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As a salon owner and licensed manicurist, my perspective on the nail industry could not be more practical. While some may be offended by the opinions expressed, please understand that I want to share information and stimulate discussion. Whether you want your nails done or do nails professionally, I hope you find this blog both useful and interesting.

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Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Manicuring Curriculum: Change for the Better?

(This five-part examination of proposed changes to California's manicuring curriculum highlights the failures of our present model of licensee training.)

California's Board of Barbering and Cosmetology has proposed changes to its manicuring curriculum, including an increase in required hours from 400 to 500. If done properly, the subsequent changes will make a constructive and significant impact on the manicuring profession for both consumers and licensees. If done poorly, the changes will make what has been acknowledged as a bad situation even worse.

The specific purpose of "revising the manicuring curriculum" should be to ensure that the required education produces licensed manicurists capable of working competently and safely in licensed establishments. A well-designed manicuring curriculum must be relevant, flexible and comprehensive. Based on scientifically accurate information, it must promote best practices, not perpetuate misinformation and an inadequate standard of practice as it does now.

The exceptionally poor work done by many manicurists undermines our profession and poses a serious risk to consumer safety. The average consumer mistakenly believes that a manicuring license proves technical competence. Why do we allow incompetent individuals to obtain licenses? Has the focus on safety obscured the benefits of requiring licensees to demonstrate quality work? If we continue to accept mediocrity as our standard of practice, we will continue to produce an incompetent workforce incapable of meeting the demands and expectations of consumers.

As a successful nail professional, I consider the competent performance of the following tasks fundamental to manicuring, regardless of "trends:"
• shaping the nails (trimming, filing, and buffing);
• conditioning the skin surrounding the nail (eponychium, not "cuticle");
• conditioning the skin of the hands and feet (exfoliating, moisturizing and massaging);
• smoothing (not removing) calluses;
• applying and removing polish;
• applying and removing artificial nails, including natural nail repairs;
• and most important, doing all of the above in a manner that protects the health and safety of consumers and the licensee.

Manicuring Curriculum: Change for the Better? Part 2

(This is the second part of an examination of proposed changes to California's manicuring curriculum.)

Additional Hours
Given the time already wasted in the existing 400-hour curriculum, does the Board believe that school instructors need "more time to lecture on the required health and safety topics?" The problem is not how much time schools spend "teaching" about health and safety. In fact, students could learn how to properly disinfect equipment, including what can and cannot be disinfected, in 60 minutes or less. Instead, the problem is the failure of licensees to follow the health and safety regulations after they leave school.
Apparently, the school experience does not convince students that following state rules and regulations is not optional.

Consideration of alternatives? How did the Board "determine that no alternative it considered or that has otherwise been identified and brought to its attention would be more effective in carrying out the purpose for which the action is proposed or would be as effective and less burdensome to affected private persons than the proposed action?" Factual basis? Where is the empirical evidence that requiring additional hours would improve the quality of education?
Requiring additional hours would likely discourage individuals from becoming students, produce a significant financial burden on those who do and unnecessarily delay their entry into this profession, without ANY guarantee of increased competence or consumer safety.

To assert that this curriculum proposal represents the most reasonable alternative is ludicrous. Why not create an apprenticeship program specifically for obtaining a manicurist license? If schools cannot provide a competent manicuring instructor, students would have a much better chance of developing good sanitation habits and their technical skills in a licensed establishment under the direct supervision of a licensed manicurist. If it's acceptable for cosmetology students to apprentice, why are aren't manicuring students offered a comparable opportunity "to become safe, knowledgeable licensees?"

Manicuring Curriculum: Change for the Better? Part 3

(This is the third part of an examination of proposed changes to California's manicuring curriculum.)

Technical Instruction vs. Practical Operation
One of the most significant changes proposed is the elimination of the minimum operations requirement. While this may simplify record-keeping, it does not address the fundamental problem with any time-based educational program: it values the quantity of time over the quality.
To suggest that students spend all their time in technical instruction and/or practical operation defies reality. Much of the time in school is wasted "hanging out." The time students might spend studying independently (e.g. reading a textbook or trade magazine) is not even recognized as "technical instruction" according to the definition: "technical instruction shall mean instruction by demonstration, lecture, classroom participation, or examination."

