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Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Gel Nail Extensions, Answered

@apresnailofficial / Instagram

Gel nail extensions are more popular than ever, and most of us have an entire Instagram folder saved that’s full of manicure posts and nail-art inspiration. Sure, a mani on natural nails is classically chic, but there’s something especially glamorous about having longer, stronger nails. Who doesn’t love being able to decide the shape, length, and whether you’re going to go all out with your nail artistry (might we suggest these flower nail designs)? That’s where gel nail extensions come in.

But just like acrylic nails—one of the oldest ways to achieve the look of long nails without having to grow them yourself—there are pros and cons to gel nail extensions. Good thing we’ve enlisted the help of Eunice Park, Research & Development Manager at APRÉS NAIL, to set the gel nail extension facts straight. Rest assured, we are here to help you find exactly what you want before heading to the nail salon. Check out everything you need to know about gel nail extensions below.

About the Expert:

Eunice Park is Aprés Nail’s Research & Development Manager.

What Exactly Are Gel Nail Extensions

Simply put, gel nail extensions consist of hard gel polish that’s cured with a UV light over the top of your natural nail. To begin with, a nail artist or nail technician would attach a nail form underneath the tip of the nail, lengthening it. The hard gel goes on top and is sculpted to perfection. That’s the classic gel manicure technique, but it’s not the only application process.

Some nail artists and nail techs use newer, softer gel tips such as Aprés Gel-X or Kiara Sky Gelly Tips. “Gel-X Tips come in a variety of lengths and shapes and styles, helping nail professionals and nail enthusiasts cut down on application time so they can focus more on things like nail art, the best part of any nail service,” says Park about the soft gel extension system. The main difference? These are already shaped so they don’t even need filing, cutting down on the time you spend in the nail salon.

The Pros and Cons of Gel Nail Extensions

The pros of gel nail extensions are pretty obvious. They look great, last much longer than typical manicures and can be gentler on the nails than acrylic nails. When it comes to soft gel tips, you also save time and have more say in your nail shape. “Gel-X also is lighter than other traditional extension systems such as acrylic, resulting in a more comfortable wear,” adds Park.

Of course, there can’t be pros without a few cons. Gel nail polish can weaken your natural nails over time, which is why many like to take a break from gel manicures or even nail polish all together (or just for a few weeks at a time). There’s also the UV-induced skin aging that may happen with the long-term use of UV lamps, which are needed to cure, or harden, the nail polish. There isn’t a proven link to skin aging or skin cancer from UV lights just yet, but it’s something some folks prefer to stay away from.

The Easiest Way to Apply Gel Nail Extensions

One of the best parts about getting any type of gel manicure is the nail prep. This is when a nail tech cleans, buffs and polishes your nails to perfection. Your cuticles might be pushed back to expose as much of the nail bed as possible. This is important because you need a bit of natural nail to adhere to the extension. This is another reason to stop biting your nails.

After the nails are prepped, the nail form we told you about above goes right under the tip of the nail. Then comes the gel builder, gel primer, and gel top coat before the nails go under the LED light or UV lamp. Then, it’s time for some fun nail art designs.

If applying soft gel tips with a kit like Aprés Nail Gel-X, the first step of Gel-X application is a pH Bonder, which preps and dehydrates the nail plate. “Next is Non-Acid Gel Primer which creates a tacky layer for the gel to adhere to,” says Park. “This is followed by the star of the Gel-X system, our Extend Gel. This is what adheres the Gel-X Tip onto the natural nail.”

“Next, the nail artist applies a thin layer of Extend Gel onto the natural nail and cures it in an LED lamp for 30 seconds,” she continues. “Then after picking your chosen shape (we love stiletto and coffin styles!) and style of Gel-X Tip, you apply a bead of Extend Gel into the underside of the tip and then apply at a 45 degree angle onto the natural nail. Flash cure the Gel-X Tip for 15 seconds.” Once all five fingers of a hand have been flash-cured, fully cure in an LED lamp for 30 seconds.

How Long Do They Last?

How you use your hands—how often you clean, do dishes, open boxes, and more—will determine how long your gel nail extensions will last. Typically, hard gel nails last about two weeks, and soft gel tips can last two to four weeks, according to Park. It can be tempting to wait as long as possible to save time and money, but the more overgrown your nails are, the more likely they are to damage your natural nails. Ouch.

How to Remove Gel Nail Extensions Without Destroying Your Nails

Park says soft gel nail extensions soak off easily with acetone—just like regular gel manicures. You can DIY this removal process. “Simply file down the bulk of the extension and then wrap with acetone to remove,” she adds. Hard gel can be a little tougher to remove, so you might want to head to a professional for filing down the extension more intensely before removing with acetone.

What’s the Difference Between Gel Nail Extensions and Acrylic Nails

“With Gel-X Tips, the shape and length have already been made for you, which is often the hardest part of any extension service,” says Park. “Simply pick your desired Gel-X Tip and apply.” Acrylic nails, on the other hand, require not only more time but a lot more practice before the manicurist can recreate the same killer nail looks.

Another thing we love about gel nail extensions? There is no strong odor or dust flying everywhere. Plus, the gel nail extension application is much faster. The only thing faster is a set of DIY press-on nails, and those are always a good idea.

Want in on all the IPSY Glam Bag fun? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

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About the author
Elizabeth Denton
Elizabeth is a freelance beauty writer. Previously, she was a beauty & fashion editor at Time Out New York, Seventeen, & Allure. She has more than a decade of experience in the beauty and fashion world, writing for Nylon, StyleCaster, Cosmopolitan & more.
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Article Last Updated June 22, 2022 12:00 AM