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Nail educator Rachel Lunn discusses the attitude towards nail education, the importance of elevating industry standards & the power of practice

By Alex Fox | 13 June 2021 | Feature, Tech Talk, Training

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Great expectations …by Rachel Lunn @rachel­.lunn_nails


I trained as a nail tech in 2003. Gel polish had not yet been born and the trend was pink & white acrylic enhancements, one colour polish or a manicure. Nails were just starting to grow into a more popular service that everyone had to have. In 2021, my industry is coming of age and I’ve been an educator for 15 years.

Teaching within the public and private sectors during the last year, I’ve seen a significant change in student expectations of what they will learn and what they will have achieved when their course ends. Shockingly, ‘I want it all, I want it now and if I can’t do it, I won’t’, seems to be the ‘new normal’ approach to any career.

After chatting with other UK educators, one thing’s become apparent; prospective nail techs seem to be under the impression they can enrol on a course, pass, be fully competent and clients will flock to their nail desk for their newly carved out successful business. With, I might add, a great turnover and all in less than six weeks .

The experienced among us know this is simply not the case. So, where did they get this notion from? Who made future nail techs believe they can have it all in such a short space of time with minimum effort? Is it social media? Or is it the nail educators/ brands promoting their education syllabus’ as so amazing you cannot fail? I don’t believe for one second it’s the latter.

All too often in recent years, I’ve heard the phrases, ‘I can’t do it. I didn’t realise it would be this difficult’ and ‘I’ve had no clients for a few weeks’. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I say, Rome was not built in a day. Some techs are even quitting after one or two days.

My career timeline is probably typical. Some career paths are faster, some are slower. However, I’m more than happy with my achievements, which I worked really hard to attain and made some serious sacrifices for along the way.

Practice makes perfect

Here’s my career chronology…


  • Early 2003 – beginners courses, nail art, airbrushing, sculpting courses. Practicing at least three sets a week on myself, friends and family. Enrolled onto NVQ Level 2 Beauty Therapy to complement my nail training. All while working full-time .
  • 2004 – I start the NVQ Level 3 Nails work-based assessment. I rent a table in a local salon with no client base on a percentage basis after work and weekends.
  • Early 2006 – I rent a room in a new area. I take no clients with me from previous salon. I drop to part-time in my job and increase my salon hours .
  • Xmas 2006 – I leave  my job and make the salon my full-time occupation. I enrol on a Certificate Of Education to teach in the lifelong learning sector. I’m completely full with bookings in the salon after almost three years .
  • 2007 to present day – I continue to train in nails every year to upskill and keep on top of current trends.
  • 2014 – after 12 years in the industry and 11 years as a sole trader and self-employment, I open my own salon.
  • 2019 – after 12 years in education, my goal is reached after earning the Scratch Stars Educator of the Year 2019 title. I can smile about my career until…
  • 2020/21 Covid-19 – I remain positive and build up my business again. I refuse to let the pandemic win, but accept that if I have to work elsewhere, I will..

Of course, expectations and options are far quicker and available now, but I didn’t expect success overnight and knew I had to work for it. So, after much thought, I’ve decided to look at solutions to help educators and prospective techs achieve a better understanding of what is involved on the road to nail tech success .

TO ALL Educators 

  • Ensure specific guidelines are set out from the first point of enquiry in your course prospectus. E.g. how many case studies will be involved in order to complete the course in a set time and highlight that commitment and dedication are needed to succeed .
  • Have it written into your T&Cs that full payment for the course is expected whether they choose to complete it or not. (Mitigating circumstances are the only waiver). This will discourage drop outs midway through a course.
  • If you’re still a working nail tech, allow students to shadow you. Any other occupation would do this, so why not do this with nail students? This will allow them to see the day-to-day running of a column and the less fun bits that go with it.
  •  Set up group chats with the class during the course to keep momentum and motivation going and to check on progress.
  • Leave space between course days. The brain can only absorb so much information in a day and the student needs time to execute the new skills learnt and develop them before moving on.
  • Give students a reasonable yet achievable time scale to complete the case studies. Most of them are employed already with family commitments and leeway will be appreciated.
  • Embrace your learners into a welcoming environment. Never allow them to feel your role as educator and mentor is over after the course is complete and you have their money.


The quick ‘do it all’ nail course with multiple courses in four hours has done this industry no favours. I would welcome a regulation with recommended learning hours in place across the board. In the public sector the part-time nail tech courses are often two years minimum for Levels 2 and 3 Nail Technology. Many countries still require a license as well as months of basic training. UK standards have somewhat declined in some areas, corners are being cut in training, allowing the belief to emerge that it can all be done in a day!

