If Gel-X nail extensions had a fan club, I'd be the president. Over the past few years, I've worked with my incredible nail artist Stephanie to create some of my favorite nail looks to date, and Gel-X played a huge role in them turning out as polished as they did. However, I've recently realized there's a major downside to getting them so often. I know nail artists have said that these particular types of extensions are better for your nails, but after quite some time getting them, my nails aren't in the best shape. I recently decided to give them a rest and go a different route.
Luckily, the salon I go to offers builder gel—a thick nail-gel offering that adds strength to the nails. I gave builder gel a go, and my nails are in much better shape. If you've been thinking about getting it and would like to know more about it and the process, keep on scrolling. I'm giving all the details ahead.
What is builder gel, and how is it different from other gels?
To fully understand more about what builder gel is exactly, I asked celebrity nail artist Julie Kandalec to break it down for us. "Builder gel is a gel product that has a thicker viscosity that is able to be used to lengthen the nails as well as build strength at the apex period," she says. "I recommend builder gel for clients who like to have an enhancement that is a little more on the flexible side as compared to acrylic, which is a great product but it is harder. Builder gel is sort of like if you take a plastic dish and drop it on the floor, it'll bounce back versus an acrylic dish, if you drop it, it'll crack. Builder gel is good for people who are heavy lifters (meaning their nails lift easily on the side) because it's more flexible."
Even I'll admit that there are so many different types of nail gels out there that it's hard to know the difference between them or which one is right for your particular nails. Kandalec went into a little more detail. "Builder gel frequently is a hard gel," she says. "Hard gel is a nonporous gel that has to be filed off. Builder gel can either be soft gel or semi-hard gel or hard gel. The difference between [builder gel like] Solar Gel and Aprés Nail (which is a brand of gel tips) is that that is a full-coverage tip that is already pre-made. It's made out of gel, but it's adhered with more gel as opposed to builder gel. Builder gel you can sculpt with, apply it over a tip, or you can just do a structured manicure with it to give the apex the shape and the strength."
Now that you have a little more background, read on for my experience getting builder gel for the first time.
My Experience With Builder Gel
I know—my extensions look extremely grown out and crazy in the above photo. Needless to say, it was nice to finally get them taken off—my nails felt like they could breathe again. I'd never really gotten builder gel before this, only a lighter, less buildable form of gel, Gel-X extensions, and regular gel nail polish. What I didn't realize before getting builder gel is that it's actually pretty similar to hard gel—the only difference is that builder gel is a bit stronger than regular hard gel. Both can also add extra strength to the nails, which comes in handy if your nails are as damaged as mine after getting extensions for years.
Say it with me: Breaks are necessary. I decided to give builder gel a try since my nails were becoming extremely brittle and thin and starting to crack easily. That was my cue to give the extensions a rest. Sure, Gel-X extensions are considered one of the better options for preserving nail health, but as you can see in the above photo, mine were still pretty shot after getting them for an extended period of time.
The process of getting builder gel definitely went by quicker than getting extensions since she just painted the gel onto my natural nails. She did several coats of the gel, which I liked since my natural nails tend to break a bit easier these days. Doing a few coats also adds more strength to the nails and created the perfect base for the pink French mani I decided to go with for the month of February.
As you can see, my nails are now a lot shorter than when I had extensions, but they're also a lot healthier. I won't lie, it's also a lot more manageable now doing everyday activities (lol). I loved the results that builder gel provided because it feels a lot lighter than Gel-X extensions and really did add extra strength to my weak nails. It also lasts a long time and doesn't chip. The below photo is what my nails looked like after two weeks. Still pretty good, right? There are no chips whatsoever. Sure, they're a tad grown out, but it still looks like a neat and polished manicure. In terms of price, I paid $75 for the builder gel and an additional $20 for art. Everyone's prices will differ, but that should give you a decent baseline.
If you're a nail enthusiast interested in trying builder gel yourself, or want to bring your own to the salon, keep scrolling for a few other great-quality gels and some at-home nailcare items I've been using and loving.
More Great Builder Gels + At-Home Nailcare Products
Not all nail artists would suggest trying builder gel at home if you want to use it to extend your nails, but I think it's worth a shot if you're not looking to add length. You can paint it over your natural nails to add extra strength and polish to the nails.
I've seen so many rave reviews about Makkart's various nail gels. I actually wanted to try the brand's polygel kit on Amazon but chickened out a bit since I'm not the best at home manicures. This nail builder gel is another good option from the brand that retails for only $10.
I may not be the best at home manicures, but having my own little tool kit certainly helps. This one is good to have handy if you're taking a break from any kind of salon nail service altogether. These tools always will help keep my nails from looking like a raggedy mess.