How to Become a Nail Technician in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for a nail technician. Get the facts on education, licensure, job growth, and salary to determine if this is the right field for you. Schools offering Nail Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Nail Technician?

Nail technicians work with clients to file nails, apply polish, and provide cuticle care. Furthermore, they only work on hands and feet, providing a number of specialized grooming treatments for nails. They must be comfortable and alert using a number of sharp tools, including but not limited to clippers, files, and specialized cuticle tools. Keeping their tools clean and sanitary is important. Many own their own salons. Take a look at the following table for more information about this field.

Education Required State-approved cosmetology or nail technician program
Key Skills Creativity, business skills, dexterity, customer service
Licensure Required in most states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10%*
Median Salary (2015) $20,820*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Nail Technician Do?

As a nail technician or manicurist, you will trim and polish clients' nails, repair broken nails, and apply nail extensions. Additionally, you will assess the skin condition of a client's hands, care for the cuticles, and shape the nails. Some skilled technicians even create designs or tiny pictures on their clients' nails. To become a nail technician, you must complete a training program and obtain a license from the state in which you wish to work.

Step 1: Complete a Nail Technician Training Program

To become a nail technician, you will need to have a high school diploma or GED, be at least 16 or 17 years old, complete a nail technology or manicure program, and pass a licensing exam. You can complete a three-month certificate course in nail technology, or you may choose to pursue an associate's degree in cosmetology, which can take one to two years to complete.

Programs are offered through many community colleges, vocational schools and private schools of beauty or cosmetology. You will learn technical skills, including manicuring, pedicuring, applying artificial nails, the anatomy of hands and feet, and treating nail and skin disorders. It's also important to learn about safety and sanitation, in addition to having basic nail product knowledge.

Step 2: Obtain a License

Most certificate or degree programs prepare you to take state-licensing exams. Requirements for licensing usually include completing an approved training program and passing a licensing exam. The practical exam is administered so you can demonstrate your knowledge. Some states offer reciprocity and will accept a license from another state, but you will need to check with the state.

Step 3: Find Employment as a Nail Technician

Nail technicians are employed at nail salons, beauty salons, spas and resorts, with California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania having the highest employment levels in 2015. As the number of nail salons and spas increase, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that employment for nail technicians is expected to grow by 10% from 2014 to 2024 (

Step 4: Grow Clientele

Many technicians advance by growing a loyal clientele. Skills and attributes like communication, self-motivation, problem solving, creativity, adapting to change and hand-eye coordination will help you stand out. Once your clientele is built, you may consider opening your own salon.

Step 5: Advancement Opportunities

After you graduate from a nail technician program and obtain your license, you will likely start in an entry-level position under some supervision. As you gain experience, you may move into a supervisory or management role. You may also choose to train in other areas of cosmetology so you can provide additional services. Another career path option is to become a teacher and teach others nail technician skills.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists cut and style hair in addition to providing a number of other beauty related services depending on the environment. Often times nail technicians will work in conjunction with these individuals. Skin care specialists focus on maintaining healthy skin and beautifying skin all over the body and face. All of these jobs require communication skills and the ability to work with clients in addition to specified technical skills.

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