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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.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mastering the Basic Skills

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, January 2011

As beauty professionals, basic skills provide the foundation for our services; without these skills, it’s possible that our clients could do better, even as amateurs. Before I became a licensed manicurist, I did better work than the professionals I paid as a client, and that‘s not saying much. After hours of training and years of practice, it’s our mastery of basic skills that distinguish us from our clients and our competitors.

Regardless of the service being performed, our primary concerns should be safety, quality and consistency. At a minimum, it’s our professional responsibility to protect the health and safety of our clients. Consumer protection is the reason why most states require licensing, a beauty school education, a written and/or practical examination(s), compliance with regulations, and in some states, continuing education. Without expounding on the efficacy of these requirements, let’s agree that while the intent is admirable, in practice they do little to ensure consistent quality. The same can be said for the restaurant industry; a restaurant can have an immaculate kitchen and meet the highest standards for food safety, and the food can still taste awful. Likewise, safety is only one feature, albeit the most important, of a quality beauty service.

It’s not without irony that I consider the most basic thing we do as manicurists to have the greatest potential for harm. Filing seems so simple: pick up a file, hold it against the nail and start stroking. But which file? Paper, wood, mylar, metal, ceramic or glass? A standard 7 by 3/4 inch file, a block buffer, a custom-shaped file or a drill? How coarse or fine should it be? Disposable or disinfectable? Can you really disinfect it? How do you hold it? How do you hold the client’s finger? How much pressure to apply? How fast should you file? How do you avoid the skin surrounding the nail? How do you know when you’ve filed enough? I could continue, but my point being that choosing the right file for the task and knowing how to use it safely and efficiently is critical to our work. And a special note on drills: Using a drill can’t replace our hand-filing skills any more than using a food processor can replace a chef’s knife skills.

Nothing helps develop filing skills faster than working on your own nails. Manicurists should know how it feels to have a friction burn on their nail plate, or a cut to their skin. It’s painful! Careless or overly aggressive filing can lead to serious damage, including infections. Special care must be taken, whether filing on natural nails or removing enhancement product.

While in beauty school, we students are asked to identify different nail shapes, as if we don’t know the difference between round and square. What we don’t learn is how to file the desired shape symmetrically and consistently, from the client’s perspective. That’s why when filing the end of fingernails, it’s advisable to position the client with a bent elbow and the back of the hand and fingernails facing the manicurist. To save time, shape one nail first and ask the client to approve before proceeding to the remaining nails. The easiest shape to file is a square; as long as the file is positioned perpendicular to the nail at the end and parallel along the sidewalls, it should be straight. However, when the nail plate isn’t perfectly aligned with the finger, it’s the manicurist’s job to file in such a way to make it look as if it were. For more rounded shapes, it’s better to establish the length first at the end of the nail, and then shape the sides accordingly. Filing at an angle deep into the sidewalls will weaken the structure of the nail, and can make nails, enhanced ones in particular, look as if they’re ready to launch away from the nail bed. As for nail length, it shouldn’t be judged by looking at the underside of the nails because they’re rarely the same length naturally. To compare lengths, hold corresponding fingers side-by-side and view from the top surface. The overall length, measured from the base of the nail to its end, should be consistent between matching nails (pinkie to pinkie, etc.) and in proportion to each other.

And what about nail structure, particularly after applying enhancement products? It’s not enough to create a smooth surface. For strength, nail enhancements have to be structured properly with the apex (the highest point of the arch when viewed from the side) located near the stress area and enough c-curve (the curvature of the nail when viewed from its end) to help the nails resist breakage. For a more sleek and natural look, the product should gradually taper toward the base of the nails until flush to the nail plate and taper toward the ends to avoid thickness. Ideally, proper structure should be achieved through judicious and sparing use of product more than excessive filing. (Besides, the “pile and file” approach wastes time, labor, product and money.) Once the proper structure has been achieved, it’s fairly easy and very time efficient to produce a smooth surface by applying gel top coat. This eliminates the need to graduate file grits from coarse to super fine in order to obtain a scratch-free, shiny finish. Knowing how to buff enhancement products is critical for nail competitions, but completely impractical and time consuming in the salon.

To perfect your filing skills, I recommend consulting with nail competitors for file recommendations and procedures that will enable you to achieve great results efficiently and safely. Filing may be basic, but it’s far from simple.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

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