When painting someone’s nails, you have to be steady-handed, laser-focused, and sociable— all at the same time. It sounds like a tough gig, but according to Barb Shea, a nail artist at Team Blonde outside Chicago, it’s easy if you have great clients. We chatted with Barb about what makes an awesome mani-pedi customer, and she answered our most burning questions about nail-salon etiquette.
Is it rude to show up with polish already on your nails?
Nope! “We don’t mind,” Barb said.
What if my legs are unshaved?
Nail artists and massage therapists agree: “Frankly, we don’t even notice. It doesn’t bother us.”
Should I trim my nails before coming in?
“If you’re doing a pedicure, then no, don’t trim them,” Barb said. The reason? “The majority of people don’t know how to trim their toenails. … [They] like to trim the sides, and they clip too far in. When the nail comes back in, it’ll be an ingrown. You should trim them straight across, not rounded.”
For hands, though, Barb said it doesn’t matter—trim or don’t trim to your liking.
Is it rude if I read the whole time or fall asleep?
According to Barb, reading is fine, and falling asleep is a compliment—sometimes that’s even her goal. “I do reflexology … [and when] I hit the central nerve that relaxes you, more than likely you’ll fall asleep.”
What if I’m incurably ticklish?
You can tell your nail artist that you’re ticklish, but Barb said that it’s rarely a problem. However, if you’re truly, uncontrollably giggly, nail artists have an ace up their sleeves. “There’s a part in your foot that nail technicians are trained to pinpoint … that can prevent you from being ticklish. If you’re looking at the bottom of your foot and you grab your pinkie and your big toe and flex them inward, it’s where the indentation is.”
In reflexology, this is the part of the foot that corresponds to your solar plexus. Barb said that once she presses on this area, even the most skittishly ticklish clients have been surprised by how relaxing their treatments became.
My feet are gross. Does that bother you?
“Oh, we’ve seen it all,” Barb said. “We’d rather educate our clients than be grossed out. So if we see a built-up callus, we’ll reduce it as much as we can and then give the client recommendations [to keep it from coming back]. As far as yellow toenails, that’s usually from polish, [and] we’ll tell them how to take care of it.”
Fungus doesn’t phase Barb, either. “If someone were to have a foot fungus, we’ll ask them, ‘Have you noticed your toenails looking different?’ Nine times out of 10, they already know what they have. We can’t diagnose them, but we can refer them to a podiatrist.”
If I nick a nail on my way out of the salon, is it OK to ask you to fix it?
Usually, yes. But to minimize the chances of that happening, Barb said, “we advise clients to hang out for a little bit, 15 minutes or so, while their nails dry.” If you still manage to chip your polish in the salon, your technician should be able to patch it up—just don’t come in days later complaining that your polish flaked when you were biting your nails.
What’s the standard tipping practice?
You should tip what you would at a restaurant: 15%–20% is an indicator of great service. “Sometimes we even get 25% tips,” Barb said. She also recommended that clients pay and tip just before the polish goes on their fingers. That way, they don’t mess up their nails digging into their purse.
What if someone decides that they don’t want a polish color after it’s been applied?
Switching out your color early on isn’t a big deal. Usually, clients realize they’d prefer a different shade after just one nail has been painted. Certain salons, including Team Blonde, also have what’s called a nail wheel to help clients preview different colors. “There are individual fake nails with all the colors, so [clients] can actually put in on their finger to see if it matches their skin tone,” Barb said.
What are your biggest pet peeves as a nail artist?
“Don’t pick off your no-chip!” Barb said. “People say, ‘I want my polish off because my nails need to breathe.’ The actual nail is dead cells. It can’t breathe!”
Another no-no is talking on your cell phone when there are other clients in the salon. “If you’re alone in the room it doesn’t bother me … [but otherwise] it’s disruptive to the other people getting a service done.”
Guides for navigating other tricky social situations:
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