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Can You Do Nails Without a License?

No, you cannot do nails in the United States without a license. Note that to provide beauty services such as hair cutting, shampooing, coloring, makeup, hair removal, manicure, and other services, almost every state in the US expects the individual to acquire a cosmetology license, and to get this license, almost all states require the passing of an exam.

According to reports, almost all the states make use of the NIC (National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology) National Cosmetology Practical Examination.

This standardized exam encompasses topics such as infection control, haircutting, chemical waving, facial, manicure, hair removal, and more. To do nails in the United States, you have to complete nail technician training and acquire your nail technician license.

Have it in mind there are two separate processes to acquire your nail technician training and license. You can choose to register as a full or part-time student on a state-approved training program or apprenticeship program. Note that your local college or cosmetology or beauty school might even offer training programs.

However, it is always imperative to verify that the program is fully approved by NACCAS (the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences). A good number of those courses may also require you to obtain experience in a salon before you can graduate.

Apprenticeship programs are available in accredited nail salons. In these accredited salons, experienced nail technicians teach you the techniques and expertise you need to flourish.

Since nail tech requires so much practical work, you can’t do all your training online. Although a good number of knowledgeable courses are taught partly online – for instance, you might learn nail care theory and nail health online, but you will have to come into a campus for practical sessions.

In some states, you will need to renew your license every 12 months, in others every 2-3 years. The state board might even send reminders before your license expires, noting what you have to do to renew it. Note that it is illegal to work as a nail technician after your license has expired.

If your license expires and you fail to renew for a long time, you will definitely have to rewrite the exam to get a new license.

Licenses and Permits Needed to Do Nails

Just like it was stated above, you cannot do nails without a license in the United States, and in order to legally do nails or operate a nail salon, you will have obtained the necessary paperwork and licenses, and they include.

  1. Nail Technician License

Have it in mind that every state has its own licensing requirements. Since programming and licensing requirements can change over the years, it’s very necessary to always stay current on the state’s guidelines. Nonetheless, common license conditions include:

  • Minimum age and education requirements to enter a program: Many programs expect attendees to be at least 16 years old and possess a high school diploma or GED.
  • Training requirements: A good number of states mandate a combination of training hours and a written and/or practical exam.
  • Instructor license guidelines: Licensure tends to require a specific number of classroom hours, years of professional experience, and that you pass an exam.
  • Renewal requirements: Depending on the state you live in, you may have to renew your license regularly, and pay a fee.
  • Reciprocity guidelines: In the United States, to transfer your license to another state, you will be expected to fulfill similar training hours and license requirements. Note that certain states also mandate that you pass an exam, pay a fee, and must have been working professionally for a specific number of years.
  • CEU (if any) requirements: Also note that some states mandate that you take a few continuing education units (CEUs) each year.
  1. Business License

If you are going to have a physical shop and also run your services as a business, then you will need to have a general business license.

Have it in mind that the licensing body tends to vary from state to state and is totally dependent on the operating setup of the business, such as whether it is a sole proprietor business or a partnership, a corporation, or a non-profit organization.

Nevertheless, businesses are expected to be licensed by a state’s clerk court office, the office of the secretary of state, or the division of corporations.

  1. Zoning and Health Permits

To run a business that does nails, you will need premises from which to operate. Note that any building you choose is liable to need certain licenses. For instance, a land use permit or zoning permit is needed, although this tends to depend on the business’s position and usage of municipal land.

In addition, a health department permit, issued after an inspection by the authorities, certifies the salon as safe for customers. All these permits are issued by the state department and/or the city authorities.

  1. Employer Identification Number

In the United States, any business with employees and those that form as a partnership, corporation, and in many cases an LLC, is expected to get an Employer Identification Number or EIN from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

  1. Resale Certificate

When purchasing products such as nail polish, shampoo, conditioner, or styling products to sell to customers, you can easily purchase these items tax-free. Note that a resale certificate lets a business source and buy inventory and instead of paying the sales tax to the vendor, they charge the sales tax to the end-user of the product. Sales tax will still have to be paid for supplies used in the shop.

  1. Sales Tax Permit or Number

Note that to sell products and/or offer services in a state, a sales tax permit is needed. Have it in mind that this permit creates an account number with the state’s Department of Revenue or a similarly named taxing agency.


To legally do nails in the United States, you need a license. Although some programs might offer a certificate of completion, graduates will still be expected to follow through with their state’s requirements to become licensed. In addition, nail salon owners are also expected to familiarize themselves with the current cosmetology law and rule book. This book offers extensive and in-depth details on the owner’s requirements and compliance procedures.