We’ve all had those mortifying moments in (and out of) the salon. A few brave techs shared their most embarrassing at-work situations with us and experts weighed in on how to do proper damage control. Don’t let the following happen to you.
True Story: a “flashy” client
“I was working as a nail technician and esthetician when I had an older client come in for a pedicure. She was well into her 80s and was quite talkative, but spacey at the same time. I mostly just smiled and nodded at the conversation because I couldn’t really keep up; she would ramble from one topic to the next. The conversation drifted from her ability to work out to how she couldn’t wear a bra. I asked her to explain why she couldn’t wear a bra and she said, ‘Because of this. Look!’ I looked up and she had lifted up her entire shirt and exposed her breasts to me! I was mortified, especially considering her pedicure chair was facing the hallway and anyone could have walked by and seen her. I quickly averted my eyes and all I could manage to muster was, ‘Oh, I see!’ She put her shirt back down and proceeded to explain to me that she’d had open heart surgery, which is why she couldn’t wear a bra. Turns out she’d lifted up her shirt in order to show me her surgical scar and thought I’d be able to see it better. I quickly realized this was a misunderstanding and was relieved that I wouldn’t have to fill out a harassment form or anything.”
“Whenever someone talks about any of their ‘private’ areas, use caution. It’s a red flag for one reason or another. One never knows where that conversation might go. By this tech’s own admission the woman was elderly and ‘spacey.’ It’s also important to know that we don’t always need to ask a follow-up question. When the topic was mentioned about not being able to wear a bra it also could have been the time to just nod. Learning to read our clients is critical, and sadly, cannot be 100% right all the time. But that’s where our listening skills come into play. Many techs are trying to build rapport and questions are important, but often they ask too many. So it’s a double-edged sword. On the positive side of this story, it appears the tech was more embarrassed than the customer. It could have been worse!”
True Story: A really hard gel demo
“The only moment that actually made me stop and want to run away and hide was when I first started teaching. They had really talked me up to the nail students, and everyone had really high expectations. I figured I would introduce myself, then do a demo as an ice breaker. There was only one student there that night and she had been doing beautiful nails for years, and was just working on her license. I decided I was going to do a hard gel demo, and since I was fresh from intensive training, I figured it would be simple. Unfortunately, I was using a product line I had never used including forms that wouldn’t stick or stay where I put them. By the end it only kind of looked like I sculpted a gel nail on her finger. She looked at me and said something along the lines of, ‘Really? Not a great start here,’ and I could have cried.”
“That is a difficult situation, and the way to deal with it is to persevere like the instructor did. However, something that could have been done at the time to help ease the situation was being honest with the students about the problems the instructor was having and talking about possible solutions. That would have created a good learning experience for the students and let them know that we all struggle from time to time. It also would have been a great visual reminder of why we have them practice the applications we teach repeatedly.
This could have been prevented from happening by preparing for the demo by practicing with the product and the forms before trying to demonstrate with them. It would have allowed the instructor to identify those issues she struggled with before doing the demo, and she could have either worked them out or chosen a different medium to demo with that she would not have had a problem with.”
Sandy Borges Combs
dean of education for Hand and Nail Harmony
True Story: preparation h disgrace
“This was probably eight or nine years ago; I only had two years under my belt as a nail tech at the time. This super sweet lady came in with a set of acrylics and needed a fill. We were chatting away as I was removing her polish and that’s when I saw it. Her ring, middle, and index nail beds were brown, oozing, and smelled! Being a professional, I had to keep my cool and try not to lose my lunch. I asked her what had happened and she explained she had had some bad nails done a while back and ‘caught something’ from the spa. She hadn’t been to a doctor yet because she was using Preparation H on them first! At this point in the game I had seen the odd fungus or green nail, but this? They didn’t teach us this in school! I knew Preparation H wasn’t going to help her nails. I very kindly explained to her what was going on with her nails wasn’t good, and it was so far past the mold stage that I feared she would lose those nails entirely. I removed as much of the acrylic as I could and asked her to get herself to a doctor ASAP.
What’s even more horrifying is that before she came to me one other nail tech had filled them in that condition and never did anything about it! Yuck!”
British Columbia, Canada
“Amy, I am sorry you experienced this and will tell you, it is the worst infection story I have heard! You were correct in not performing a fill on her, but you should not have actually touched her. Suggesting she go to her physician was good, but maybe not strong enough. I would have sent her to the emergency room. She sounds like she was trying to still wear nails. After she left you she may have continued to look for someone to reapply them, as disgusting as it sounds. I recommend not performing any service on a client such as her. Removing the product may have caused more harm and suffering for which she could say you are responsible. I know you were trying to help, but in this case it was not appropriate; she needed medical care.
Before these clients leave, have them sign something that says they were infected when they came to you and you did not cause it (waiver of responsibility). I tell you that from an experience about 30 years ago. A new client came into my salon swollen and red around her nails, and the nail plates were lifting. I told her that I could not work on her, and she begged me to put them back on. I didn’t, and suggested she allow them to heal and never wear nails again. About a year later she sued the salon she went to before me, my salon, me, and the one who she went to after me who reapplied them. She had lost all her nails and since her appearance was important to her work, she sued each of us for $100,000. I have no idea what the other salons paid, but my insurance company paid her $10,000, even though I had no fault. They told me to get a waiver from any similar clients from that time forth. I had one designed and kept it handy. It’s been years so obviously she is not going to sue you, but in cases of any infection I say, don’t touch, and get them to sign a waiver.”
True Story: definitely not gel-polish
“My most embarrassing moment as a nail technician was with a first-time customer. She was having me remove gel-polish that was done elsewhere. As I was using my orangewood stick to remove the gel-polish, she mentioned she believed that there was some under her nail. I took the orangewood stick under the nail to attempt to remove the ‘gel-polish.’ It was not gel-polish; it was a booger! I immediately folded the towel over the booger to prevent the customer from seeing it. I have to say I was utterly embarrassed until I noticed she didn’t even realize what had happened.”
“Karalee, I’m blushing along with you! No one likes to be embarrassed, and sadly it could prevent a client from returning. Quickly taking care of it like you did is ideal. If the client should notice, you can always chalk it up to something dismissive and move on. An example would be ‘Must have been an odd piece of sponge in the wrap’ or ‘oops must have been a fuzzie in the cotton.’ They may or may not realize you’re giving them cover, but it will allow them to dismiss it instead of fretting. To prevent these types of situations, clients should be taught how to thoroughly wash hands with a manicure brush before all appointments. When teaching mine, I compare it to washing up for cosmetic surgery!”
Nail technician and CND educator