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How the Nail Industry Is Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic

by Wendy Sy (Leafgel USA)

We spoke with nail technicians from all over the world about how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their business, what to do during quarantine, how to prepare for salon reopenings, and why we need to hold on to hope—now more than ever.


Photo by Lisa Kon

As the novel strain of coronavirus that is COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world, nail technicians are thinking outside the box on ideas to help their business survive. While many are still in quarantine, numerous salons in China and Korea are opening back up, providing a sense of hope for the uncertain future of the U.S. nail technicians.

Even before the mandatory shutdown of many businesses, there has been a heightened emphasis on hygiene, especially in the nail industry where physical contact for each manicure and pedicure appointment is inevitable. In Louisville, Kentucky, Popstar Nails salon owner Tina Zavala started an “Anti-Corona Challenge” on March 13, 2020, with a video highlighting the process of her custom nail designs of sick-themed emojis created with freehand painting. Through the short clip, she’s holding a bottle of Purell while wearing pink gloves and a face mask with an upbeat song in the backdrop to add a bit of lightheartedness during a difficult time. “I decided to spread awareness on how to be safe in the salon,” Zavala says. “On top of the normal disinfection protocol of tools, we are using Clorox wipes to clean all equipment frequently.”

Photo by Tina Zavala of Popstar Nails

In Silicon Valley, California, Helene Pao, owner of Helene Pao Artistry, has been following the recommended protocols from the CDC. “I’ve always been known as a germaphobe and would always be well prepared for the annual flu season and have a rather strict health/illness policy reinforced all year long,” says Pao, who is a Leafgel premium certified educator. In addition to discussing with each client about their medical conditions prior to appointments, Pao would start off each morning in her salon by sanitizing both sides of each doorknob, light switches, buttons of the water dispenser, desk, chairs, faucets, toilets, and all work surfaces including the inside of LED gel curing lamps. At the beginning of February, Pao ordered a full case of the level two hospital-grade germicidal disposable wipes while following news updates on the coronavirus outbreak. “Obviously, washing hands thoroughly for 20-30 seconds with soap prior to starting the service is always a must (for both the client and myself),” she says.

But even under extreme precautions, Pao had no choice but to temporarily shut down her salon on March 17, 2020, under the “shelter-in-place” mandate which requires residents of California to stay inside and go out only for necessities. Originally, the mandate was set to last three weeks, ending on April 7, 2020, however, it’s now been extended to May 3, 2020, with the possibility to extend again, if necessary.

Evolin Patanmacia of Kukuku Kukumu Salon in Pekanbaru and Semarang, Indonesia, has been continuing to work until only recently. “We had been rotating the shift to two people a day,” she says. “And we’ve been pushing more on product sales.” She closed the space on April 1, 2020, and, for now, is planning to reopen on April 19, 2020.

All of a sudden, it seems the phrases, “social distancing”, “self-quarantine”, and “flatten the curve” are the most talked-about topics. The point of these reminders couldn’t be more important at a time like this when COVID-19 is at an all-time high. According to the CDC, the disease spreads from person-to-person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. And because even those infected can be asymptomatic, it’s important to stay at least six feet apart from others during this time.

On the other hand, Hyo Jung Lee of My Bling Nail Shop in Daegu, the epicenter (and highest confirmed coronavirus cases) of South Korea, recently reopened, shedding light for the future of the nail industry. In her salon, she has been taking the forehead temperature of each client as they enter and made it a requirement to wear masks. The rules for employees include changing their disposable gowns, hair cap, mask, and gloves between each client. “I know it’s a lot but this is necessary to make sure we protect everyone,” she says. Although some parts of the world are slowly returning to normalcy, it’s important to continue proactive measures to prevent a second wave of cases from forming.

Babyma of Babyma Studio Nail Design in Guangzhou, China, has been prioritizing sanitation methods as well and placed a limit to one customer in her studio at a time. “Retail and business owners have to do their due diligence to ensure that appropriate sanitization is done on a daily basis,” she says. “Prior to appointments, meticulous checks have to be done to ensure that the customers are healthy and have not been traveling and or in contact with any high-risk personnel.”

The Financial Impact

The World Health Organization (WHO), declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, thus, affecting the world at large. As nail salons are considered non-essential businesses, a majority are in the same boat as Helene Pao Artistry and are shut down until further notice. Financially, the beauty industry—and overall economy everywhere—is taking a hit. “We haven’t slept since the first coronavirus case appeared in our country,” says Van Jaunarena and Daiana Gulman, owners of Penny Nail in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “We're rescheduling our clients’ appointments, and recording classes for our students, but the truth is that we don't really know when we are going to be able to go back to our salon. We are scared, nervous, and stressed.”

