Nail Stylist

Job Description (What the job involves)

A Nail Stylist is a qualified nail technician who provides manicures for the fashion industry, editorial and magazine shoots – often referred to as 'session work'. You may have the opportunity to work with high profile clients and celebrities on a freelance basis and so previous experience is highly recommended. Salon experience is ideal and if you have worked as a mobile nail technician this is a bonus.

The role of a Nail Stylist is different to that of a nail technician. You will be working alongside a number of other professionals including photographers, fashion stylists, hair stylists, make-up artists and models. An important part of your job is being creative. Nail styling is about complimenting hair, make-up and fashion using a variety of colours, patterns and textures. You will often create nails for visual rather than practical purposes.

Hours and Working Environment

The working hours of a Nail Stylist vary depending on the project you are working on. Doing nails for an event could take just two or three hours whereas working backstage at a catwalk, photo shoot or music video could take all day.

Call times tend to be very early - sometimes as early as 6am! As a Nail Stylist you must be flexible and prepared to work evenings and weekends.

It can be difficult to have consistent work, particularly at the start of your career. You may choose to work a few days each week in a salon or spa in addition to working freelance. There is also the option of joining an agency for more regular work. Agencies will find work for you and deal with the business side of things so you don't have to! Working with an agency has many benefits because they are able to represent you and the work that you do.

You will find yourself painting nails in many different locations. You will often be working in dressing rooms and hotel rooms, but there will be occasions where you have limited working space and will have to use your beauty case as a chair and your lap as a table. An ability to adapt is essential as you could find yourself painting nails in the back of a moving vehicle or simultaneously with make-up and hair stylists.

Upsides and Downsides

The best thing about being a Nail Stylist is having the opportunity to visit new, interesting places and meeting other creative people. Although not often, sometimes you are able to travel abroad to fashion shows or events and this can be a very exciting part of the job.

A not so great part of the job is the possibility of working long hours. A music video can take 14 hours or more to complete and so you could find yourself on set for a very long time!

The challenges faced are mainly a result of limited space to work or a short amount of time to complete a set of nails. You will normally follow a tight schedule of work and hand finished acrylics with nail art can take a long while to do. Not only do you need to be efficient, but you also need to be able to negotiate with other professionals to set reasonable and achievable timeframes.

Skills and Personal Qualities

You must be able to carry out a number of nail treatments including manicures, pedicures, nail enhancements and freehand nail art. Whilst many models will prefer manicures on natural nails, some fashion campaigns and celebrities will request nail extensions. Nail art is becoming extremely popular and therefore it is essential that you have a variety of skills. A great Nail Stylist continues to develop her skills through training and education. Knowledge of your industry is vital; you must be an expert in your field of work and keep up to date with new nail trends and products. Working with high profile clients you may even set new nail trends. Overall you should have a good attention to detail, neat painting skills and a creative flair.

You will normally be using your own products and tools. It is useful to organise your polishes into colours (Reds, Nudes, etc) and to own a number of nail art pens, nail wraps and embellishments. You must regularly sterilise your tools and equipment and practice good hygiene at all times. Ensure that you have an organised kit that is restocked on a regular basis.

Your personality is important to this type of job. You must be confident in what you do, friendly and professional at all times. Not only do you need to be well presented, you also need to be punctual and organised. It is a fairly competitive industry and so in order to be rebooked, it is essential that you leave a good impression.

Entry Requirements

You will need to have the skills of a nail technician to work as a Nail Stylist. Some nail technicians do not have formal qualifications. However, in order to safely carry out treatments and truly understand the art of nail technology it is highly recommended that you gain a formal qualification. There are lots of short courses available these days but choosing a recognised course such as NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) or courses provided by VTCT (Vocational Training Charitable Trust) are desirable.

Remember, a good set of nails can take lots of patience, time and practice. Short courses tend to be expensive and may not cover all the skills needed to be successful in the nail industry. Many insurance companies will only provide you with cover if you have a formal qualification and this is important to consider when working freelance. In addition to this, regulations in London are becoming stricter and many boroughs now require nail technicians to apply for a license. These licenses are only provided upon receiving proof of necessary qualifications.

Opportunities and Progression

As you begin your career as a Nail Stylist you may find yourself working on small projects, long hours and maybe even voluntarily for little or no payment. Learn as much as you can from every opportunity that you get. Providing an excellent and professional service will encourage clients to book you again for future campaigns and also recommend you to other companies.

A portfolio is a good way to present your work to potential clients. You do not need to spend a fortune on developing a professional portfolio: try teaming up with junior photographers, models and make-up artists who are all trying to achieve the same thing! There are great opportunities for 'test shoots' that can be found online, many via social networking sites. Alternatively, there are some beauty companies that offer great packages for professional images.

As you progress in your career there are opportunities to work with designer brands, exclusive events and celebrities. After gaining your experience you may wish to open your own salon or become a nail educator.

Industry Outlook

There are so many great opportunities available to nail technicians and manicurists to get into nail styling and session work. Once upon a time, it was the make-up artist's job to do nails on a shoot. They would often have a limited selection of colours and little time to focus on nails. Today, however, there is an increasing need in the industry to have a nail professional on set.

Intricate and detailed nail art is in huge demand. There are always new trends surfacing and plenty of jobs that require the skills of a Nail Stylist.

Coral Mitchell


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Potential Salary and Benefits

The salary of a nail stylist varies because the work is freelance. You are able to charge a price for your service that is reflective of your level of experience and skillset. Many companies are willing to pay from £80-£100 for a Nail Stylist in London, but this price can increase over time depending on the profile of the client and your experience in the industry.

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