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This Is What a Nail Tech First Notices About You

From the polish you choose to the state of your cuticles, nail techs are gathering valuable intel during an appointment

Pink Is Her Choice Of Color At Nail Spa
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Nailing first impressions

Getting your nails done can be an intimate experience. You’re sitting face-to-face with your nail technician, and they’re holding your hands—it’s the same setup as a really great date. But rather than discussing your family life, what’s going on at work or your weekend plans (although that may come up too), you’re likely talking about your preferred nail shape, the best nail polish color and base coat, and how to make your manicure last.

And since your nail tech is up close and personal with you, there are certain things you do that make impressions. “A large part of the job is to notice what is going on with a client,” says Elle Gerstein, a New York–based celebrity nail artist. “It helps inform what you may need or how we need to do our job.” Similar to what a hairstylist first notices about you, someone working on your nails will likely pick up on things that revolve around your appearance, attitude and more. Learning what a nail tech first notices will give you insight into the polite habits nail techs dislike and the best etiquette rules to follow.

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Colour Choices for My Nails
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Your clothes, bag and shoes

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but that doesn’t mean you don’t notice the cover. The same goes for what you’re wearing—and your nail artist is certainly observing. Everything from your hairstyle to the clothing you wear can clue nail artists in to the type of person you are, says Gerstein. And noticing these details can help them do their job better.

If you work as a bank teller and head to the nail salon on your lunch break wearing your name badge, for instance, people take notice. It’s a signal that you may need a more neutral polish, says Syreeta Aaron, a brand educator for LeChat Nails. Likewise, if you’re wearing the latest trends, it’s a sign to your nail artist that you like more boundary-pushing styles or trending nail colors. At the end of the appointment, they want you to be happy with your nails. “And these little things can give us intel on what you may like, so we pay attention,” says Gerstein.

Young woman using her phone while waiting for her manicure
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Your punctuality or lack thereof

You forgot your wallet and had to run back home. Your work meeting ran late. You got an unexpected call. Life happens, and sometimes you run late. If it’s just a couple of minutes, your nail tech may not notice—it all depends on how busy they are or if an earlier appointment is running over. “But if you are 10 minutes late, it is definitely noticed,” says Gerstein. “Our time is money. When people are late, it can throw off appointments for the rest of the day.”

Also noticeable? How you handle your lateness. Calling as a heads-up is appreciated (so the salon isn’t left wondering whether or not you’ll show), as is adjusting your expectations. “If I was late, I’d tell my nail artist to do what they can with the allotted time left of the scheduled appointment,” says Gerstein. “I wouldn’t expect the full service—I’d have them clean up my nails, but maybe not do nail art, or swap out a simple polish job instead.”

Woman using mobile phone during manicure at spa
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Your phone habits

Scrolling through your phone during the entire appointment? Tsk-tsk. If you’re on your phone to the point that it’s slowing down your movements or you’re missing the tech telling you where to move your hand, “it shows you don’t respect our time,” says Gerstein. While Gerstein prefers no phones at all, Aaron is OK with phone use as long as you’re using headphones to listen to something or answer a quick call. This just shows you understand simple cellphone etiquette and allows your hands to be free for a nail artist to do what they need to do.

Nail technician giving manicure to customer
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The state of your nails

It may sound obvious, but one of the first things a tech notices is the condition of your nails. More specifically, they pay attention to whether your nails are in good or bad shape. Are your nails uneven? Was your last at-home manicure done well? Have you attempted to remove gel polish by yourself? This gives them a good idea of the amount of work required to get your manicure looking great. It also lends a little insight into your personality.

“When I see that someone is a nail biter, I may think they are anxious,” says Aaron. On the flip side, Gerstein says that when nails are flawless and the cuticles are in tip-top shape, it’s often a sign of a perfectionist or someone who wants to project that image.

brittle damaged nails after using shellac or gel-lacquer
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Signs of health conditions

While a nail tech is not a medical professional, they can identify potential health issues by looking at your hands. “When someone’s nails are brittle and tear easily, it’s often a sign of low iron,” says Aaron. “Same goes for when their hands are very cold or their nail beds aren’t a pink tone.” Nail techs also take notice of nails that are peeling or cracked. Gerstein pays close attention to certain health conditions because it impacts how she does her job—or whether she should be doing it in the first place. “I’ve had clients show up with a fungus on their nails,” she says, “and I’ve had to turn them away and send them to a doctor.”

