How to become a nail technician

August 24, 2023

If you love keeping your nails healthy and making them look fantastic, then there’s a career opportunity waiting for you as a professional nail technician.

As with most beauty treatments nowadays, there is huge demand for qualified, professional nail technicians to sell their services and add some shimmer to clients’ hands and feet. However, in order to make the most of the opportunity, there’s plenty to learn, do and understand, whether you want to work for yourself or for someone else.

In this guide, we’ll cover all the basics you need to know around how to become a nail technician. You’ll read about what it involves, the qualification and training that you need, your potential earnings, how to go about starting a nail technician business, and much more.

What is a nail technician and what do they do?

A nail technician delivers all kinds of different treatments to the fingernails, thumbnails and toenails of their clients. These can include treatments to keep them healthy, such as grooming cuticles, removing dead skin and even massaging the arms and legs to promote overall health in that part of the body. And it also includes more style-based, beauty treatments such as manicures, pedicures, nail art, and the application and removal of nail polish and false nails.

Other responsibilities that nail technicians are required to undertake include:

Giving advice on nail care and advising on possible courses of action

Conduct repairs for broken or damaged nails (more on this below)

Ensure that the skin and areas around the nails are in good condition

Use chemicals and other substances correctly, safely and in accordance with relevant regulation

Keep tools and equipment, as well as working environments, clean and sanitised so as to minimise the risk of accident or infection

What qualifications do I need to be a nail technician?

First of all, it’s important to state that there is no formal legal requirement to possess a qualification and offer nail technician services professionally. However, it can make a major difference to your employability, or your attractiveness to clients as a freelancer, so gaining some proper credentials is strongly recommended.

There are many different colleges and education bodies around the UK that offer nail technician training courses, but one way to train and earn at the same time is to take on an apprenticeship. Here, you’ll be able to work in a salon and learn some of the basics of the job in a real-world environment, while doing the academic study parts of the qualification alongside.

If you can reach level 3 of your apprenticeship, then you will have gained:

All the key skills and trends to provide a wide range of nail-related services

An understanding of the legal and regulatory requirements of the job

The preparation and knowledge to start your own nail technician business

From this, you can then go on to explore some specialist nail technician courses which can help you stand out from the crowd and expand your offering. These can include (and are by no means limited to) manicures and pedicures, acrylic nails, fibreglass and gel extensions, and nail art.

How long does it take to become a nail technician?

Because there’s no legal requirement to get qualified as a nail technician, neither is there a hard and fast timeframe involved. If you’re intending to complete a level 3 apprenticeship (as mentioned above), then you can expect the whole process to take between one and two years.

What skills do I need to be a nail technician?

Naturally, you will need a strong level of capability with actual nail treatments. But from a professional standpoint, this is only one part of the job.

Your customer service skills will have to be excellent, and you’ll need to make clients feel happy and comfortable with the treatment. This means clear verbal communication, active listening, plenty of patience and the ability to build strong, trusted relationships with repeat customers in the long-term. Ideally, this will be combined with a good sense of how to ‘upsell’ extra products and services to customers, without being too pushy or overbearing in the process.

On a practical level, you’ll need strong and steady hands, a meticulous attention to detail, a love of flair and creativity, and a passion for keeping up with the latest trends and techniques.

Can I be a self-taught nail technician?

The short answer to this question is yes – and if anything, this has now become easier and more practical than ever. If you already have an aptitude for nail technician duties, then you can expand and refine your knowledge through online courses and communities, and even through videos available in places like YouTuve.

However, you’ll still need to get formal qualifications and training in order to maximise your career potential in the industry. Without these, it will be extremely difficult to attract clients as a freelancer, or to convince salons and spas to hire you on a full-time basis.

What tools and equipment do I need?

Obviously, you’ll need some nail varnish and paints, and suitable brushes! However, there are lots of other pieces of equipment you’ll need, such as clippers, files, glue, sanitisers, buffers and cuticle oil. You’ll also need to consider some clean, professional clothing, as well as any protection you might need to keep your hair out of the way.

Furthermore, you should make sure you have the right environment for giving treatments, so that both you and the client are comfortable, and so you don’t make any mistakes. A sturdy table and chairs are a must, while you should also look at mirrors and portable lighting so that you can easily see what you’re doing at all times.

