Feeling envious of those long-lasting, glossy manicures you see on social media? We feel you, but let’s be real—no one wants to deal with the hassle that comes with the process. Whether you’re a nail tech or an at-home enthusiast, you need a quick and efficient solution.
Luckily, builder gel has entered the chat. 💬
Builder gel is what nail professionals use to form and shape stunning nails. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we should probably start at the beginning.
What Is Builder Gel?
Builder gel (also known as hard gel) repairs and strengthens natural nails while allowing for professional-looking manicures. It does this by using nail-strengthening ingredients and filling in cracks or breaks within the nail.
Builder gel can be applied like a regular base coat, though it’s different from a standard gel polish base coat. If you want to learn more about standard gel polish, we got you covered with our in-depth explanation of everything you need to know about gel polish.
Nail enthusiasts with weak or brittle nails often use builder gel as a base coat and then apply regular gel color on top of it. If you prefer a natural look, you can just leave the builder gel, so your nails have a subtle shine. That being said, who are we to tell you what to do? Put your own unique twist on your nails.🔥
Is Builder Gel the Same as Acrylic?
No, builder gel and acrylic are two very different materials. Mixing the two will make your manicure a disaster, so please don’t do that. 🙅🏾♀️
Builder gel comes in a bottle and is painted mostly like other types of polishes. It stays wet until it’s cured. It is a bit thicker of a viscosity than other gel polishes, which is why you may have to manipulate it a bit (sort of like you do with acrylic!).
Acrylic is a powder that must be mixed with a monomer to activate. Sure, it can easily be molded into different shapes, but acrylic hardens within a few minutes, so time is of the essence.
Whether you use acrylic or builder gel depends on your nails and how you want your manicure to look. If you’re dealing with the super annoying problem of having your natural nails break all the time, then builder gel is probably the better choice. Not only does it have nail-strengthening qualities, but it’s also more flexible than acrylic, so you don’t have to worry about breakage or snapping.
Softer nails can benefit from acrylic because of how rigid it is. Acrylics encase your soft nails and protect them from the dangers of the outside world. Acrylic nails are also better if you want a more dramatic look. As extensions, they fare a little better against the harsh realities of daily life.
What Are the Two Types of Builder Gel?
Both soft and hard builder gel is applied with a nail brush and cured under UV or LED light. Hard gels and soft gels wear differently and have different removal processes. But which type suits your manicure goals best?
What Is Soft Gel?
If you’re not familiar with different types of gel, it’s helpful to know that soft gel is just traditional gel polish. On product listings, you’ll rarely see it called out as soft gel specifically, but if the product is able to be soaked-off, then it’s a soft gel!
Soft gel is a fantastic option for beginners and experienced nail techs alike. The flexibility and pigmentation of high-quality soft gel polishes make for some stunning manicures.
However, soft gel is not strong enough to create or support a nail extension. It’s applied with a small nail brush, just like traditional nail polish. Once the soft gel is applied, it is cured under a UV or LED light until dry. The soft gel wears thin on the nail’s free edge over time, requiring some self-care every few weeks.
Because soft gel is porous, it can be removed using cotton balls soaked in 100% pure acetone.
What Is Hard Gel?
Hard gel is non-porous and can create extensions that look sharp enough to cut. 🔪
The thick, hard gel is usually applied to a nail tip or nail form as tiny beads onto each nail. Then the nail tech or DIYer will manipulate the bead around each nail to smooth and create the desired length and shape. The customization and variety of colors make hard gel nails a popular set for a long, durable manicure.
When to Use Thin Gels
Thin gels add a light, strong layer over natural nails or the nail body for nail extensions. Thin gels are self-leveling, meaning that their thin viscosity allows the gel to move around on the nail quickly. These gels are more challenging to use on nail forms due to their light, runny consistency.
Thin gels require less filing because the gel lies smoothly on the nail. This smooth finish results in fewer bubbles and a more rapid application process. The nail tech must work quickly with thinner gels. For this reason, thin gels are recommended for the experienced nail tech.
