Manicurists and pedicurists, also referred to as nail technicians, are personal appearance workers who specialize in procedures that enhance the fingernails and toenails of their clients. They trim, file and polish nails and apply fingernail extensions. Nail extensions and creative polish designs have become popular for women of all ages, and, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states, the demand for skilled nail technicians is rising.
Manicure and Pedicure Licensing Requirements
To pursue a career as a manicurist and pedicurist, individuals typically need to complete a state-approved nail technician or cosmetology program, according to the BLS.
Prospective nail technicians must fulfill licensing in addition to educational requirements. Licensing requirements vary by state, but applicants must usually be at least 16 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent. To earn a license, candidates must pass a written and practical exam after completing the appropriate educational program.
Individuals can find out more information about licensing and examinations through the following cosmetology associations:
- National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC)
- Professional Beauty Association (PBA)
- American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS)
Becoming a Manicurist and Pedicurist: Expert Q&A
To learn more about what it takes to get into the nail technician business, we spoke with Hillary Fry, an award-winning nail technician and educator. Among her many accolades was receiving the 2014 International Nail Technician of the Year at the Cosmetologists Chicago/America's Beauty Show. Below, she shares her expertise and insight into the manicurist career.
Hillary Fry is an award-winning nail technician and educator.
RWM: What is the typical educational path needed to become a manicurist?
Fry: The educational path to becoming a manicurist in the U.S. is roughly: 1) Complete the state number of hours to prepare for testing; 2) Take State Board exams to get licensed; 3) Pass these exams and start working; and 4) Continuing education. The state board exams include:
- Written: Multiple choice questions and possibly a few short written/essay will cover what you have learned over the months in your coursework. This will reflect what you've been tested on in class and should all be familiar material
- Practical: This is the hands on portion of the test, where you will perform a manicure, perhaps do a fiberglass nail or acrylic nail to show the skills you have learned during your course.
RWM: What kind of schools are available?
Fry: There are a number of paths one can take to achieve the goal of becoming a licensed manicurist in the U.S.:
- Dedicated Nail School: Nail schools focus on certification for nail technicians only. No hair or skin courses are covered. Pros include many nail related topics discussed and tested. Middle of the road cost and focus is completely on the nail subject. Cons are that the number of these schools is dwindling; If you are looking to practice other forms of beauty services you will need to get additional certification.
- Cosmetology Full Program: An overall licensing for beauty, allowing the successful graduate to practice hair, nails, waxing and sometimes skin. Pros include that comprehensive licensing gives an overall approach to a beauty career. Cons are a longer time to graduation; most expensive option; least amount of time spent on nail topic; focus tends to be on hair.
- Technical School: A vocational school is a great option to getting a dedicated nail license. Pros are that classes are often available during evenings, which make it convenient for the working student; generally affordable. Cons are that classes may not meet daily, so it is important to be disciplined.
- Apprenticeship: The apprentice works under a licensed cosmetologist to get the training needed. A set number of hours is required to attend a vocational school weekly to get tested/credits. The pros are hands-on learning in a salon environment; least expense involved. Cons are not legal in many states; difficult to find a stylist able to take on an apprentice; quality of education depends heavily on stylist; longest route to certification.
RWM: What other steps beyond high school are involved in starting this career at entry level?
Fry: Beauty school focuses on helping students pass state boards. Students often express surprise that courses are not as comprehensive in say, art or a new gel. While in school it's important to understand and lay a good foundation for your future with the basics. I recommend including the following studies outside of nail school for overall benefit:
- Business Courses: Take classes in business and general accounting and lease holding so that you understand financial basics.
- Pay structure and work structure: Everyone should understand how their pay and work is classified by state law.
RWM: How long does it typically take to complete an education for this job?
Fry: If a job in beauty is your dream, the shortest route to that goal is the manicurist route. Every state has their own requirement for hours, but one can be ready to test for boards in as little as four months.
RWM: Do you have any advice for young people who are just starting out in this career?
Fry: Try to make an early assessment of where you feel you would fit in to start collecting your experience. Be open. Stay humble. Learn as much as you can. It will help you make better decisions down the road about your career. Technology is also changing so much about product; don't assume you know it all.
RWM: Why would you encourage someone to pursue this career?
Fry: The pros -- Here is a sampling of opportunities that open up when you become licensed:
- Salon manicurist/owner: Nail & Foot beauty for a local community, typically in a salon
- Mobile Manicurist: Nail & Foot beauty brought to the consumer's home/office
- Editorial/Session Tech: Nail & Foot beauty for fashion/advertising/celebrity
- Educator: Train others, in a school or for a manufacturer
- Formulator: Take your understanding and create products for the beauty industry
Cons: Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and just because you can quickly get certified doesn't mean there isn't a long road ahead. To really make this a career, you'll need to continually explore and invest in methods/techniques, and keep up to date on your licensing.
RWM: Are they any additional certifications or classes to take that would help improve job prospects when starting out?
Fry: Other than the business courses, I would say for someone just starting out, it's learning your basics and learning them well. You will have plenty of opportunities to expand into the likes of specialized medical certifications, fancy adornments, or creating competitive extreme shapes. The demand is high for someone that can get the basics under his/her belt. For the career manicurist, nail education will be a lifelong pursuit. In the end, you'll be able to take that knowledge that helped build your career and mentor the next generation.
Manicurist Salary and Career Information
The BLS projects a 16 percent employment growth for manicurists and pedicurists between 2012 to 2022. Cosmetologists are introducing new nail services, such as mini sessions and mobile manicures and pedicures, which can help drive growth. A growing desire for better grooming among both the male and female populations may also contribute.
|Career||Annual Median Wage||Projected Employment Change||Projected 2012-2022 Growth|
|Manicurists and Pedicurists||20820||11700||10.3|
The BLS offers national 2013 wage data pertaining to manicure and pedicure professionals:
- Mean annual wage: $21,790
- Median annual wage: $19,340
- Mean hourly wage: $10.48
- Median hourly wage: $9.30
The highest paying states for manicurists and pedicurists are Alaska, Iowa, Tennessee, Kansas and South Dakota, while the highest concentration of jobs is in New York, California and New Jersey. Most nail technicians work in nail salons, hair salons and spas, and some may run their own business. In 2012, 27 percent were self-employed.
- Manicurists and Pedicurists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/manicurists-and-pedicurists.htm
- Manicurists and Pedicurists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes395092.htm
- Interview with Hillary Fry, nail technician and educator, July, 2016