Gel Extensions Types & How to Choose Between Hard, Soft, and Gel-X Nails

Acrylics aren’t the only way to get long, solid, and beautiful nails. Gel extensions are one of the most popular ways to do this. You can get all different lengths and shapes, making them the perfect canvas for nail art or a classic manicure.

I have been a manicurist for years and I find that gel extensions have fantastic benefits. I recommend gel nails to many of my clients. To me, gel nails mean beautiful nails without sacrificing my natural nails.

If you’re considering getting gel extensions next time you go to the salon, or want to order an at-home gel extension kit, this article is for you.

Knowing proper care and how different types of gel nails are applied can ensure you get the nails you want without damaging your natural nails. 

What are gel nail extensions?

Gel nail extensions are used to build your natural nail to be a different length and/or shape.

There are two ways to add length with a gel product.

  • Builder Gel: Your nail tech will use a nail form to do this. The sticker goes under your nail’s free edge so that they can sculpt a longer nail with the gel before curing it with a UV lamp.
  • Gel extensions tips: Gel tips, or Gel-X extensions, are applied by using a bead size amount of builder gel to cure a gel tip that covers your entire natural nail.

After applying the gel, they’ll cure it with a UV light or LED light to strengthen the nail and keep the gel lasting as long as possible.

The best part about gel extensions is that they’re strong, lightweight, and easy to remove.

Different types of gel nail extensions

When considering gel extensions, know that there are two different types you can get on your natural nail. This can get confusing so let’s clear things up.

Hard gel 

Hard gel nails are created using builder gel and cured layer by layer with a UV lamp in a process called polymerization. The final nail is hard and non-porous.

Hard gel nails can last for up to six weeks before needing to be filled. Similar to acrylics. Hard gel is odorless and the final nails make a great canvas for nail art.

The downsides to hard gel are that it needs to be removed by a professional using an e-file. You can’t soak it off with acetone as you can with soft gel nails.

PRO TIP: Polygel is considered a hard gel product. If you want to try your hand at doing your own polygel nails check out our article on “Polygel Nail Kit.”

Soft gel 

Soft gel, aka soak-off gel, because these products are easily removed by soaking in acetone. Not to be confused with gel nail polish, soft gel’s consistency is somewhere between gel polish and hard gel.

There are two main types you’ll hear about:

  • Gel overlay: A thicker gel product applied with a brush, gel overlays are used to build up the natural nail and create a protective layer on top. No length is added.
  • Soft gel nail extensions: Full-coverage gel tips that are made out of the same flexible gel material used in other gel products. These are sometimes referred to as gel-x nails.

PRO TIP: You can also do a nail overlay using acrylic, to learn how, check out “Acrylic Nail Overlay on Natural Nails.”

Gel extensions

What are Gel-X nails? 

Gel nail extensions, or Gel-X nails, are what most people use when they’re looking to change the shape of their nails and add length to their natural nails.

Gel-X nails are the first soft gel product in the world that can extend your nail’s length.

They have all the same easy soak-off characteristics as other gel products including builder gel and gel polish but allow you to add gel tips to your nails just like with acrylic nail extensions.

Gel nail extensions are odorless and won’t damage your natural nails. One of the best aspects of gel-x nails is they are super easy to remove at home.

The benefits of gel extensions

More and more people are looking to get gel extensions on their natural nails. This is because there are several benefits to doing this compared to traditional acrylics or pressing on nails at home. 

Quick to apply (and remove)

Acrylics are outstanding for extending your nail’s length, but they’re not easy to remove or quick to apply. That’s one of the significant benefits of getting soft gel extensions. It won’t take more than an hour for a qualified nail technician to apply the gel and get your nails as long as you like.

Gel extensions

When it’s time to remove the gel, you’ll find that it’s fast and easy, thanks to the soak-off technology of the soft gel. You shouldn’t find the process difficult or time-consuming with hard gel. 

You can cut and shape them however you like

When applying regular nail polish or regular gel polish alone, you don’t get to shape your nails how you want. Sure, you can file them to get a more round or square shape, but it’s a little complicated, and you might change your mind the next time you want your nails done. 

You can shape your new long nails however you want with gel extensions. You can go with a coffin shape one time and then an almond the next. This is great when you want to find out which nail shape works best on your hand.

You can use regular nail polish on them 

Another benefit of gel extensions is that you can use regular nail polish on them. Unlike acrylics and gel polish, you’re stuck with their set colors.

You can use a clear gel to create the extensions and then whatever color you want. This is great when the specific color you’re looking for is only in regular polish and not gel at your salon. One of my favorite colors for gel extensions is nude nails. Since gel nails are already translucent the nude is even sheerer and looks very sexy.

Improve the appearance of nails affected by nail disorders

Last but not least, they can hide and improve the appearance of your nails if you have a nail disorder.

Whether you have Beau Lines, Paronychia, Leukonychia, or another nail disorder, you can feel better about how your nails look when you get gel extensions. 

Of course, you don’t need to cover up your nails, but for those who want to improve the appearance of their nails, this is a significant confidence boost and way to do so. 

How are gel extensions applied?

Before you or your nail tech can start on your gel extensions, you must prep the nail. Skipping the nail prep before applying the gel can cause them not to go on and not last nearly as long as they could. They’ll file the nail, buff them, and cut your cuticles to prep for the extensions.