Beauty schools will not likely devote more time to instruction, nor can they possibly supply enough clients to keep students busy all day. The definition of "practical operation" is anything but ("the actual performance by the student of a complete service on another person or on a mannequin"). What difference does it make if the student performs a "complete" service? If the student needed to focus on developing a particular skill (e.g. massage or polish application), he or she could only do so in the context of a complete manicure or pedicure? That's absurd.

Manicuring Curriculum: Change for the Better? Part 4

(This is the fourth part of an examination of proposed changes to California's manicuring curriculum.)

Specific Technologies or Equipment
Because "This regulation does not mandate the use of specific technologies or equipment," it ignores the two most problematic and potentially dangerous technologies in the nail industry: whirlpool foot spas and drills. If, as stated in this proposal, "Licensees lacking the necessary training on popular trends and practices put those consumers receiving beauty services at risk of getting injured," why doesn't the Board require the necessary training?

The Board has obviously prioritized pedicure safety, yet licensed manicurists regularly perform pedicures on clients with questionable health conditions. And why not? While students, they work on many elderly and/or unhealthy clients who should have been refused service and referred to a medical professional. Manicuring students need to understand the limits of their scope of practice and how to distinguish which individuals can safely receive beauty services. How can this be accomplished when schools rarely turn clients away and insist that students perform services anyway? It's unfortunate, and potentially very dangerous, that the most inexperienced practice on the most vulnerable with little or no direct supervision!

And on the subject of pedicures, neither schools nor the examination facilities equip themselves with whirlpool foot spas. Too expensive? I agree, besides safer alternatives to providing foot care exist that do not involve this equipment. It's the responsibility of those who own foot spas to clean and maintain them in accordance with state regulations. If school or salon owners choose to provide pedicures using whirlpool foot spas, they certainly have every right, but should not be obligated to do so.

The improper use of drills certainly harms clients, but using a drill is not included in the curriculum or licensing exam. If it were included, would we require schools to provide drills, or have students buy them in their already overpriced kits? Regardless, the thought of students practicing on clients without the proper training or supervision makes me cringe. Drills, like whirlpool foot spas, are not necessary; however, if a manicurist chooses to use one, special certification through continuing education should be required.

Manicuring Curriculum: Change for the Better? Part 5

(This is the fifth and final part of an examination of proposed changes to California's manicuring curriculum.)

Business Education
The Board should know better than to merely recommend that "schools provide training in the area of communication skills that includes professional ethics, salesmanship, decorum, record keeping, client service record cards, basic tax responsibilities related to independent contractors, booth renters, employees, and employers." Unless the Board requires such subjects be taught AND includes these subjects in the licensing exam, the training will not happen.

The beauty industry is rife with unlicensed activity, tax fraud, false advertising and other violations of government regulations. Schools could alleviate these problems through business education. For example, schools could collaborate with the IRS and FTB to provide students with the most current information about tax law. Other government agencies could also be consulted: the EDD about employment law, OSHA about workplace safety, etc.

The Influence of the Licensing Exam

Proposing changes to the manicuring curriculum demands changes to the licensing exam also. The exam is just as inflexible, and probably even more responsible for "restricting students from being current on beauty trends and safety issues." The perception exists, and it's accurate, that there's the "school/state board way" to do nails, and that it has nothing to do with working in a salon. As long as schools and students perceive this disconnect, no one will take either the manicuring curriculum or the licensing exam seriously.
The existing curriculum does not restrict schools from being current; schools restrict themselves because they teach to an outdated exam, rather than prepare competent licensees.

Moreover, as long as "nail care" (300 hours) is considered distinct from "health and safety" (200 hours), students will dismiss the latter as unimportant when in fact it should inform everything they do. These are NOT separate subjects; schools should teach nail care procedures based on acceptable health and safety practices. To be very simplistic, "nail care" is what licensed manicurists do, and "health and safety" is how it must be done.