“From panicking to accepting the fact took some time,” says Sisi Deng of One Love Nail Salon in Shanghai, China, who recently reopened her salon after 50 days of closure. “This virus certainly surprised all of us. However, thanks to the laudable efforts of our local health administration and precautionary practices of all citizens, the situation in Shanghai seems to have stabilized. We expect everything will return to normal by June.”

Photo by Vivian Wong of VW Nail Bar

(Design inspired by “Stars”, a poem on hope and unity by

Nikki Banas of Walk the Earth)

Meanwhile, in Daegu, South Korea, Min Hee Cho of Mari Beauty, recently reopened her salon as well after a four-week closure. Fortunately, she was able to turn to internet marketing as a remedy to her financial losses during her time in quarantine. “I concentrated on selling gift cards that customers can use in the future and also sold Korean skincare products online that we offered in the salon,” she says. “After four weeks, I was able to almost match my salon’s normal monthly revenue. I had to pay a salary to my nail techs during the closures so I had to do whatever I could to make up the minuses.” Cho stresses the “enormous” impact of the coronavirus in Daegu, the fourth largest city in South Korea. “Many businesses are filing for bankruptcies and applying for small business loans while online shops, food delivery services, pharmacies, and government workers seem to be working more than before.”

Riyo Ichikawa of Ramuse For Your Beauty Nail Salon in Osaka, Japan, says she didn’t charge clients for cancellations if they were feeling sick and had let staff go home early—all of which had financially impacted her business. “The government is now saying that the number [of coronavirus cases] will increase to an exponential number, but there is no particular support, so the whole country is puzzled and worried now.”

The pandemic has also posed another concern for the future of the beauty industry: considering the state of the economy and increased unemployment, would people be as willing to pay for services such as manicures and pedicures when salons open back up? “It’s definitely a time of contingency plans, as a lot of people’s spending behavior is shifting temporarily,” says Vivian Xue Rahey, CEO of Pamper Corporation (which owns Pamper Nail Gallery) in Fremont, California.

Leafgel Online Art Seminar (via Zoom) led by Rose B.

Leafgel’s annual seminar, which was planned for four days in March this year was also canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. “It’s a huge revenue loss, not to mention disappointment for all of those who were planning to attend as they have been waiting for the event since last fall,” says Sean Kim, Leafgel’s agent for North America. In response to the cancellation, Leafgel quickly set up online educator courses, live Zoom online art seminars and one-on-one private classes to give nail artists a chance to improve their skills at home during this difficult time.

Racism in the Age of the Coronavirus

Another issue as a result of COVID-19 is the emotional burden of racism, xenophobia, and violence. Being that the first cases were reported to be from Wuhan, China, news reports show incident after incident on discrimination towards Asians across the world.

“Although I am not being impacted physically, it is equally difficult to be impacted mentally when I have no idea on what to prepare for,” says Pao, who reflects on several experiences where clients have acted up. “I was left in total shock as I’ve realized it was because of their fear of the virus on top of me being an Asian American. Even my daughter had told me that other children have been jokingly commenting on her, saying she would be the one [responsible] if anyone were to catch or carry the coronavirus. It is very unfortunate to see the true colors of people revealed, especially those that we had trusted in the past.”

Over in Tokyo, Japan, Yukiko of Usamimi Nail Shop had been focusing on her other businesses on YouTube but stopped due to the number of hate comments she was receiving. “I need to do side jobs for [financial stability],” she says. “I wish the media would not scare the citizens. I cannot go to hospitals because doctors are too busy, and when I sneeze, people look at me like I am infected.”

“There is no question this is a time of great uncertainty,” Pao adds. “Though, I genuinely hope that the human race can stick together (figuratively speaking) and spread positivity faster than the virus itself.

Quarantine: A Time to Heal

Fortunately, during this time, there’s still plenty that nail artists can do to stay productive work-wise, or just simply taking a break can be beneficial. “You can’t control what’s happening outside of your home but you can control what’s happening inside your house and especially yourself,” says Kim. As the saying goes, mindset is everything.