Your nail technician will then apply a nail sticker underneath your natural nail so they can create a new nail based on the length you want with a nail builder. They’ll add a gel primer and then a gel top coat before curing them under UV light. 

After completing your gel extension, they can remove the form before adding polish or artwork. They don’t have to use gel polish, but it’s great for extra strength. 

Professional vs. at-home gel nail extensions 

There are more and more DIY gel nail kits available that you can use at home, but should you be using them? Professionals say that you should leave the gel extensions to them because they’re trained and are far less likely to damage your natural nails. 

When using a DIY kit, you’ll probably spend at least an hour doing your nails, but probably more. So, it will take a lot more time than seeing a professional.

If you have the time, that’s great, but seeing a professional nail artist is the better option for those who want their nails done promptly. 

Now, if you know how to do gel extensions, then doing them at home might be much quicker for you than the average person.

If you’re set on learning how to do gel extensions at home, be sure that you’re purchasing a kit that has everything you need and instructions.

A great option is to get the affordable Beetles Poly Extension Gel Nail Kit because it comes with everything you need. Several YouTube videos are available showcasing the product and how to use it like this one. 

Are gel extensions better than acrylics?

Since you can get gel and acrylics to create nail extensions, which is the better option? They tend to look similar once complete, but many people who’ve had both say that the gel extensions feel lighter on their hands compared to acrylics. Gel nails are a healthier alternative.

The key difference between the two boils down to the materials used, and the application and removal process.

Acrylic nails: Powdered acrylic polymer polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) gets mixed with a liquid acrylic monomer methyl methacrylate monomer (MMA) to form a resin on top of your natural nails.

Gel nails: Made from a semi-solid monomer and oligomer that comes pre-mixed in a bottle or tube and must be cured with a UV lamp. The curing process renders a hardened polymer.

Gel extensions are quicker and easier to remove than acrylic. They don’t have strong smells or that dust that appears when you begin to file or remove acrylics. 

Another key difference is that acrylics are harder than gel, damaging your natural nails over time. There’s a lot more buffing required with acrylic nails and acetone, which thins your natural nails over time. 

If you want to learn more about doing your own acrylic extensions check out “How to Do Acrylic Nails.”

How long do gel extensions last?

Gel extensions

One of the biggest things to consider before getting gel extensions is how long they’ll last. Since you’ll most likely be getting them done at a salon, you’ll be spending a pretty penny on them, so you want them to last for as long as possible. 

How long your gel extension tips will last depends on several factors. Most people last a minimum of two weeks, but some can see them stay for up to four or five! Those who get their gel extensions to last longer than two weeks tend to use their hands much more than those who last longer. 

Everyone uses their hands every day, but when we talk about more use, it could be in your job or day-to-day. For example, if you write for a living and are constantly typing, your nails are seeing a lot of friction. Compared to someone who strictly talks on the phone for most of their job, your nails might not last as long. 

Healthcare workers also tend to see a shorter lifespan since they’re using their hands and washing them constantly. Remember, your natural nail will continue to grow when the extensions are on. So you might choose to get a fill sooner than others if that gap between your cuticle and gel extension starts bothering you. 

How much do gel nail extensions cost?

How much your gel extensions will cost depends on several factors. The first is whether you’re getting them done by a professional or using a DIY gel extension kit at home.

Going to a professional will always be more expensive, but they’re a better option if you want quality right off the bat.

Other factors that affect how much your gel extensions cost are: 

  • Where you live
  • How much your nail artist or salon charge
  • If you want a solid color or nail art

You can always call and ask how much they charge for what you want with your gel extensions, but be prepared that they generally cost anywhere from $70 to $120. 

How to remove gel extensions?

Proper removal of gel extensions is key to keeping your nails healthy. When you don’t remove them correctly, it can cause unnecessary damage to your nail plate.

Using a soft gel, you can quickly soak them off using acetone. You or your nail tech will grab a bowl with acetone or soak cotton balls and wrap them with foil around your nails for several minutes. 

To learn the proper removal of gel nails check out “How to Remove Gel X Nails,” the steps are identical to removing gel-x nails. Doing this process softens the gel and allows for a seamless removal process.

For hard gel nails, your nail tech will clip or file much of the extension and nail art off first to make things easier. They typically remove 85% of the extension and then use the same acetone process they would use with soft gel afterward. 

Caring for your nails between extension sets

Caring for your nails between extensions is the best way to keep them healthy. You’ll want to constantly clip them to ensure you’re removing dead nails and allowing room for the healthier and stronger nails to grow in.

Get regular manicures to keep them looking nice, but take time between gel extensions to let your nail plate recover. To learn more check out “How to Heal Your Nails After Acrylics” because the same nail aftercare applies to gel nails.

Key takeaways on gel nail extensions

Gel extensions are all the rage, but if they’re right for you, it will come down to what you want your nails to look like. They’re sturdy, last for weeks, and allow you to lengthen your nails to your desired length. They’re safe for your nails if you care for them in between sets. 

If you’re interested in seeing how gel extensions work for you, call your favorite nail tech or nail salon and book an appointment to try these beautiful extensions.