Multi-Colored Nails Palette
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Your color choice

Your nail polish color choice, though subtle, says a lot about your personality. A spicy shade of coral might signify glamour, while corporate professionals often choose light, neutral pinks. And someone who goes for the season’s most popular colors appreciates trends, says Gerstein. “When I see someone who is older reaching for yellow or blue, it tells me they have some spunk,” Aaron adds. As for the person who always goes for a neutral? They’re probably not a risk-taker.

Not only does your final selection reveal something about you, but how long you take to choose that shade does as well. Spending a ton of time surveying every color on the wall? You may also be indecisive about your nail shape or whether you prefer gel nail polish to its traditional counterpart. On the other hand, a person who comes in with their own bottle of polish might be prepared, organized and generally efficient.

Female manicurist using a cuticle trimmer tool to tidy up a multi-ethnic woman's fingernail in a manicure salon

Whether you fidget or not

To get a good paint job, you’ve got to stay pretty still. If you don’t, it makes it tough on the nail tech, so they definitely notice right away if you’re fidgeting. According to Aaron, it’s going to indicate how hard the job might be for her. “This is especially true if you want detailed nail art designs,” she says.

Your nail tech might also worry you’ll smudge your polish before it dries because you can’t sit still. Of course, no one wants to see their hard work wrecked a few seconds after the appointment wraps up. So if you tend to fidget, whether it’s nerves, impatience or anxiety, it may also fill your tech with a smidge of dread.

Woman With a Cold
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That sniffly nose

Customers who walk into the salon with a runny nose, extra pale skin or heavy eyelids will likely sound an alarm in their nail tech’s head. “We literally hold your hands,” says Gerstein. “It’s very intimate.” So clients who are clearly under the weather and in need of some serious vitamin C tend to stress out nail techs—they do not want to catch whatever it is you have. In case you need the reminder: “If you are sick, stay home,” says Gerstein. “You are putting your nail tech at risk.”

And if you do go in and are visibly ill, don’t be surprised (or offended) if your tech asks you to reschedule. Similarly, if your nail tech is clearly sick, it could be a red flag you’re at a bad nail salon.

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Your mood

If you’re happy and you know it—your nail tech will too! Are you sad, grumpy, stressed and reserved? Or are you smiling and exuding a positive attitude? Your mood dictates the kind of appointment you may be looking for, so nail techs tend to search for hints.

“It’s my job to make my clients feel better when they come in,” says Aaron. Getting your nails done is a great self-care gift, but it’s all about your experience. If you are noticeably grumpy, your nail tech may stay quiet to not irritate you further. If you’re acting super friendly, they may engage you in more conversation. But they can’t do any of this if they don’t tune into how you are feeling when you walk through the door.

Young beautician working with a client in a professional salon
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If you’re dismissive

The way a client sits down and interacts with their tech says a lot about their level of kindness. “You can really tell who has an appreciation for your service and who doesn’t,” says Gerstein. People who ignore their tech from the start are likely going to be rude for the whole appointment. Being kind and respectful doesn’t need to involve grand gestures. Gerstein says things like being present during your appointment, smiling or even a gentle thank-you are signs that someone is respectful and appreciative. “Yes, a tip is nice, but so is being treated kindly and having someone show appreciation,” she says. With that in mind, it is still important to tip your nail tech.

About the experts

  • Elle Gerstein is a celebrity nail artist and structure manicure expert. Her work has been seen in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, W, Allure and Vanity Fair and with brands such as Chanel, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton.
  • Syreeta Aaron has been a professional nail tech for 17 years. She is a LeChat Nails educator, where she combines technical skills with artistic nail designs.

Bethany Heitman
Bethany Heitman is a lifestyle writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience, and she's worked for some of the largest media brands in the world. She covers beauty, fashion, tech, entertainment and more.