When you consider how far manicure technology has come in the 21st century, it's no wonder that nails are such a ubiquitous obsession among beauty lovers. We were once limited to traditional nail polish with icky ingredients, precarious press-ons, and bulky acrylic tips. Now, not only has nail polish cleaned up its act, but press-ons actually stay on, there are custom-fitted decals and wraps, acrylics have come leaps and bounds, and there are numerous other in-salon options for enhancing one's nails.
One of the most popular nail services of the last couple of decades is gel, a longer-lasting type of nail polish that's cured by UV or LED light. A more recent innovation in gel-manicure universe, however, is gel extensions — a way to not only paint your nails but also add length using the same type of photo-initiated polymers.
Since there are so many options, we're giving you all the information you need to know to determine if gel extensions are the right choice for your manicure goals.
According to Orly nail artist Brittany Boyce and founder of Nails of LA, gel extensions are an alternative to acrylic or dip manicures when you're looking to sculpt and extend your nails beyond their natural length. "Like gel, the copolymers are already mixed, and it requires curing under an LED or UV lamp," she tells Allure.
The process is similar to a regular gel manicure except for the first few steps. "The difference between a gel manicure and gel extensions is that a gel manicure is meant to only go over the natural nail, whereas a gel extension is made to extend the natural nail bed to a longer nail but still giving out a realistic look," Boyce explains.
To do this, LeChat Nails educator Syreeta Aaron tells Allure that a builder gel — we like Madam Glam Soak-Off Building Gel Polish and CND Plexigel Builder — is applied to shape and extend the surface beyond your natural nail before your chosen gel polish shade is applied.
The most obvious difference between gel extensions and acrylic tips is that, with the latter, a tip is literally glued onto the natural nail, Aaron says. Acrylics can also be applied using a form — that's a temporary template that fits right under the tip of the nail and allows the nail technician to extend the material into a longer shape. This is exactly how gel extensions work, though that's pretty much where the similarities end.