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How to Become a Nail Tech

Learn how to become a nail technician. Research the education requirements, training and licensure information and experience required for starting a career as a nail tech.

Do I Want to Be a Nail Tech?

Nail technicians typically work in nail shops, spa or salons and provide nail care and beauty treatments to clients' hands and feet. Some of the duties of a nail technician include using various instruments to clean and file nails and performing beauty treatments on nails like manicures, acrylics or gels.

About a quarter of all nail techs were self employed in 2012, and many of these workers may go on to run their own salons. Weekends and evenings see the most client demand, so many professionals must work these hours.

Job Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), becoming a nail technician requires being trained through a cosmetology program approved by the state. Approved training programs can be found through community colleges and usually result in an associate degree or career certificate. After completing their training program, students must pass a state licensing exam. Licensure is required for employment as a nail technician by all 50 states, except for Connecticut, as reported by the BLS. The table below includes common requirements for nail technicians:

Common Requirements
Degree Level No degree required, but training through a cosmetology school is required*
Degree Field Cosmetology or related*
Licensure All states except Connecticut require state licensing*
Experience Entry level position; some employers require 1-2 years**
Key Skills Creativity, manual dexterity, excellent people skills*
Technical Skills Emery boards/filing blocks, various brushes, cuticle scissors***
Additional Requirements Professional appearance**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **CareerBuilder.com job postings (October 2012), ***CareerOneStop.

Step 1: Complete an Approved Cosmetology Program

The first step recommended by the BLS for an individual desiring to work as a nail technician is completing a degree or certificate program in cosmetology. Nail technology programs are also available. The BLS noted that most states require potential licensees to be at least 16 years of age and have a high school diploma or GED. State-approved programs generally include both traditional classroom instruction and hands-on training. The practical portion of a program can take place in the school's own cosmetology salon, which usually offers discounted rates for services performed by students under instructor supervision.

Most cosmetology programs cover a range of topics, including hair styling, nail technology and esthetics. Nail technology courses specifically teach students how to give clients manicures, pedicures and artificial nail treatments in salons. Students typically complete classes geared toward salon ownership, as well as take courses in sanitation and hygiene.

Success Tips:

  • Build communication and people skills. Since approved cosmetology programs include hands-on instruction, it would be beneficial to use the time in practical sessions to build strong listening and verbal skills with clients, other students and instructors. Since nail techs rely on clients, having strong people skills is a definite advantage.
  • Practice skills learned in the training program. Nail technicians should have an artistic eye and possess a steady hand to create nail art or apply various treatments, polishes or extensions. Students can practice new skills acquired during their training programs outside of the classroom setting by opting for self-practice or practicing on willing volunteers like friends and family.

Step 2: Get a State License

State have different requirements for licensing nail technicians or cosmetologists. To become eligible for licensing, most state regulatory boards require the completion of a minimum number of hours of classroom and practical cosmetology instruction given through an approved program. After a student meets training requirements, some states may grant licensure at that point; others can require successfully passing an examination that includes both written and practical components.

Step 3: Continue Education

Cosmetology or nail technician license renewals vary by state. Many states require a minimum number of continuing education hours per renewal period. States may maintain a list of approved continuing education schools and programs for a student's convenience. Continuing education classes may be available at places such as beauty schools and community colleges.

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