If you’re not well-versed in manicures, the world of gel nails can be quite confusing. Builder gel, gel polish, nail extensions and cuticle oil can all sound a bit like a foreign language when you’re getting into nail care.
There’s no need to worry though, it’s all quite easy to learn. Gel polish is a type of nail polish that needs to be cured with UV light. It comes in a few different ranges, and you can pick what’s best for you.
What Is Builder Gel?
Builder gel is a type of gel nail polish that’s designed to protect the natural nail to aid growth. Just like regular gel, builder gel needs to be cured with UV light to harden and set, so it won’t dry on its own.
There are two types of builder gel available – soft and hard. Soft builder gel, which is sometimes known as BIAB (Builder in a Bottle), is painted on like regular gel. Hard builder gel comes in a pot and gives a very hard finish, similar to that of acrylic.
It’s a fantastic option if you normally have brittle nails that never seem to grow because they’re always snapping. The gel itself is thicker and sturdier than regular gel, giving the natural nail some extra support.
Purpose of Builder Gel
As builder gel is thicker and harder than regular gel polish, the purpose of builder gel is to add some extra stability to the natural nail. The added thickness builder gel creates helps aid the nail underneath to grow.
This sturdy coating that sits on your nail helps prevent it weakening and snapping. It creates a hard layer that offers more support to weak nails, which can help the natural nail grow. It can also be used with nail extensions too, giving the look of long nails when your own won’t grow.
Soft builder gel is usually used to create a protective coating to the natural nail, while hard builder gel is more likely to be used for extensions.
Builder gel is perfect for helping people grow their nails. It’s also very useful for nail biters. Not only is it protective, but it’s likely too difficult to bite through - and probably doesn’t taste too great either!
Soft Builder Gel
Soft builder gel comes in a bottle and isn’t too different from regular gel polish in the way it is applied and removed. It is, however, much thicker than regular gel polish, which means it’s gloopier to apply and needs a little more attention when soaking off.
Soft builder gel is available in a range of beautiful pink colours, so you don’t have to narrow your options by going for builder gel.
Hard Builder Gel
Hard builder gel doesn’t come in a bottle and instead comes in a pot. It’s available in a rainbow of colours and is often a common choice for long nail extensions because of its sturdy finish. It’s very hard but has some flexibility and is unlikely to crack easily.
Unlike traditional gel nail polish or soft builder gel, this polish needs to be filed off. Simply soaking it off will not remove it as it’s very hard, much like acrylic.
How to Apply Builder Gel
Check out this article: How to paint your nails perfectly?
Before applying and gel nail polish, your natural nail needs to be prepped. This means your nail should be cleaned, filed and buffed, and your cuticles need to be pushed back and trimmed.
Check whether the builder gel you plan on using needs a base coat – most do, but some don’t so it’s worth checking.
To start, apply a bead of gel to the highest point of your nail bed (called the apex) and glide the brush to spread it over the whole of your nail from cuticle to tip. It’s best practice to build up the apex of the nail for added strength. Builder gel should be applied with small horizontal strokes to gain full coverage, which is a little different the from the long, vertical strokes traditional nail polish uses.
The gel then needs to be cured with a UV lamp to harden and set it. This will give you a smooth surface and you’ll need a topcoat to finish. Once your topcoat is cured, wipe the nail off and apply cuticle oil to help with the health of your cuticles.
How Many Layers of Builder Gel Should You Apply?
It’s best to use one thick layer of builder gel. If you’re using a base coat under the builder gel and a topcoat over it, you risk having an unnaturally thick looking finish.
You can, of course, add nail art before you finish with a topcoat, but no more full nail coats are needed.
What is the Difference Between Gel and Builder Gel?
While gel and builder gel have lots of similarities, they’ve got plenty of differences too. Builder gel doesn’t tend to have such a glossy finish as traditional gel polish, but it is much thicker and stronger.
Regular gel comes in almost any colour you can think of, whilst soft builder gel tends to stick to the pink and neutral shades.
Builder gel is used specifically to give strength (and sometimes length) to a nail. Regular gel does add some support, but not as much as builder gel.
Is builder Gel Good for Your Nails?
Builder gel can be great for your nails, depending on the results you want to see. If you hate how your nails never grow and are constantly flaking or breaking, then using builder gel will help resolve this.
It’s less damaging than certain other options, especially if you go for soft builder gel, which soaks off easily. It allows your nails to remain healthy and grow strong while the gel is protecting them.
Is Builder Gel Better Than Acrylic?
Builder gel is thought to be better than acrylic as it is known to be easier to apply, and overall, less damaging to the nail plate.
Both tend to last around the same amount of time (providing the nail has been prepped correctly). Acrylic is often a cheaper option in the salon, but that tends to come at the price of your nail health.
