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Fifty years ago, in her native Finland, Anneli Johnson learned to give manicures and pedicures - facials and massage, too - at a spa. She trained in anatomy, under the supervision of physicians, for two years.

In her country, manicures and pedicures have traditionally been a hygiene service. In the United States, the traditional view was that these were beauty services. American manicurists learned their trade in cosmetology school - as a small part of a course that focused mostly on cutting and dying hair.Now, something of the European and Asian attitude is seeping into our culture. Would-be manicurists are seeking a longer course of training. Customers can be overheard talking about the stress-relieving benefits of having their nails done, about the quality of the accompanying hand or foot massage, about how a good pedicure can stave off a trip to the podiatrist.

Diem Nguyen - who gives manicures and pedicures at Peter Anthony Salon in Park City - is an example of a young woman who takes her profession seriously.

Nguyen was born in Vietnam. Her father was an Army officer. When Diem was only 6 years old, the war was ending and her family got out.

She was raised, she says, with a Vietnamese/French attitude about caring for skin and nails. Her mother taught them never to put soap on their faces. "In Vietnam, we were poor, so it was basically just water and some natural oils." Her mother taught Diem and the other children to sleep without pillows - which could cause double chins - and always to wear hats or carry umbrellas to shield their faces from the sun. They were taught to massage their faces nightly, with upward strokes. When Diem was a teenager, her mother forbade cosmetics but bought her daughters French cleansing creams.

As she was growing up, Nguyen didn't think much about the messages of caring she was receiving. But when she graduated from high school and was looking for a caring career, she considered nursing, preschool teaching or going into facials (becoming an esthetician), manicures and pedicures. She decided she could always volunteer in schools or hospitals, but if she was looking for a stable and lucrative field, she'd be better off with skin and nails.

So Nguyen started looking for training. After enrolling in two beauty colleges that went broke, Nguyen finally completed 2,000 hours and graduated from beauty school with "a little bit of training in manicures and facials." She took 600 hours of esthetician training in a skin school and went to Academy of Nails for several hundred additional hours of training in reflexology and nail care. Says Nguyen, "I learned acrylics there (applying false nails), but my focus was mainly on natural, preventative care."

Now, Nguyen wants even more training in nails and skin care. She actually enrolled once before for a six-month course in France but decided her French wasn't good enough for the anatomy classes. Now Nguyen is brushing up on the language and plans to return to Paris.

More than 10 years ago, the state of Utah stopped requiring manicurists to be licensed. Estheticians have never been licensed by the state. Some local manicurists and estheticians believe the professional level of the trade would benefit by licensing. Others say that as customers become more sophisticated consumers, the level of professionalism is increasing quite naturally.

Dave Fairhurst at the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing says there was an organized attempt to introduce licensing legislation two years ago, but he hasn't heard anything since and is not aware of how many other states license manicurists.

Karen Hyatt, a Salt Lake manicurist who has been a local representative with a national nail technicians group says Utah is one of only four states that doesn't license manicurists. Hyatt has worked on licensing legislation but says nail technicians who want to increase the standards for the profession have had better reception from the local health departments, which are already over-seeing manicurists.

Hyatt and others want to make sure manicurists are getting the training they need to recognize health problems: diseases of the skin and nails. Also, they need to be trained in sanitation practices, she says. "We have talked to podiatrists about our business, and it is highly unlikely we could contract AIDS or give AIDS to our cus-tom-ers."

Electrolysist Diane Smith says she has to be licensed and has a 500-hour training requirement. She believes there are legitimate concerns about sterilization any time anyone is performing a service that could draw blood.

As far as licensing goes, Anneli Johnson says she can see pros and cons. "I was on the massage licensing board for 10 years. As a rule, I think somehow having a license has a psychological effect. People learn only enough to pass the board and then stop. In Finland, we don't have state licensing but the professional level is much higher there." If you have training, you post your certificate on the wall, Johnson explains. Your customers look at it. They observe the way in which you store and sanitize your instruments.

"What makes people think the American woman is so stupid she will just go to anybody?"

Manicures and pedicures have been growing in popularity, in this country, for about 20 years, says Arlene Sosnowski. Sosnowski owns the studio where Diem Nguyen works. She says the trend she is seeing in Park City is toward more men coming in for manicures and pedicures and more mothers bringing in their teenage daughters to get them started on a routine of good nails.

And as for women, more and more of them find a standing weekly appointment with the manicurist is more stress-relieving, and less time-consuming, than the weekly appointment with the hairdresser, which was a staple in their mother's and grandmother's day.

That regular manicure appointment is certainly a part of a woman's life in Russia, says Polina Cheklin. Six years ago, when she was a manicurist in Russia, manicures cost the equivalent of $2.50, and most middle- and working-class women got one on a regular basis, at least once a month.

Cheklin trained for 11/2 years in her native country. She got an international license for facials and manicures/pedicures. When she and her husband and children immigrated to Salt Lake City in the late 1980s, Anneli Johnson hired Cheklin as one of eight manicurists at Skin Care World.

Lynette Johnson, Anneli's daughter, says her mother has, over the decades hired a number of manicurists from other countries. Currently Skin Care World has a U.N. flavor, with employees from Finland, Russia, Iran and more.

As far as she is concerned, the new trends in skin, nails and spa treatments are still likely to begin on other continents, says Finnish-born Sinikka Brady. Brady owns, "The Finnish Touch," a small massage, facial, manicure/pedicure shop - which is now expanding.

Ironically, when she was looking for someone to help her in her expanding business, Brady was impressed with the credentials of Cari Kelly. Kelly trained, not in Europe or Scandiavia or Asia, but in California. Kelly took hundreds of hours of training under a woman who stressed anatomy, but who also talked, in a New-Age All-American kind of way, about "the gift of touch." Kelly is proof that you don't have to be born in another country to be a good manicurist. She says, in her humble but sincere way, that she's pretty sure she has "the gift" herself.

Utahns can count on spending $10 to $15 for a manicure (more if they have false nails) and $25 to $30 for a pedicure. If a paraffin wax treatment is offered, it usually runs another $5 or $10. In a dry climate like Utah's, the extra luxury of paraffin can be worth the extra money. A soaking in warm, gooey wax seems to seal in whatever moisturizing lotion the manicurist puts on first - helping a customer's feet, especially, stay softer longer.

Soft skin and healthy nails, even unadorned with polish, can look quite pretty. So if there is a manicure trend on the Utah horizon, this may be it: A renewed respect for healthy nails, along with a new respect for those in the nail profession.



Looking out for your own nails

When selecting a manicurist, look for someone who is not scissor-happy. Anneli Johnson, owner of Skin Care World, says manicurists should only trim the thickest of cuticles. Otherwise they should just trim off the "fringies" and push the rest of the cuticle back.

Between manicures, Johnson says the customer should be on the lookout for ragged edges on nails and file them at once. The rough areas are where a nail will start to split.

And if you are worried about hygiene, get this: The latest trend in New York is for customers to bring their own manicure implements with them when they show up to an appointment.