Don’t let yourself loose on your own nails – a short guide to gel nail extensions

Applying gel nail extensions is a job for a professional. As well as setting you up with glamorous long nails, they can advise you on the right extensions, the right nail care and more. Before you decide to go ahead with nail extensions and step into a nail bar, however, it helps to learn a bit about them. Below is a short guide with everything you need to know.

What are gel nail extensions?

The simple explanation is that they’re a pre-shaped gel tip and cover the entire nail. They look like acrylic extensions and feel like them. They’re healthier, though, and are also more flexible and durable. Think of them as press-on nails but without the need for nail glue. In the age of the pandemic, you might feel tempted to have a go at your own gel nail extensions, but it’s better to go to a specialist or to take professional training before you let yourself loose on your own nails in this way.

Knowing the difference between acrylic and gel extensions

Acrylic nails are the older, more traditional form of artificial nail. These tips are made of plastic and you need a polymer powder and monomer liquid to create the sculpted nail. Air dries them.

Gel extensions are different. The gel is already mixed and simply needs curing by a UV or LED lamp. The coating only takes a few seconds, whereas acrylic nails take around 15 to 20 minutes to set.

Understanding the difference between gels

When it comes to gel extensions, there are two main gel types: hard and structure. The hard gel is the more common of the two and takes more effort to remove. Of course, as the name suggests, hard gel is more durable and creates a strong, longer-lasting exterior.

Structure gel, meanwhile, creates a solid cap on the natural nail and is less heavy but still durable. If you want to improve the durability of your nails, structure gel will achieve this for you without the major hardness of the hard gel. Structure gel also soaks off easier, which is why it gives nail specialists less trouble than hard gel when removing it.

Are gel extensions better?

Generally, gel extensions offer more benefits. They’re stronger and look more natural than acrylic nails. As well as being quicker and more straightforward to apply, the same is true of removal (unless you’ve gone for hard gel), whereas acrylic nails involve drilling, soaking and filing to take off the extensions. Additionally, gel nails are odourless, don’t have fumes and you don’t have to file them heavily. Basically, yes to gel nails! 

How long do they last?

Although gel extensions may provide you with all the above benefits, they don’t last quite as long as their acrylic counterparts, unfortunately. That’s not to say you can’t get a decent amount of use out of them. They’ll last you anywhere between two and five weeks, even a little bit longer, depending on the quality.

How much do they cost?

The price of gel nail extensions and treatment with gel nail extensions by a specialist varies, but here in the UK you can expect to pay around £25 upwards. Since gel extensions are stronger, they tend to be more expensive. Those are the breaks! 

Applying gel extensions isn’t a process you can just fly through, so expect to spend around at least an hour at the nail bar. Add on extra time to that if you’re going to have some nail decoration on top of it.

Applying gel nail extensions

To apply gel nail extensions like a pro, whether for yourself or as a service to others, you should take a course that will teach you everything that you need to know. In the meantime, here’s a quick insight into how they’re applied:

  1.   Before anything else, you’ve got to prep the nails. That means cleaning them, drying them, trimming any dead cuticles and buffing the nails.
  2.   Choose the right size. You’ve got to take each finger and select the size that fits from the nail kit.
  3.   File the inside of the tips or apply acetone. Be aware, however, of the damage acetone can do if your nails are weak. 
  4.   Apply bonder to your natural nails. This will dry the nail for the application of the extensions. No oil. No debris.
  5.   Now apply the primer liquid, which will make the nails sticky so the extensions can adhere to them easily.
  6.   Add a thin layer of extend gel to the natural nails.
  7.   Apply some gel to the gel extensions, press the nail onto the natural nail and hold it down. While holding it down, shine a handheld LED light on the nail for 30 seconds (if you’re doing this at home, you’ll have to ask someone else to hold the light). Then hold your hand, or ask your client to hold their hand, in the UV/LED lamp for 60 seconds.
  8.   Repeat the process for each finger until you’ve completed both hands (or as many fingers as you wish to).

Removing nail extensions

Taking your gel extensions is a job for an expert. If you’ve used hard gel, soaking the nail in acetone won’t do enough to bring the nail off. You’ll have to drill down first with a professional nail drill to break through the top seal. Only then can you get the acetone onto it and then dust off the nail with a nail file.

Before you have your gel nails removed, give them plenty of time to grow out. Taking them off too early will weaken the nail. To make it smooth, your specialist would then have to buff and drill down where the growth has appeared on the nail.

Is it safe to use gel extensions?

Any alteration of the nails carries a risk to their health, which is why it’s better to work with a qualified, experienced nail technician and follow any advice they give you on gel extensions and nail care. 

If you’re pregnant or visiting someone in hospital, you should refrain from using gel extensions for a while. Avoid using gel nail extensions, too, while you’re styling your hair or drying it. The heat could damage your nails. The extension may also contain flammable elements.

Gel nail extensions come with a lot of benefits over acrylic nails, but you have to be prepared to pay extra for them. Applying gel extensions yourself is risky. It’s a job best left to a professional, who will have the training and the experience to help you keep your nails looking fabulous with the extensions.



Award-winning writer, blogger, social media consultant and charity campaigner. Social Media Manager for BritMums, the UK's largest parent blogging network Freelance clients include Firefly Communications and Save the Children UK. Works with brands on marketing projects. Examples include Visit Orlando, Give As You Live, Coca-Cola and Kodak. Cambridge Law graduate with many years experience working across three sectors in advice, media relations, events, training and project management. Available for hire at affordable rates.

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