends, products, or techniques, so I stay current with my license and try to keep one foot in the industry because I never know when I’ll be back. 


Maggie Franklin

Art of Nailz, Visalia, Calif.

Like most good human psychology stories, the story begins with my mother. Mom went to cosmetology school directly after high school, but had to give up doing hair within two years because of severe reactions to the products. Still, I became familiar with the professional side of the salon industry. I saw the inside of a supply house but never the inside of a salon.

When I was 15, my mom took me to get my nails done. We were fortunate to have a nail tech who was comfortable and eager to walk us through what she was doing step by step and communicate with us honestly about technique and product — because, as it turned out, Mom had an ulterior motive! She was using me as a guinea pig to learn how acrylics were done so she could purchase professional products and do her own.

I let Mom do my nails once. From that point on, I did my own, and then, over the next few years I had two regular techs: one I saw throughout most of my junior and senior years — a woman not much older than myself who was sweet and competent but not interested in building nails to my personal liking, learning new techniques, or addressing my lifting issues. And Leanne.

Leanne introduced me to the term “nail tech.” Leanne used a nail drill, not a Dremel. Leanne’s implements sat in a clearly labeled Barbicide canister, and the disinfectant was always clean and clear. Leanne subscribed to NAILS and other industry magazines. Leanne went to beauty shows. She was the first nail tech I saw do pink-and-white nails.

I knew I wanted to be a nail tech, but school was pricey. Plus, it required me to show up five days a week at 8 a.m., a time that was — and remains — a ghastly hour. I wasn’t willing, at 17, to give up my summer to do something so torturous. It wasn’t until January 1992, when I found myself living 190 miles from home and working at a job that was decimating my soul that I finally came around to a plan: I wanted to be a graphic designer.

This required going to school for at least two years, which meant I needed to find a job with decent pay and flexible hours while I earned my certificate. So I enrolled in nail school. By the end of my first week, my fate was sealed. I knew it was all I ever wanted to do.

After school, I moved back to my hometown and rented a booth at the salon Leanne had owned. However, in the six months it took to complete school and take my state board, Leanne sold her salon and moved away.

I’ve spent the last 20 years wishing I had gotten to know Leanne better. I lost touch with her, and I’ve never been able to find her. I wish I at least knew her last name so I could look her up on Facebook. I don’t even know if I spelled her name right. But I do know I owe her for becoming the professional I am today.


Nicole Balsinger

Simply Natural Nails, Venice, Fla.

I got pregnant when I was 16 years old, and I realized I needed to find a way to support myself and my son. Thinking about what to do for work, I knew two things: I didn’t want to work at McDonald’s, and I loved the smell of the salon where my mom went to get her nails done.

At the time, the vocational tech school offered a deal for high school students. We could attend classes in the evening and had to pay only for the cost of products. I completed the evening classes, earned my license, and at 17 began working at a salon called “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

I stayed there for three years, had a transitional period for about eight months, and then began working at the Salon of Venice. I’ve been working with the same group of people for 11 years, the past three-and-a-half as a self-employed technician within the salon. There have been slow seasons, but I’ve always been able to make enough to support myself and my son. Even after all this time, I still enjoy doing nails, and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.    


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