Can nail technicians fix broken nails?

With the right skills and training, yes. Nail repairs are one of the most common reasons that clients come to a professional nail technician, making it a potentially lucrative channel of profitability for those who are able to do it to a high standard.

Repairs can either be carried out using a special gel to fill the crack, nail glue to put the two cracked sides back together, or through localised reapplication in the case of acrylic nails.

It’s vital to get some good training and qualifications in repairing broken nails, so that employers and clients can get the job done right. If you make any errors, then it can be disruptive (and painful!) for the client.

How much do nail technicians make?

There is quite a wide range of potential earnings when it comes to nail technicians, and that’s because there are many different factors at play. Firstly, you’ll be able to command greater salaries (or charge higher rates if you’re self-employed) if you have plenty of experience and a good reputation in your local area.

Additionally, the part of the country you live in may increase your salary potential (for example, if you live in London or the south-east), but this can often be counterbalanced by higher living costs. And then there’s expenses to consider: many freelance nail technicians wanting to operate from salons will have to pay for chair rental, which will eat into profit margins.

Overall, according to the National Careers Service, annual salaries for full-time employed nail technicians’ range between £15,500 for younger newcomers, up to £25,000 for older and more experienced technicians at high-end spas. If operating on a self-employed basis, then rates per treatment range between £15 to £35, before any business expenses are taken into account. Which leads nicely onto the next section…

How do I start my own nail technician business?

If you’d prefer to be your own boss, or you want to progress long-term after starting out in a salon, then you have the opportunity to set up your own nail technician business. This means that your earning potential is theoretically limitless, but there are plenty of considerations and expenses to take into account, too:

Business model

Firstly, you’ll need to decide how your business is going to operate. For example, do you want to freelance out of a salon and pay for chair rental, or do you want to go it alone and provide services yourself? The former option is the simplest from a business admin point of view, but can come with the substantial expense of the chair rental. The latter gives you more flexibility, although it requires an important decision to be made in the next point…

Place of treatment delivery

Where are you going to be providing your nail treatment services? If you want to set up your own salon (and are unable or unwilling to do so from their own home), then you’ll need to find and pay for suitable business premises. Alternatively, you could set yourself up as a mobile nail technician, and travel to clients’ homes: compared to many types of beauty treatment, nail work doesn’t require lots of big, heavy kit, making it more viable as a mobile operation.

Company arrangements

Whichever of the options above you choose, you’ll need to decide the status of your business in legal and taxation terms. The easiest way (especially if freelancing alone) is to set yourself up as a sole trader; however, in this situation, any debts you incur will have to be settled through your personal finances. While a limited company can take more administration and be more expensive to set up, it does give you some financial protection, especially if you go on to employ other nail technicians in the future.

Overheads and transportation

Any prices and rates you set (whether on a per-treatment or an hourly basis) need to account for the fact that you will incur expenses in many different areas. These can include premises, transport, products, tools, equipment, health and safety provision, heating, lighting, water, Internet and business administration. You’ll also have to bear in mind that you’ll need to pay income tax and National Insurance on the earnings you make, as well as Corporation Tax if you operate as a limited company.

Insurance and employing staff

If you’re really successful with your nail technician business, then you’ll be able to expand by hiring staff to work for you. This multiplies the amount of clients and treatments that you’ll be able to offer, but also comes with an extra layer of requirements and expenses. As well as paying your staff a fair wage, you’ll also need to make Employer’s National Insurance contributions. In addition, it’s a legal requirement to have employer’s liability insurance in place, so that you’re protected against a claim in the event of your employee suffering an accident or injury in the course of their work.

Affordable nail technician insurance from Protectivity

If you’re branching out as a self-employed nail technician, or you’re setting up a nail technician business, then it’s important to be sure you have the correct insurance cover in place.

Protectivity’s specialist nail technician policy covers you in case unexpected incidents occur where a claim is made against you. Our insurance includes public liability, products liability, equipment and stock, employers’ liability, personal accident and much more. That way, you can grow your business with confidence and avoid costly claims that could seriously damage your finances.

Take two minutes today to explore our affordable and flexible nail technician insurance policies.