I live in the Bronx—a part of New York City where bold nails are absolutely everything. I'm talking rhinestones, unique shapes, street-art inspired designs, everything. And while I love and admire a good nail look, I actually never get my nails done at a salon (my natural nails are short, which isn't the best canvas for ~dramatic~ nail art you know?). Recently, though, I've been hearing more and more about gel nail extensions—a *supposedly* easy way to make your nails look longer in seconds.
But, tbh, I wasn't sure how it all worked. So I reached out to Kaddy Aaliyah, a London-based nail tech and co-founder of Nuka Nails, for her expert advice on all things nail extensions, including what exactly they are, how they're applied, how long they last, and more. So, if you're also curious about gel nail extensions, keep scrolling for all the impt info.
There are two methods for gel extensions: The first involves adhering a form under the tip of the natural natural, then painting a hard gel on top and curing (or hardening) it with a UV or LED light; The second (and more popular method) uses a pre-shaped gel tip that's bonded to your natural nail, like a souped-up press-on. “Gel nail extensions basically act like an overlay on your natural nails," explains Kaddy. It's an easy way to add instant length to your nails, try a different shape (coffin nails anyone?), and play around with intricate nail art.
Acrylic nails look great, but if you're concerned about nail health, gel extensions are 100 percent the move. “When clients come in, I always advise them to get gel extensions,” says Kaddy. Why? Because gel extensions act like a protective layer over your natural nail, causing little-to-no damage. "In fact, they can even help your natural nails underneath grow longer and stronger," she adds.
Acrylic extensions, on the other hand, are notoriously damaging. The application process requires some potentially harsh chemicals, and the removal process often involves aggressive buffing and drilling. There's also the time thing—gel nail extensions are quicker and easier to apply and remove than acrylics.
How are gel nail extensions applied?
The process is similar to applying regular gel polish to the nails, except the polish is in gel form. Your nails are prepped first (filed, buffed, and cuticles groomed), and then painted with a bonder and primer. A layer of gel polish is painted to the back of the nail form before it's pressed onto the natural nail and cured with a light. Once all ten gel extensions are applied, you can alter their shape and length and add color and cool nail art too. (P.S., You should def check out Kaddy's IG for epic nail art inspo).
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Most gel extensions will last three to four weeks, says Kaddy. "By that time, your nails will have grown out, and there will most likely be a gap between the natural nail and the gel.” It's worth nothing that the longevity of your gel nail extensions is dependent upon how well your nails are prepped before the gels are applied.
“Both the cuticle and how you file the nail are all critical to how long the gels will last on the nails, says Kaddy. "Your nail tech can’t rush the process, or your nails simply won’t last.” After the three-week mark, you can either get a refill (basically adding color to the natural nail right about your cuticle that has grown out) or remove the gel entirely.
Every nail tech has their own approach, but Kaddy typically removes any heavy design on top of the nail first (in some cases this requires a drill but don't worry, it's just to remove the design—there should be no drilling on your actual nail bed) and then wraps each nail in a acetone-soaked cotton ball and tinfoil to break down the gel. Once the gel has loosened, an orange stick or metal tool is used to gently scrape off any excess gel. The whole removal process should take about 15 minutes and your natural nails should look healthy at the end of the process, says Kaddy.
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How much do gel extensions cost?
The cost of your gel nail extensions can depend on a few different things, including location (gel extensions tend to cost more in major cities like NYC and LA), design (the more detailed the designs, the more you're going to spend), and the experience of the nail tech. For example, gel nail extensions in your local nail shop can cost as little as $20—but if you see a nail tech who has A-list clients, the price can be $80 or more. FWIW, Kaddy charges the equivalent of $54 USD for gel nail extensions in London.
When I asked Kaddy this question, her immediate response was “Yes! Of course! Gel nail healthier for your nails than acrylic nails and last for nearly a month too." They're also a great way to play around with different nail lengths, shapes, and fun nail art designs too, which is exactly why I'm going to book my first gel nail extension appointment ASAP.