Manicurist: How Does One Become a Nail Technician?

Find out how to become a nail technician. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in cosmetology.

Do I Want to Be a Nail Technician?

A manicurist, also known as a nail technician, is a cosmetology professional who specializes in providing nail and hand treatments to clients. They cleanse, file, clip and paint fingernails or toenails and may also give hand massages. These professionals may also specialize in artificial nails, such as acrylics or gels. Protective clothing items are often used when working with chemicals. Nail technicians sometimes work evenings and weekends.

Job Requirements

Nail technicians must complete a cosmetology or nail technology program approved in their state. Most states require licensing. The following table outlines the requirements to become a nail technician or manicurist as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Common Requirements
Degree Level State-approved cosmetology program
Degree Field Cosmetology, nail technician
Licensure A state license is required
Key Skills Creativity, manual dexterity, customer-service skills
Technical Skills Ability to operate drills, files and other small tools
Additional Skills Marketing skills to gain clientele, business skills if manicurists plan to operate their own salons

Step 1: Graduate from a Technical High School

Aspiring manicurists typically must possess a high school diploma or its equivalent before becoming eligible for cosmetology programs and state licensure. Some technical high schools have cosmetology programs where students can begin their training process before graduating high school. In such career-training programs, students learn nail and hand care techniques through in-class and laboratory instruction. These programs may qualify students to take their states' licensing exams, in which case attending a cosmetology program after high school is not necessary.

Step 2: Complete a Cosmetology Program

Most licensing boards require passage of a state-licensed training program. Manicurist training programs are available at community colleges, technical schools and cosmetology schools and usually lead to a certificate. Curricula may include classes in cosmetology chemistry, disinfection and sanitation, artificial nails and nail disorders. Attending one of these programs can teach an aspiring nail technician how to properly use manicure tools and equipment.

Success Tip:

  • Build a portfolio. Aspiring nail technicians should begin building their portfolios while in school. A portfolio typically contains examples of the student's best work and favorite nail designs. Having a portfolio will expand career opportunities after earning a certificate, because the student will have visual examples of his or her work to show potential employers.

Step 3: Become Licensed

Manicurists must be licensed by their state before working in the profession. Generally, individuals who are 16 or older, who hold a high school diploma or GED and who have completed state-licensed cosmetology programs are eligible for licensure. The process varies by state but often includes both a written and a practical exam. These exams may require a potential licensee to demonstrate his or her knowledge of sanitation and safety techniques, as well as his or her ability to operate manicure tools. Licensed manicurists must comply with state-specific renewal requirements to maintain licensure.

Step 4: Advance with Experience

After becoming licensed, manicurists may begin working at nail salons, beauty parlors, spas and other places that provide nail care services. As they gain experience and sharpen their skills, manicurists could advance to management positions. Other manicurists eventually open their own businesses or teach at cosmetology programs. Additional career tracks include becoming a sales representative for a beauty company or an examiner for a licensing agency.

Success Tip:

  • Continue education. Nail technicians have the ability to continue their education through additional classes and seminars after obtaining licensure. Continuing education can help a manicurist keep up with current trends and safety regulations in the industry.

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