nail tech collage

Mental health: how nail technicians became the therapists we never knew we needed

Going to the nail salon is so much more than a ritualistic monthly beauty treatment. It can be an opportunity to truly unwind and open up in a way you’d never imagine  and we’ve spoken to three nail technicians about their roles and how they positively impact the wellbeing and mental health of their clients.

There’s a feeling that comes with stepping into a nail salon that is unlike anything else. From the busy atmosphere, as people sit patiently waiting their turn, to the familiar buzz of nail drill kits and the thick smell of polish in the air – it’s a distinctive environment that many of us find ourselves returning to once – or even twice – a month.

But beyond deciding what colour polish or nail design to go for, there is a sense of community and support that comes with these visits to the nail salon – especially for those that build a bond with their nail technicians, who end up being a confidante, therapist, friend and more during these hour-long visits.

“As a nail tech, I know more about some of my clients than their friends, family and partners even know about them,” says Shea Osei, a celebrity nail tech based in Essex. “This happens because they [clients] have built a genuine trustworthy relationship with me, and what they share with me at that time never leaves the room; it stays there until the next appointment.”

Shea’s love for nail design began at the age of 14, when she realised there was an opportunity to breathe some fresh creativity into the nail scene. “My passion really began when I realised there was a gap in the market, with not many nail techs doing out of the box, creative, artistic designs.”

Shea Osei
Nail techs: Shea Osei

Over the course of the next 15 years, Osei has established herself as an expert nail tech whose clients include Maya Jama and Candice Brathwaite – but her popularity goes way beyond her designs to her ability to connect with the people who come to her.

“When I started, I didn’t realise how much being a nail tech is also caring for clients in other ways, but I adjusted swiftly,” she says.

“Clients really console you and vice versa. You laugh, cry, hug it out and even become great friends with some. It’s important to have a listening ear, and also give the best and most logical advice. I guess at times I’m a therapist who does nails; I make sure my clients feel welcomed and valued at all times.”

Metta Francis, a mobile nail technician from London, feels the same. “I immediately saw the impact of my visits. As I was being welcomed into clients’ homes, they became comfortable around me and really took our appointments as a time to unwind, unload and chat,” she says.

“My clients definitely opened up during the treatments, and there’s something quite intimate about holding someone’s hand or foot for an hour or so.”

For Francis, who has worked in the industry for over 11 years, there was one moment in particular that really highlighted the significance of her job and its impact on her clients’ wellbeing.

“I remember when a client opened up about quite a hard situation they were experiencing with their family. There were a lot of emotions and tears and, at that moment, I listened, squeezed my client’s hand (which I was already holding) and asked them if they would like a hug. I’ve gone through a lot of key life experiences with clients over the years – illness, divorce, death, redundancy, etc – and many clients feel comfortable talking to me about these sensitive topics.”

While discussing the raw emotions and personal lives of her clients can be difficult, Francis says it’s something she has adjusted to over the years.

Metta Francis
Nail techs: Metta Francis

“It can feel awkward at first, and there have been many scenarios where I’ve looked back and felt like I didn’t know what to say or do. Especially when it comes to things like terminal illness and death – it’s not something I had ever really experienced or been around, so I felt helpless. I now have more life experience, I’ve grown as a person and have also done training which has helped greatly.”

Maisie Manktelow
Nail techs: Maisie Manktelow

For newbie nail technician Maisie Manktelow, the last year has been spent fully immersing herself in the beauty industry while building relationships with clients that she never expected.

“I started off doing nails in the evenings and on Saturdays as a hobby alongside my PA job, and from there it has grown to be my full-time job,” she says. “I didn’t realise just how many friends I would make from being a nail technician – in fact, one of my bridesmaids started off as my nail client.”

Over the course of the year, Manktelow has become more skilled as a nail technician, but she’s also been developing relationships with her clients that she never expected.

“They know that they can speak to me about anything and everything and it will stay between us,” she says. “It’s important to cultivate a safe space for them to relax and unwind and that is what I try to provide each day.”

While the role of a nail technician is focused on nail design and nail care, we can’t deny the impact they have on those who come and lay their hands at their tables.

To be able to provide a listening ear, support and advice amid tough times is not easy – and it’s something many nail techs find themselves doing on a day-to-day basis. 

“You really get to build personal relationships with some clients, getting to know all about their lives, families, friends and more,” says Francis. “And during these appointments,  I want my clients to feel pampered but also safe. Those few hours are dedicated to self-care and my client is my priority during that time.”

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Images: Getty; Shea Osei; Metta Francis; Maisie Manktelow


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