Gel Nail Extensions Guide: What Manicurists Want You To Know

15 Nov.,2022

 

what is nail extension

If you’re a beauty lover on social media, you’re bound to open up your apps at some point and scroll through images of perfectly polished hands with nails that seem to go on for days. Some people are simply born with naturally long and strong nails, while you've probably heard of others using acrylic or gel nail extensions to add length and durability to their nails and ultimately helping their polish to last longer.

Acrylic nails come with their own set of complications including but not limited to the often difficult removal process and the fact that wearing them too often can be too harsh on your natural nails. If you're looking for a nail option that's just as long-lasting but isn't quite as damaging, a good option might be gel nail extensions.

There's a good chance that many of the gorgeous manicures with embellished tips and tiny works of art you’re seeing online were made possible by gel nail extensions, but if you're not sure what gel extensions are, how they get applied to your nails, or if they're safe in the first place, we put together an expert-sourced primer on everything you need to know.

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By the time you're done reading this, you’ll be able to decide if they’re right for you to try.

What are gel nail extensions?

“Gel extensions are a form of nail treatment that extends the existing natural nail,” says Emma Eskander, the salon director for Gilded Ritual, a New York City-based nail bar that offers gel nail extensions alongside a menu of other manicure and pedicure offerings.

Essentially, they’re exactly what they sound like: a way to rock longer nails, which gives you more surface area for nail art and polish. Gel extensions are pre-shaped nails that are applied on top of your natural nail—kind of like press-ons but a bit more reliable—and secured by a gel. You can also get extensions in some of your favorite trendy shapes, from coffin and stiletto to everything in between.

How are gel nail extensions applied?

According to Eskander, gel extensions can differ in application techniques but all require a hard gel cured to your natural nail, which has to have some length to it in the first place for proper adhesion. “For one technique, the technician uses a form underneath the nail and then applies a hard gel on top of that to the shape and length desired,” says Eskander. “The treatment is then cured under a UV lamp, which hardens the shape created.” The form gets removed, and the technician will continue on with a layer of polish over it. LED lamps can be used for curing as well.

Brittney Boyce, founder of NAILS OF LA and a California-based nail extension specialist for celebrities like Megan Fox, Shay Mitchell, and Olivia Rodrigo, likes the form technique when used with a product like ORLY’s for the control it provides over the finished product. “It's easy to customize the length with them, and there's a unique role positioning that adapts to the curvature of the nail so it looks very natural,” she says.

In contrast, a second technique for gel extensions uses a pre-shaped tip or form that will bond to the natural nail much like a press-on nail, says Eskander. While there’s a little less customization in terms of length, this method is just as long-lasting and effective. Either way your technician goes—built or pre-shaped—you’ll start the process like any other manicure, with the filling, cleaning, and buffing of your nails to prep for the extensions.

Orly GelFX Builder in a Bottle

Orly GelFX Builder in a Bottle

$24 at Amazon

Credit: amazon.com

What are the benefits of gel nail extensions?

According to Boyce, gel extensions are literally more flexible for the end user, giving them a leg up on acrylics insofar as they aren’t as prone to damaging breaks, brittleness, and cracking. They’re also faster to apply than other types of extensions.

For Eskander, the other pros are just as practical. “A benefit of gel is that it allows you to safely grow out your nail by creating an overlay on the natural nail,” she says. “Your manicures also last longer than typical air-dry polish.”

Are gel nail extensions safe for nails?

While there are no serious risks or major negatives associated with gel nail extensions, it’s always a good idea to find a trusted manicurist or nail artist to apply your extensions. Proper removal and care are also vital; otherwise, Eskander says the nail bed can become weak over time.

How do gel nail extensions differ from acrylic nails?

Acrylics can be used to extend the length of the nail as well, but most nail artists and manicurists agree that they’re less ideal than gels for several reasons. “The real difference lies in the polymerization process, the density and flexibility of the extensions, and the removal process,” says Boyce. “Acrylic is harsher on the nail plate, due to the chemicals used,” adds Eskander.

Simply put, the application and removal processes for acrylic extensions are a little more involved than gel, and that can have an adverse effect on your nails. “You have to buff the nail a lot more for it to adhere, which thins out the nail,” says Boyce. “Plus, the removal process requires electronic filing, which is where most of the damage comes from.”

If you’re looking for any subtlety at all with your extensions, then gel’s probably the way to go. “Acrylics tend to be a stronger, rigid structure,” says Eskander. “Gel is more flexible and creates a more natural look.”

How long do gel nail extensions typically last?

“If done with quality and precision, gel extensions can last up to three weeks,” says Eskander. “At that time, you can either ‘gel a fill,’ which is basically applying gel between your cuticle and the area of nail outgrowth, or you can remove them fully and redo the entire service.”

Which route to go depends on whether any lifting of the gel took place during the grow-out process, says Eskander. If you have nails that are on the oilier side, you may see lifting as early as two weeks in, says Boyce. That might mean you’ll want to go the fresh service route as opposed to filing.

What’s the best way to remove gel nail extensions?

When removing gel nail extensions, it’s best to have a professional technician service you so you don’t do any damage to your nails. Often, gel extensions can be removed with acetone just like regular gel polish but usually will need some filing first. It’s important to note that different pros fall into two camps on preferred removal processes.

Gilded Ritual, for example, exclusively uses an e-file technique for removal in order to limit cuticle and nail exposure to acetone. Boyce says some products, such as the ORLY Builder in a Bottle, can actually be removed at home in a pinch with foil removal wrappers if you can’t make it to a nail spa.

As a general rule, it’s best to seek out professional removal at the same salon where you got the service, since your technician will know exactly what type of gel product was used and how to best remove it.

Danielle Blundell

Danielle Blundell is a New York City-based lifestyle writer and editor who has written on topics ranging from home to health for a variety of publications including Rachael Ray Every Day, Redbook, Family Circle, This Old House, Elle Decor, Esquire, Domino, and Apartment Therapy. She's a graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism and has appeared as an on-air expert on Today, The Doctors, The Celebrity Page, and other local news programs. Website: https://danielleblundell.myportfolio.com/