Still faking it?

Perhaps more the any other sector of the beauty industry, the nail market is at the mercy of the high fashion and celebrity trends. For many years, that involved a set of perfectly square, French tipped acrylic nails. Today, however, extensions have been usurped as the nail treatment of choice by the gel polish phenomenon.

Extensions still dominate the competition scene, providing the perfect canvas on which to showcase increasingly ambitious and intricate nail art, but for the everyday client, inspired by pop culture icons like Rihanna or the preened models decorating the pages of glossy magazines, they are losing their appeal.

Denise Holland, a nail technician and owner of Beautiful Nail Salons in Crawley, started in the business 17 years ago. “I’d work 10 hours a day, Monday to Saturday, and all I’d do was acrylics after acrylics,” she explains. Now, she says, extensions account for only around a quarter of her business, with the rest being taken up with gel polishes.

Nail extensions by Sweet Squared

Sammy Grant, owner of Professional Beauty Award-winning Polish Nails in Aberdeen, reports an even greater drop in extensions. “I’ve been a nail technician for 13 years now, and for the first ten all I did was nail extensions,” she says. “Now I maybe do a couple of sets a week – about 5% of my business.”

Holland blames cut-price high street salons for the decrease in sales of extensions. According to her, poorly qualified therapists are responsible for the belief among clients that extensions ruin the nails. Others, however, believe it’s gel polishes that are causing avid extensions fans to diverge.

“I had some really hardcore acrylic tips customers,” says Kellie Morgan, who runs Blush Nails and Beauty in Oxford. “Even they have reverted to a gel polish on a natural nail now.”

Nail Art

Morgan believes that the novelty value of gels probably does have something to do with their popularity. “I know when something new comes out, my clients want to go and try it,” she explains, but adds that the low maintenance involved with a gel polish, not to mention the speed of a treatment, have also helped to make the so popular. 

Regional revival

Extensions are not dead and buried yet, however. Although some nail techs are reporting dwindling sales of extension services, others say that market is booming. Professional Beauty found striking regional differences in the attitude towards nails extensions, with techs in south England and Scotland performing very few but techs in the North of England finding them still incredibly popular.

“I think the majority of our clients are nail extensions,” sys Vikki Taylor-Dodds, who runs Spoilt for Choice nail salon in Newcastle. “When I talk to different people, it seems to be that in the North there’s definitely a trend for longer, wacky nails. Whereas, when I talk to girls down south, they tend to be doing more of the natural nail look. It’s definitely down to location.”She’s not alone. Holland explains that although for her business extensions are declining, elsewhere they're booming. “I have a friend who’s got a salon up in Liverpool, and her clients are all having acrylics still,” she says.

extensions Professional Beauty London

Gemma Lambert is a nail technician and trainer up in Yorkshire. She believes it’s down to investing in good training, and then letting your clients know you can offer this service. “The salons I teach the more advanced stuff to, their extensions side is actually growing,” she says.

Even down south, there is a feeling among some business owners that extensions are having a resurgence. Henrietta Flynn, of London-based MW Nails salons explains that though she’d thought extensions were over, her company’s figures suggested otherwise. “In 2012 our extensions services came to 1.75% of all our treatments,” she says. “So a really small percentage.” So far this year, she says, the figures for extensions each month have been higher, peaking at 8% of total treatments in February.

Flynn puts the increase down to consumers’ lack of faith in the budget alternatives, saying that customers are starting to come back to salons such as hers to get a better quality finish, stronger customer service and higher levels of hygiene. Elsewhere, industry experts are saying that it’s simply fashion that is encouraging consumers to keep choosing extensions.

“In the last few months demand for almond shaped nails has meant that clients are once again returning to more traditional enhancements,” explains Belinda Price, an educator for Nubar who’s also runs NailSpa salon in Yorkshire.

Nail Art

Lambert says that it’s the more adventurous stiletto tips that are becoming more popular, as more clients are deciding to wear them day to day. Grant agree, saying that although her extension treatment numbers are low, her clients willing to experiment more based on what they see on TV or in magazines. “That’s the biggest impact, the celebrity culture,” she says. “We’ve got to keep up with what they’re doing because that’s what people want in the salon now.”

Image credits: (from top) Vicky Taylor Dodd; Sweet Squared; Rebecca Abernethy for Nubar; award winning nails at Professional Beauty London; Vicky Taylor Dodd