The Hottest Trend in Professional Manicures? Ditching the Salon

COVID-19 jumpstarted a rise of independent nail techs who say they can offer a more intimate, artistic experience outside the salon.

As a customer, a trip to the nail salon used to feel like a getaway. However, as I grew older I found myself wanting a more intimate and personal experience, especially after this past year, considering the restrictions due to COVID-19. Not have in-person interactions made people yearn for them, and the loss of employment for so many nail artists fueled that even more. What resulted after a turbulent year was the rise of independent nail artists who have left their salons behind and have instead grown their companies.

Over the past year, the number of those frequenting nail salons has reached record lows, but the desire for a great—and safe—manicure remains. Many artists who leaped into entrepreneurship had previously been employed at salons before the pandemic. “I was working at two salons when COVID hit, but within 24 hours, both of them were gone,” says Trenna Seney, a traveling celebrity nail artist. With studies predicting that the demand for nail technicians is going to grow 19% by 2029, many people may take the opportunity to establish themselves as independent artists rather than rely on a salon.

That lack of security is something that Brittney Boyce, celebrity nail expert and founder of Nails Of LA, experienced as well. “A lot of people want to be their own boss,” she says in reflection of the past year. “We want to make our own schedule, we want security, and we don’t want to work hard to turn over 50% of what we make.”

That financial aspect remains one of the most foremost reasons that nail techs split from salons. According to a study by The Progressive, eight in 10 nail salon workers have experienced some kind of wage theft, with the median income close to just $23,000 a year. Unhealthy work environments, such as overworking and toxic work cultures, also play a role in this surge of entrepreneurship.

It’s not just the stability and freedom that are enticing nail experts to become entrepreneurs, but also how much more money they can make on their own, too. In July, Seney, who was unemployed at the time, put a callout on her Instagram asking if anyone wanted to get their nails professionally done by her. Now, she says she’s never had more clients in her life.

Building off of that independence, nail artists who have gone solo are finding that they’re able to build their personal brands in ways their salons wouldn’t have allowed them to beforehand. Take Boyce, for example, who started her own brand Nails Of LA, and has been able to secure several brand partnerships, most notably with nail polish brand ORLY. “I’ve done everything from product testing to product development, helping them with marketing,” she says. “Now, I mainly do content creation for social media.”

Seney shares the same sentiments following the release of her press-on line Very Shameless Nails, and the opportunity to work with notable celebrities such as Flo Milli. “I can do what I want when I want—that includes having time to build my brand as an artist,” she says.

While this all sounds wonderful for nail techs, there are things that customers, such as myself, need to watch out for: the small pool of unlicensed nail artists who see this as an opportunity to build their clientele. “Sanitation and proper cleanliness are the most important parts of being a licensed manicurist,” Seney explains. “Without that training, unlicensed artists are putting the health of others at risk. Something as little as a small cut can result in a terrible infection.”

I’m excited to keep my nails in tip top shape while getting to develop professional relationships with independent nail artists. Bye-bye, packed salons.