A day in the life of a nail technician

Nail technician Sivesikhulu Msibi

By Bongiwe Zwane-Maseko 

“The first thing I always look out for in a woman I have an interest in are her hands. Are they dainty and well-manicured? If not, my interest wanes, almost immediately.” This quote is attributed to Shakespeare and will never know if he said it or not, but if he did, I can get where he was coming from. Hands are everything, especially nails! Have you ever met a guy with an over-grown pinkie fingernail? Or one who has a nail-clipper phobia? It is a major turn-off to most people. That is why the work of a nail technician is not to be taken lightly. Many people pay a pretty Lilangeni every month to make sure their nails are in tip-top condition. 

36-year-old Sivesikhulu Msibi has been a nail technician since she was 19. She says for as long as she can remember, nail polish has been her best friend. 

“I must have been 6 years old when I started stealing my mother’s nail polish to paint my dolls’ nails. I would do a messy job and end up getting a beating from my mother but that did not deter me. By the time I got to high school, I was no longer messy and practised on my mother’s toes and mine too. I enjoyed looking at the final product and started experimenting with stickers, glitter, and other types of art. I made a killing during the week leading to prom night as all the girls in my class asked me to do their nails. With the money I made from that, I was able to buy my first nail dryer and have not rested for a day since then. My mother was disappointed when I did not show an interest in going to college. She was worried that my interest in nails would be fleeting but this was not the case. YouTube became my tutor as I watched dozens of videos daily while practising with friends and family. Before long, I was extremely popular in Matsapha,” Msibi says. 

She says for her 21st birthday, her mother gave her the perfect gift by paying for her at a college in Johannesburg, where she started training as a nail technician. 

Sivesikhulu Msibi’s work

“I learnt a lot of techniques that helped me become a professional. I thought I knew what I was doing but it turned out that I was taking a lot of shortcuts. Not only was I using sub-standard products, but I was also putting clients at risk of nail breakage by not going through all the necessary steps. I had to start charging more and this did not go down well with some of my clients but over time, they saw the difference and continued to support me,” says Msibi. 

She says a typical day of a nail technician can be filled with as many appointments as she can take, which can go up to 8 a day. She says month end is the busiest time and on other days in the middle of the month she sometimes goes for a full week without a booking. 

She rents space inside a busy hair salon, which makes it easy for her to get clients who may have come just for their hair only but find themselves tempted to do their nails as well. 

“Every day, I arrive at the salon around 7.30 a.m. unless I have an earlier appointment. Engaging with clients who are due for appointments on the day via phone calls and text messages is a hugely important part of the day as ensuring all booked clients will turn up is very important to maximizing your chances of being successful as a nail technician. I take the time to talk to everyone and build special personal relationships with all my clients, although this is not always easy as people have different personalities and some do not like to make small talk. All clients that come in will typically be getting assistance from me, whether they’re looking for artificial nails, gel nails, nail wraps or a natural nail manicure/pedicure service. Whatever it is that I will be delivering, the service that I offer is typically built around making sure these services are well-priced” says Msibi. 

She says as she works with each client, she is expected to look at the health and quality of their nails and offer some kind of help in seeing what the problem is with their nails so that they can start addressing it in the short or long term. 

This is what a typical day looks like for her:

5 a.m. 

Wake up, iron my clothes, take a bath 

6 a.m. 

Eat breakfast, get my daughter ready for school and pack our lunchboxes 

7 a.m. 

Walk my daughter to the bus stop to wait for transport and then board kombi to work

7 .30 a.m. 

Arrive at work and start setting up my workstation – clean brushes, sort of filers and buffers, and get ready for the day

8 a.m. – 5 p.m

Welcome first client – choose nails colours together or look at pictures of the nails they want and get started 

  • this involves soaking off and other nail prep 
  • it could take about 2 hours to do each client’s nails, depending on the specification 
  •  clients are offered a cup of tea or coffee to ensure they are comfortable

The routine goes on throughout the day, sometimes until after 7 p.m., particularly at the end of the month 

1 – 2 p.m. 

Go for lunch – this rarely happens as some people only find time to do their nails during this time 

2 – 5 p.m. 

Same routine as before lunch 

5.30 p.m. 

Tidy up work station before leaving for the bus rank to board transport home 

6 p.m. 

Arrive home, catch up on the day’s activities with my daughter and helper 

6.30 p.m. 

Take a shower, send thank-you messages to my clients and reminders to the following day’s clients 

7.30 p.m. 

Eat supper, watch TV or YouTube videos 

8.30 p.m. 

Check my daughter’s homework, read to her 

9 p.m. 


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