January 2011

Jaime Schrabeck

The Nail Extension | by Jaime Schrabeck


Mastering the Basic Skills

It is important to know that basic skills provide the foundation for our services, as beauty professionals.

Without mastering these basic skills, it is possible that our clients could do a better job, even as amateurs.

Before I became a licensed manicurist, I did better work than the professionals I paid as a client, and that's not saying much. We train for hours and practice for years; however, it is our mastery of basic skills that sets us apart from our clients and competitors.

Regardless of the service, our primary concerns should be safety, quality and consistency. At a minimum, it is our professional responsibility to protect the health and safety of our clients. Consumer protection is the reason most states require licensing, a beauty school education, a written and / or practical examination(s), compliance with regulations, and in some states, continuing education.

Without expounding on the efficacy of these requirements, let us agree that while the intent is admirable, in practice they do little to ensure consistent quality.

The same is true of the restaurant industry; a restaurant can have an immaculate kitchen and meet the highest standards for food safety, and the food can still taste awful. Likewise, safety is only one feature, albeit the most important, of a quality beauty service.

It is ironic that the most basic thing we do as manicurists can have the greatest potential for harm. Filing seems so simple: pick up a file, hold it against the nail and start stroking.

However, we first have to decide which file to use. Will it be: paper, wood, Mylar, metal, ceramic or glass? Shall we use a standard seven by three quarter inch file, a block buffer, a custom-shaped file or a drill? How coarse or fine should it be? Disposable or reusable? If it is reusable, can you really disinfect it? How do you hold it? How do you hold the client's finger? How much pressure should you apply? How fast should you file? How do you avoid the skin surrounding the nail? How do you know when you have filed enough?

I could continue, but my point is that choosing the right file for the task, and knowing how to use it safely and efficiently is critical to our work. Remember, using a drill cannot replace our hand-filing skills any more than using a food processor can replace a chef's knife skills.

Nothing helps develop filing skills faster than working on your own nails. Manicurists should know how it feels to have a friction burn on their nail plate, or a cut to their skin. It is painful. Careless or overly aggressive filing can lead to serious damage, including infections. Special care is necessary, whether filing on natural nails or removing enhancement products.

While in beauty school, students are asked to identify different nail shapes, as if we do not know the difference between round and square. What we do not learn is how to file the desired shape symmetrically and consistently, from the client's perspective. That is why, when filing the end of fingernails, it is advisable to position the client with a bent elbow and the back of the hand and fingernails facing the manicurist. To save time, shape one nail first and ask the client to approve before proceeding to the remaining nails. The easiest shape to file is a square. As long as the file is positioned perpendicular to the nail at the end and parallel along the sidewalls, it should be straight.

However, when the nail plate is not perfectly aligned with the finger, it is the manicurist's job to file in such a way to make it look as if it were. For more rounded shapes, it is better to establish the length first at the end of the nail, and then shape the sides accordingly. Filing at an angle deep into the sidewalls will weaken the structure of the nail, and can make nails, enhanced ones in particular, look as if they are ready to launch away from the nail bed.

In addition, what about nail structure, particularly after applying enhancement products? It is not enough to create a smooth surface. For strength, nail enhancements have to be structured properly to help the nails resist breakage. For a more sleek and natural look, the product should gradually taper toward the base of the nails until flush to the nail plate and taper toward the ends to avoid thickness.

Ideally, we should strive to achieve proper structure through judicious and sparing use of product, not excessive filing. (Besides, the "pile and file" approach wastes time, labor, product and money.) Once the proper structure is achieved, it is easy and very time efficient to produce a smooth surface by applying gel top coat. This eliminates the need to graduate file grits from coarse to super fine in order to obtain a scratch-free, shiny finish. Knowing how to buff enhancement products is critical for nail competitions, but it is a completely impractical practice in the salon.

To perfect your filing skills, I recommend consulting with nail competitors for file recommendations and procedures that will enable you to achieve great results efficiently and safely. Filing may be basic, but it is far from simple.

Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D. owns Precision Nails, an exclusive nails-only salon in Carmel, California. She can be reached at info@precisionnails.com.