The Great Nail Art Conspiracy


Everyone’s talking about how “in” nail art is, but is it really as popular or profitable as the industry leads us to believe?

Celebrity fingertips are decked out with bling, Pinterest and Youtube are loaded with tutorials, and Instagram is glutted with pictures of decorated nails — we even had nail art competitions on television.

But how many of these lacquer lovers and nail art aficionados are actual, paying clients? In the salon, are technicians really seeing more business as a result of this nail art craze?

I’ve often said I believe each of us experience a different version of the beauty industry. Our demographics vary widely and so do our clients. In younger, trendier areas, I’m sure techs crank out designs on many of their clients and rake in a nice profit, but I suspect they’re the exception.

In conversations with other nail technicians, many of them had the same complaints about this nail art monomania. “On the rare occasion that a client comes in and asks for nail art, they always change their mind when they hear that it’s not free,” one said.

“I can’t even give nail art away. The art classes I paid so much for were the biggest waste of money.”

Another stated, “I hear all this about nail art but I’m not seeing it in the salon or on the hands of clients in my city.”

I had to agree with them. Like most beauty professionals, I have “The Reflex” (the practice of instinctively evaluating the nails/hair of anyone who crosses into my line of sight). Instead of nail art, I’m seeing gel lacquer on natural nails, mid-length oval enhancements, and a lot of chipped polish on unmanicured fingers and toes (hasty home jobs).

Periodically, I’ll spot a college or school age girl with almond-shaped nails and a contrasting colored polish on her third finger. Rarely ever will I see actual nail art.

No rhinestones.
No glitter.
No 3D elements.
No painted masterpieces.

Yet, everywhere I look in my professional circles, I’m bombarded with company claims about how profitable and popular nail art is. I’m urged to attend expensive classes on painting, rhinestone application, 3D design, and advanced mixed media art technique — despite the fact that I seldom ever see actual people wearing art of any kind.

The vast majority of my clients considered nail art in general to be “tacky,” “trashy,” or “childish.” I thought my demographic (mature adults aged 55+ and corporate professionals) may be insulated from the fad, so I browsed through the images posted on my friends’ business pages in “hipper” demographics, expecting to find numerous pictures of the art they apply to their clients, only to find they either aren’t doing much nail art at all or apparently regularly neglect to post more than a handful of pictures a week of the art they create.

Without being incredibly intrusive and nosy, there’s no way for me to know whether or not their clients have actually paid for that nail art application or if the amount they paid was appropriate for the time, materials, and talent required.

I suspect this so-called “nail art craze” is manufactured by the product companies that stand to profit from it, a theory I’m referring to as “The Great Nail Art Conspiracy.”

I desperately want to believe that I’m wrong. I want to believe that the majority of the technicians who have invested their time and hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars into nail art certifications and boxes of bling are seeing a massive return on those investments. I want to believe the nail art phenomenon is a legitimate, profitable aspect of our industry that’s here to stay and not just a clever marketing trick designed to liberate us of our money. I want to believe clients have recognized the value of our artistic talents and are finally ready to compensate us appropriately for them.

I really do want to believe these things, but unfortunately, I can’t.

I’m starting to wonder if maybe the nail community wanted to believe also. Maybe they wanted to believe this dream the product companies were selling so badly they couldn’t help but buy into it and attempt to perpetuate it.

My question is, if I’m correct about The Great Nail Art Conspiracy: How long can this false fad continue to sell overpriced pigments and paintbrushes before the nail community realizes they’ve been sold a glittering false bill of goods?

I’ve been busy writing my next book, Salon & Spa Management for the Complete Amateur, so I’m publishing some articles I wrote for publications in the past that you may not have seen.

This article was originally published in The Stylist in January, 2015. I don’t have the time to contribute to the publication anymore, but I highly recommend that you subscribe! It’s free, delivered directly to your email every month.

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Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of the book The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and the blog This Ugly Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.


  1. Hi Tina, in New Zealand-nail art is very popular!! Most people get 1 or 2 feature nails, but some will go for all 10. It varies across my clients, but does tend to be the younger, or younger at heart, or in visible jobs, especially working with their hands or children ☺

  2. I do nail art on many of my clients natural nails. I refuse to do acrylic. But honestly I don’t charge for it. I also do not add embellishments it is stamped art, glitter or hand drawn.

  3. For many of us, selling or doing the extensive nail art on clients is not the objective. I would think for most clients the incredible 3D art is not sensible for every day life. For myself as a nail tech doing amazing nail art through sculpture, 3D charms, gems and anything else I want to encase ok not the nail is really more about bringing out my maximum level of creativity possible and continuing to outdo my efforts each time.


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