The arrival of social media and influencers means everyone wants to ‘do nails’. YouTube and TikTok demonstrate quick fire nail techniques that sends out two messages. Firstly, ‘wow that looks easy” and secondly, ‘Ah, I don’t need to pay for education’ instead of the ‘wow isn’t that clever’  that the educator probably intended.

The younger generation is often influenced by offers of freebies, looking fabulous when filtered and obtaining something with minimum effort. Some feel quite intimidated, which in turn can knock confidence when undertaking a new skill such as nails. That said you’re never too old to learn and my most determined protégés are those seeking a new career after the children have grown up and want to do  something they’ve always been interested in.I have students from 16 to 65 all on the same path.

So, what words of wisdom can we give to new nail techs and the prospective ones .


  • Nail technology is not easy, it’s a skill and like any trade, you need to develop those skills; it won’t happen overnight. Yes it looks easy, but takes a long time to get to that level.
  • Choose your courses wisely, ask current successful salons where they trained and who with. Be prepared that your first course will only cover basic application and health & safety.
  • Do not expect to pass straight away, a good course will expect multiple case studies.
  • Make sure you have time.
  • Try and practice on friends and family as much as possible.
  • Round up models at a reduced rate before you start a course. Offer permanent discounts when you qualify to keep them as clients .
  • You must allow a good level of commitment and dedication to practice. Nail technology has earned its place in the personal care sector and like hairdressing , no one has their hair done by someone under trained to cut hair. Clients will not expect a nail tech to have done only four hours training before embarking on a service. Your educator will know who’s practiced and who hasn’t in a class.
  • Only buy what you need until you’re well established. Ask your educator for advice and explain your budget. It can be expensive to invest in products, s don’t buy what you don’t need. Master the basics first. Use good quality products and never mix products. Only buy via authorised distributors.
  • Train and up skill annually. Perfect your structure and finish. Use social media to check out local competition and the standard of work to aim for.
  • Building a client base takes time. Especially during a pandemic. The last 18-months have been like no other. Hundreds of salons and techs have been forced to gain employment elsewhere and some have not come back. The harsh reality is, when we return to the new normal, existing salons will be full and new clients will be there for the taking, be ready for it.
  • Work and build your business at your own pace, it is not a race. Two years is about the average time to build a steady client base. Do not set your expectations too high too soon.

My final advice is; nails is so much more than ‘doing nails’ – that’s the fun part. It’s running a business, dealing with clients and staff, being social media savvy, book keeping, juggling your personal life. Unpaid sick leave and holidays for the self-employed and keeping ahead of the game .

However, this is the best job in the world. I never will or have woken up and thought. ‘I do not want to go to work today’. I love nails from the first set of the week to the last on a Saturday night.  Go for it. Do it, but do it properly and I promise it’s worth it.

Some advice from my amazing ex-students, all now successful nail technicians.

Fausto Gismondi Bella Gismondi Nails

Practice, practice, practice. Ask clients questions to get feedback from them about how their nails are doing. Check in with them a few days after, as I’ve found they appreciated it, because I said I wanted their nails to be right. Use real hands as models, friends, family etc because they move and that’s the hard bit….practice your powder to monomer ratio and pick up technique on a paper towel…don’t be afraid to reach out to your educator and other experienced nail techs for advice, help and tips. We are a team…above all… DON’T PANIC! Tell yourself ‘I can do this’ and you can! It’s a competitive and fast moving industry…but that doesn’t mean that we have to do it all in one go…take one step at a time…master one bit, then move on to the next…I am 3.5 years in and only just starting to use the nail art brushes. I’ve made a few mistakes and probably will make more….but I asked for help. I still can’t draw flowers or do 3D flowers for toffee…but hey…I can do crystals, stamping…some free hand stuff….and my clients are happy with that and loyal. When I want to try something new I just ask for a volunteer and they either get a free or discounted set…just DON’T PANIC.

Hannah Suffell

Remember my melt down Rachel Lunn I will never forget it! Yes, it took me a long time to be confident in acrylics, it took loads of practice and I learned along the way. The more sets I did, the more I worked out how to make things better for the next time. Most of my clients are gel polish now, but when someone asks for acrylics I’m absolutely fine with it and feel confident and really enjoy crafting a good set of nails with L&P.

Gemma Kenington Ederra Hair & Beauty

Oh and the most important thing to remember is NOBODY is better than anyone, and we all start from somewhere. I’m far from perfect and always knock my work, but I do know I’m miles better than I was when I started out and that is good enough for me.