A guide to gel nail extensions – What are gel nail extensions?


Very few things are more satisfying and relaxing to me than a trip to a nail salon for a fresh set of acrylic nails. It’s the little things that I look forward to that make it so sweet: picking out a nail polish color, the hum of the electric nail drill smoothing out any roughness on my nail, and, of course, walking away with freshly coated nails for tap, tap, tap on every surface I walk on. Then come the less satisfying parts like nail breakage, the sometimes painful removal process, and thin, brittle nails that I have to tend to for weeks. Press-ons are a significantly cheaper option, but they don’t last as long as a professionally applied set. So what to do when you want the look of long acrylic nails without risk or damage? Enter: gel nail extensions.

What are gel extensions?

What separates gel and acrylic nails is the material each is made of. An acrylic tip is plastic and requires monomer liquid and polymer powder to create the sculpted nail. In contrast, gel nail extensions are “preformed nail tips that are completely made out of gel and cover the entire nail,” Trenna Seney, a freelance manicurist in NYC, tells ELLE.com. Consider pressing – no nail glue – but more durable and versatile. Gel nails are a healthier alternative to acrylic nails; they are faster to apply and even faster to remove without damage. While you may be tempted to channel your inner nail art, Seney recommends resisting the urge to do gel extensions yourself and go to a professional instead. In the meantime, here’s a guide to everything you need to know about gel extensions.

Are gel extensions better than regular acrylic?

What makes gel extensions superior in this situation is that they are not only made of gel for long life and durability, but they do not require any harsh chemicals. “There are many benefits, including no damage to your natural nails, the tips feel light, there are no fumes, strong odors and heavy filing,” adds Seney. “When my clients remove their gel extensions, their natural nails are longer and stronger. With the acrylic tips, on the other hand, the removal process involves drilling, dipping and filing. To remove the gel extensions , just soak your nails in acetone, which helps the gel tips dissolve. You also don’t have to worry about gel extensions getting in the way of your daily chores.” gel nails are strong enough, so you can do normal everyday things without worrying about your nail coming loose or lifting. I tell my clients to try not to touch too much rubbing alcohol or acetone,” Seney adds, as alcohol and acetone can weaken the tip of the gel.

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How long do gel nail extensions last?

When done professionally, Seney says gel extensions can last up to three to four weeks. Seney adds that if quality products are used, you can extend the wear time up to five weeks. Seney uses the popular Apres Gel-X system and Medusa Gel Polish for her nail designs.

How much do gel extensions usually cost?

Gel extensions should only cost you a few dollars more than normal acrylic tips. The price is comparable due to the strength and durability of the gel extensions. Seney explains, “Prices depend on the level of expertise of the nail technician and what the client wants on the nails. Swarovski crystals, hand-painted designs, charms, etc. all have a high price. Gel extensions range from $85 to $350, the most complex [the design]the more expensive it is.

gel extensions

My nails immediately after Seney applied the nails and buffed them.

Nerisha Penrose

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How are gel extensions applied?

  • Step 1: Prepare the nails. The nail technician will file the client’s nails, push back the cuticles, trim dead cuticles and buff the nails. Nails must be clean (and dry) before application.
  • Step 2: Find the right size. Take each finger and find the right size tip that works for you. All nails in a tip kit have numbers to compare for each hand.
  • Step 3: Depending on the skill level of your nail technician, file the inside of the nail tips or apply a coat of acetone. This will create some adhesion for the adhesive.
  • Step 4: Apply Bonder Liquid to natural nails. Bonder is a dehydrator and you want to make sure your natural nails are as dry as possible with no oils or debris.
  • Step 5: Apply Base Liquid to natural nails. The primer makes your nails sticky which makes it easier for the gel to set. (Binder and primer are included in the Apres Gel X kit)
  • Step 6: Apply a thin layer of extension gel to natural nails. (Clear liquid gel also included in the kit)
  • Step 7: Put your hand into the UV/LED lamp for 60 seconds.
  • Step 8: Apply a little gel under the ends. Make sure the customer’s hand is straight. Apply gel tip to natural nail and press down. While one hand holds the tip on the client’s hand, take your other hand holding a portable LED light and shine it directly onto the nail for 30 seconds. Ask the client to place her hand inside the UV/LED lamp for 60 seconds.
  • Step 9: Repeat on all fingers
  • Step 10: All done!
    gel extensions

    My nails four weeks later.

    Nerisha Penrose

    What does gel extension tracking look like?

    It is important to let your natural nails oxygenate between extensions. Soak your gel extensions in and let your natural nails breathe without anything on them for a week.

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