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How to Become a Manicurist in California

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In California, a manicurist, also known as a nail technician, must be licensed by the State of California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology to legally practice her trade. Generally, job duties include cleansing, clipping, filing and painting fingernails. The Board of Barbering and Cosmetology (BBC) is responsible for, among other things, regulating individuals who provide nail care services and protecting and educating consumers who receive such services.

Attend a BBC-approved school. Currently, the BBC has over 250 approved schools with various locations throughout the state of California. As of June 9, 2010, the most current school information is listed on and the nail program requires 400 hours of study. If you decide to go full-time, you may be able to complete the program in as little as 12 weeks.

Apply for an examination date with the BBC. The BBC requires applicants to pass an exam administered by them as a condition prior to a grant of a license. After completing your education at a BBC approved school, submit an examination application (some schools allow their students to submit a pre-application to the BBC before actually completing the program, so when seeking out programs ask them about their license application procedures). In addition to the application, applicants are also required to send in proof of graduation. There are two ways you can submit your application, on-line or by mail. As of June 9, 2010 the BBC permits applicants to submit their applications through their website, however, if you graduated from a BBC-approved school and you are applying for the exam using the on-line application, the BBC also requires from those applicants a "proof of training" in hard copy form mailed to them [as of June 9, 2010 the address is P.O. Box 944226 Sacramento, CA 94244-2660 (write "online transaction" on your envelope)]. Also, it's important to note that the application process can take as long as eight weeks.

Pass the exam. Because this is probably the most important step in the process, before making the decision as to the school that you are going to attend, try gathering pass-rate statistical information. If you cannot obtain this information directly from the school, try calling the BBC instead. Passing the exam is extremely important because without a valid license, you will not able to legally operate as a manicurist and hence get a job in a nail salon or even start your own manicuring business.

Look for a job. When you are first starting out working alongside an experienced and established manicurists (or company) is advisable for at least two major reasons. Not only will this enable you to minimize the worry about trying to find clients so you can focus on learning and improving your craft, but also by working for someone else this will minimize your exposure to a possible disciplinary action by the BBC. The BBC is not only vested with administering the licensing exam, but as a division of the California Department of Consumer Affairs its also responsible for protecting the public from gross negligence and/or incompetence, unsanitary conditions in establishments, unlicensed practice of cosmetology and even misrepresentation/false advertising of services. The department does this by, among other things, investigating complaints and instituting license revocation actions. If a licensee or business is found to be in violation of one of their regulations, that licensee or business’ license can be temporarily or even, permanently revoked.


If you have further licensing questions, contact the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology directly at (916) 574-7570.


Since there are different educational and training requirements for out-of-state and out-of-country applicants, the aforementioned steps are not applicable to those applicants. Please contact the BBC directly for more information on how to obtain a license in those sets of circumstances.