Becoming a Nail Technician: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about a nail technician's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job descriptions and see the pros and cons of becoming a nail technician.
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Pros and Cons of a Nail Technician Career

Nail technicians are also known as manicurists or pedicurists. Check out the pros and cons to help determine if this is the right career for you.

Pros of a Nail Technician Career
A college degree isn't required*
May be an outlet for creativity*
Choice between full-time and part-time work*
Opportunities to run your own nail salon*

Cons of a Nail Technician Career
Low pay potential (median salary was around $19,000 in May 2014)*
Self-employed workers may work overtime*
Work with toxic chemicals and fumes*
Work may require use of protective gloves and masks*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Essential Career Info

Job Descriptions and Duties

As a nail technician, you are in charge of cleaning nails and applying nail color when requested. Duties can also include trimming and filing nails, moisturizing hands or feet, ensuring cleanliness in the work space and applying nail enhancements. When following a nail care routine, you may soak client nails to remove dead skins, push back cuticles and shape nails. Depending on the company you work for, you may also be required to make house calls.

Career Outlook and Salary Info

According to the BLS, careers in this field are expected to grow 16% from 2012 to 2022 (www.bls.gov). Career growth may be caused by newly offered services and a larger focus on health care. Nail technicians leaving for other career fields may also lead to some growth. In May 2014, the BLS estimated that nail technicians earned a median salary of $19,620.

Training and Requirements

Although you may not need to earn a degree to work in this field, you are still required to complete a state-approved cosmetology program. During these programs, you may learn how to identify skin conditions, make color recommendations, sanitize utensils, massage hands and feet, prevent infections and adhere to client needs. After completing a training program, your state may require you to earn licensure before becoming a practicing nail technician. Many states also require you to pass a practical and written exam. Connecticut is the only state that doesn't require you to earn licensure.

Useful Skills

To be successful in this field, you may need to have customer service and artistic design skills. Customer service skills can help you develop a loyal client base and attract additional potential clients. With your skills, you can also be able to make sure your clients are comfortable while you remain focused. Artistic design skills allow you to maintain control while flawlessly tailoring nail designs to client requirements. The following general traits may be required by employers:

  • Ability to work well with potential customers
  • Attention to detail and dexterous hands
  • Verbal and written communication skills
  • Flexibility with any unexpected changes

Job Postings from Real Employers

Careers in this field can be found through nail salons, hotels offering specialized services, spas and mobile manicure services. Some employers may require you to be knowledgeable in all related nail products, achieve established sales goals, understand related skin maladies and make relevant adjustments according to clients with disabilities. Even though this is just a snapshot of the opportunities out there, the following postings were taken from an April 2012 national job board sampling:

  • A salon and day spa in Illinois was looking for a nail technician able to maintain client information and work at related beauty shows.
  • A hotel chain in Florida advertised for a technician able to monitor daily inventories and maintain client scheduling.
  • A nail salon in North Carolina was looking for someone familiar with nail strengthening and wrap techniques.

How to Beat Your Competition

Since many nail technician programs cover the same topics, there may not be much variety in what you can learn. Instead, you may want to consider a program that can train you in the business aspects required to run your own salon. These programs cover topics in salon management, cosmetology law, retail business, business skills and sales consulting. If you are interested in earning hands-on experience, some programs offer opportunities for clinical work and field training. There are also education programs offering specific training to become a nail technician educator.

Alternative Career Paths

If you would like to enter a career cutting and coloring hair, you may want to consider becoming a hairdresser or barber. In these fields, you may be required to maintain a clean environment, inform clients about hairstyles, apply shampoo, use blow dryers and apply other hair treatment solutions. To enter this field, you may need to graduate from high school and a state-licensed cosmetology program. Regardless of your state of employment, you are required to earn licensure. In May 2011, the BLS calculated that the median salary for workers in this field was $23,000.

As a skincare specialist, you may be responsible for being knowledgeable about treatment options, using special lasers to remove hair, recognizing abnormalities, applying skin scrubs, recommending additional treatment options, giving facials and training clients to continuously take care of their skin. These positions are also required to complete a state-sanctioned cosmetology program. Education programs can be found with some high schools and post-secondary vocational schools. Every state, except for Connecticut, requires you to earn licensure. As of May 2011, the BLS estimated that skincare specialists earned a median salary of $29,000.

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