Benefits of Using Builder Gel
The benefits of using builder gel are clear – it provides a hard, strong surface on your nail, helping to prevent any breaking, cracking or flaking. This in turn can help the nail grow. Luckily, builder gel allows some flexibility, which a nail needs.
As it’s a hard overlay, it also protects your nails from anything unpleasant they might come into contact with, such as chemicals or heat.
How long does builder gel last?
Builder gel is very similar to traditional gel, in that both types last 2-3 weeks without chipping - if properly taken care of.
Providing the nails were well prepped when the gel polish was applied, proper care should make the manicure last. This means ideally you should be wearing protective gloves for cleaning or doing any jobs around the house. It also means you should stay away from solvents and extreme heat.
Take proper care of your hands and cuticles too, by moisturising regularly and using hand cream.
If your nail polish chips during that period, don’t be tempted to pick at it. Head straight back to your nail tech and ask for a repair. If you nails manage to last the full 2-3 weeks without issue, make sure you book in to have the gel removed and a new manicure applied.
Do you Need to Take a Break from Builder Gel?
Some nail techs will insist you take a break from builder gel (or all gel in general) for at least three weeks every three months. Not all professionals think this way though, and nobody seems to fully agree.
Some other nail techs believe that if the nails are well looked after (both in the salon and at home) you can go longer without a break. Lots of people have back-to-back manicures for months on end, and certain nail techs will argue that providing you know the warning signs, it’s up to you when you take a break).
Some of the warning signs can include discolouration, infection, allergic reaction, ridges, splits, peeling and flaking. If you have any of these signs, it’s time to put down that gel and step out of the salon until your nail health has improved.
What colours of builder gel are available?
There are two types of builder gel – soft builder gel, which has a limited range of colours, and hard builder gel that has hundreds.
Whilst soft builder gel is often the builder gel of choice, the available colours tend to be varying shades of pink and occasionally a clear one.
Hard builder gel is different and comes in almost any colour you can imagine. This arrives in a pot and needs a separate brush to apply. It’s also harder to remove and needs to be filed off, which can result in slightly weaker nails once its removed. You must weigh up whether colour choice is more important than nail health.
Nail art can be applied to builder gel, so if the pink shades of soft builder gel fall a bit flat for you, there’s nothing stopping you using traditional gel to create beautiful designs.
How do you remove builder gel?
The removal of builder gel depends on the type you’ve used as hard and soft builder gel have different removal methods.
Soft builder gel can be soaked off like traditional gel. You just need to buff the top layer and soak in acetone for 10-15 minutes. If you’re not happy dipping your fingers into a bowl of acetone, you can get your hands on foil wraps that allow you to leave an acetone-soaked cotton ball on your nail and keeps the rest of your hand dry.
One the nails have had chance to soak, you can gently scrape off the excess gel polish before tidying up with a cotton bud to clean up any bits still clinging on.
It’s probably best to have hard gel polished removed at a salon as removal take quite rigorous filing. A professional might prefer to use and electric file, but if you were to use one yourself without proper training, you could damage your nail and hurt yourself in the process.
Once most of the hard gel has been filed away, the nail needs to soak in acetone for 10-15 minutes to help get rid of the excess.
Much like soft gel, after the soaking stage comes the scraping to rid your nail of any bits of gel clinging on, then finally just tidying up with a cotton bud.
After removing either type of gel, you might want to buff the nail and finish it would some sort of strengthening treatment.
Why Does my Builder Gel Peel Off?
Your manicure is often only as good as the prep. If you don’t lay the right foundations, you don’t get the best results. If the nail plate hasn’t properly been prepared, that could be a reason that the gel is peeling.
An expertly manicured nail is unlikely to peel for no reason.
Another possibility is that you’re putting your manicure under too much stress. If you’re constantly washing up or using harsh cleaning chemicals, then your poor manicure doesn’t stand a chance.
Warm water can cause your nails to expand, then when they cool, they can contract, which can disturb the gel.
The best thing to do is follow all the nail care guidelines your nail tech gives you to prevent any damage to your manicure.
Does Builder Gel Need Infills?
Yes! Just like any other gel, builder gel can (and should) be infilled. This means you can top up your manicure and get a but of extra life out of it. This should be done around the 2-3 week mark once your nails have had opportunity to grow.
Can you put regular polish over builder gel?
You technically can put regular nail polish over gel, but it’s not always a good idea. Gel polish and regular polish have two different chemical makeups. They cure in different ways and need removing with different chemicals.
While your nails won’t suddenly fall off or anything shocking from coating your builder gel with regular polish, you might want to think twice. Regular polish doesn’t last as long as gel polish, so it might ruin your manicure and waste the gel underneath. Consider using coloured gel over builder gel if you’re after a specific colour. Don’t forget to end with a gel topcoat for a lasting finish!