Artists, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to fail and try again, especially if you’re trying this for the first time. Like everything else in life, practice makes perfect. ✨
When to Use Builder Gel (or Thick Gels)
Thick gels are used to form a nail extension over nail forms and tips. The thicker viscosity allows the nail tech to cover more areas of the nail at once. Thick gels should be used carefully. If too much gel is used, peaks and valleys will form, causing the need to finish filing later, which is a pain to deal with.
Thicker gels do not move around on the nail and are easier to control than thin gels, making them a suitable gel for the beginner nail tech. We also recommend thicker viscosity builder gels to those who typically use acrylic.
How to Use Builder Gel
Builder gel adds strength and length to natural nails. The proper application of builder gel is vital for designing a long-lasting gel manicure. Here are some basic instructions on how to use builder gel.
- Buff the nail plate with a nail buffer.
- Apply a nail dehydrator to each nail’s surface to remove oils.
- Apply the base gel (foundation gel) and cure it under UV or LED light.
- Adhere the nail form onto the natural nail.
- Brush a builder gel bead onto the apex of the nail, down to the free edge. Tap and drag the gel to avoid gel streaking. Apply the builder gel down the nail form to create and shape the long nail extension. Make sure to apply the gel only as far down as you want the nail length to be.
Cure the nails until dry, then file and shape them.
- Wipe the inhibition layer from each nail with a cleanser.
Remove the nail forms carefully from each nail, followed by any residual dust.
- Apply gel color polish if desired and finish with a gel-compatible top coat.
- Cure the nails to complete the manicure.
How Long Does Builder Gel Last?
A proper builder gel manicure can last two to four weeks—you don’t want to keep it on any longer than that. This is because the nail growth causes more proneness to bending, breaking, or lifting.
There is a range of two to three weeks because of how each manufacturer makes their builder gel and how well the gel is applied. If you’re a beginner, it may not last as long as your typical enhancements at first, but it’s worth it, we promise!
Does Builder Gel Damage Your Nails?
Normally, no—builder gel will not damage your nails; in fact, it improves them. But, you can damage your nails with builder gel on them by not following proper directions for removing them. We’ve all been tempted to peel away our gel after a week or two, but that does a TON of damage. It rips off layers of your nail, making them weaker and causing damage that takes months to grow out. (M O N T H S .)
How to Remove Builder Gel Safely
Before you dive headfirst into the process of removing builder gel (or thick gels) from your nails, stop and read this section first. 🛑
The most important thing to know about removing builder gel safely is that you can’t do so with acetone or nail polish remover. For those primarily familiar with soft gels, you may be used to the process of wrapping your nails in foil and soaking them in remover. Hard gels (including builder gel) won’t budge with that kind of treatment—they have to be filed off.
- Grab your trusty e-file, a buffer, and some cuticle oil (to treat your nails afterward).
- Start by gently buffing off top layer of shine from your manicure. (This is typically the hardest part of the gel and is super resistant to removal, so take your time.)
- Switch to your file (or a drill, if you have access to one), and slowly begin filing down the enhancement until it’s completely removed.
The process takes patience, but it’s critical that you take it slow and be thorough to avoid damaging your natural nail. If you’re an at-home nail artist and experience any issues, head into your favorite nail tech for some professional assistance.
Get Gorgeous and Glossy Manicures With Builder Gel
Builder gel is a diverse tool for creating beautiful but healthy manicures. It’s ideal for stronger nails while creating bold extensions for a more dramatic look. The different gel options make designing custom gel manicures possible for beginners and seasoned nail techs.
Use builder gel to build up your nails while showing off the variety of VBP’s highly pigmented gel collections. Each soak-off gel lasts for 14 days when used with the VBP base coat and top coat. The pigmented gel covers in one coat for a beautiful finish. Try V Beauty Pure’s Hard Gels for your next gel manicure.