In China, Deng’s recently reopened salon now features workstations placed well over six feet apart, to help prevent future sicknesses from spreading. During quarantine, she stayed busy by taking the time as an opportunity to learn photography, photo editing, management skills, and took videos to show her clients how to remove their nails at home with the tools she sent them for free.

Deng also notes the importance of having fun while staying in. To keep in good spirits, she utilized her balcony space to sun tan, work out, and set up a little nail studio to practice creative designs in which she is now able to implement in her work. “Hang in there, it will pass soon.”

Photo by Sisi Deng of at her home balcony during the quarantine

Nail art designs created by Sisi Deng during the quarantine

“It’s very easy to become unmotivated and defeated in a time like this,” says Vivian Wong, owner of VW Nail Bar in Sydney, Australia. “I’m trying to see it as a time to finally be able to work on other aspects of the business—like rebranding, practicing new designs and basics (I know sometimes I want to go back to doing a full set of sculptured nails on myself but never find the time!) and reorganizing my space.”

Zavala plans to spend time focusing on building her social media. “With the huge increase in people staying home, this means there will also be a huge increase in screen time. You can make nail art tutorials, make funny nail videos, teach online courses, do difficult nail art and take pictures of it for your page. Get creative!”

Speaking of creativity, the hashtag #coronavirusnails is trending on Instagram with photos such as Xue Rahey’s custom nail design inspired by the packaging of a Lysol disinfectant spray bottle. Lisa Kon of Lisa Kon Lab in Los Angeles, California, also used the hashtag for a photo of her COVID-19 nails with a blue background and green germs.

Pao suggests her clients keep their nails short while in quarantine. “While I understand that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it could be beneficial,” she says. “It is good to trim them off every now and then to keep them healthy, just like what we would do to our hair! I often educate my clients and to let them know that nails can always grow back relatively fast if they are taken care of with proper techniques as well as proper products.”

Babyma is choosing to look on the bright side. “It’s the perfect time for nail practitioners to equip themselves with new skills and expertise,” she says. “This pandemic has caused a serious impact on different industries, but at the same time, it can create new business opportunities on digital platforms. Our pace of life has slowed down tremendously and we should use this period to consider future prospects. This also serves as a reminder to love and take care of the place we live in.”

How to Prepare for Upcoming Changes

Although we don’t know exactly what the future holds and when salons will reopen, we can use this downtime to prepare ahead.

Lee says, “[Because of the coronavirus, it] doesn’t mean we can’t do nails anymore. It just means we all need to take extra precautions and also change your salon set up. My one advice for American nail salons is to keep a detailed log of all customers. You need to keep track of your customers anyway but in case there was a visit from someone who was [coronavirus] positive, it will help government officials with contact tracing, which is important in identifying who you need to isolate.” South Korea was able to successfully flatten the curve with extensive testing and contact tracing without the total lockdown of the country.

Cho offers advice from experience: “Please wear masks, even when this is over! It might be a cultural thing, but wearing a mask saved my life and you should do the same. If you can’t find any, then find a bandana or mask that you can wash over and over again—it’s better than nothing. I know it’s hard but please do not go outside until the quarantine is lifted. Meditation and praying are also very helpful for your mental health.”

Pao recommends brushing up on and learning new techniques during this time. “There’s actually a lot of talented nail artists sharing their skills and knowledge on the internet,” she says. To broaden your horizons while strengthening your fundamentals at the same time is the best comeback to establish an even stronger clientele!”

Now also marks the ideal time to learn the Japanese potted gel nail system. When salons reopen, emphasis on using hypoallergenic, toxic chemical-free products, such as Leafgel and certification from a reputable brand will be even more important. Leafgel is offering online classes and seminars by educators all around the world. Recent ones included how to recreate ombré and jelly cloud designs by Rose B., advanced tie-dye technique by Riyo Sensei, and how to create character nail art using plain sheet stickers by Hyunzzang. At this time, instructors who have never done online classes previously are now considering to do more online classes.

Wong adds, “I don’t think it needs to be limited to nails. I think it’s really important to stay connected with each other during this time—talk to fellow nail artists and just be there for each other.” Currently, Leafgel is preparing for its first virtual cocktail party via Zoom on April 7, 2020 at 7pm EST.

Overall, rest and remember: health comes first. Jaunarena adds one more note of advice, “Try to stay safe at home. The faster we stop it, the faster we can go back to work!”

Join Leafgel’s first virtual cocktail party via Zoom. Cheers!


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Nathan Adrian
Jan 16, 2023

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