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  • Writer's pictureThe Shampoo Lounge

Builder Gel Is a Must-Try for the Mani Maximalists

What if we told you there's a product that can strengthen, lengthen, and accentuate your nails almost instantaneously? You might think it sounds too good to be true, like one of those highly-marketed magical supplements that never really work. In reality, though, we're talking about builder gel. And newsflash: It really does work.

If you're unfamiliar with builder gel, grab a snack and take a seat. We chatted with professional nail artists Sigourney Nuñez and Yvett G. Ahead, learn everything there is to know about builder gel, including tips on how to apply and remove it with ease.

What Is Builder Gel?

"Builder gel is a soft, soak-off gel that offers the strength of acrylic but the flexibility of gel," says Nuñez. "It can be used to add a protective overlay to natural nails or to add a little bit of length." It's also used to create structured 3D nail art accents, such as trendy dew drops, ridges, and waves.

What It's Used For

More specifically, builder gel is used as an alternative to heavy-duty acrylic, which can be quite difficult to remove. "It looks and feels like a thick viscosity gel polish but once put under a light, it cures and hardens, creating a strong coating on the nail," Nuñez explains. In addition to offering length and strength, Nuñez says that builder gel works like a charm to mend broken nails. It can also help with dips or ridges. "Builder gel can be used to perfect the natural nail and even out the surface," says Yvett G.

How It's Applied

Builder gel used to be solely available in little pots and had to be painted on with nail art brushes. But these days, most builder gels come in traditional polish bottles and can be used with the included classic brush or a finer brush, depending on your desired end look.

If your goal is all-over protection, Nuñez says the classic polish brush is a godsend. "Once the nails are prepped, apply a slip layer [a thin, uncured layer] to the nails before you start building an apex," Nuñez instructs. "The point of this step is to ensure you give your nails structure. This will help avoid any painful breaks and cracks. Once the structure and length are sculpted and cured, you can file the nails to your ideal shape. Clean them with isopropyl alcohol and continue with your coating of choice, whether it’s nail polish or gel."

Byrdie Tip

Looking for added length? Apply a nail tip or form and paint over it with builder gel to achieve your desired structure and length.

Builder Gel vs. Hard and Soft Gels

A key difference between hard gel and builder gel is the removal process. "Builder gel can be soaked off and removed using nail foils and acetone while hard gel must be filed down and does not soak off with acetone," Nuñez says. "They also differ in hardness and flexibility. Builder gel has a lot of give, which is perfect for natural nail overlays and short extensions." Conversely, hard gel is more durable.

Meanwhile, soft gel, in the traditional sense, refers to polish. "They're designed to have built-in color and create shine but are not designed to create length or add strength to the nail," Nuñez says. Builder gel, on the other hand, is all about physical enhancement, not just visual.

Builder Gel vs. Acrylic

Builder gel is a one-stop shop for longer, stronger nails. Acrylic, on the other hand, is a two-step process. "Acrylic requires the combination of a polymer powder and liquid monomer. Together, they make a very durable, hard, and sturdy nail enhancement, which is why it's perfect for creating length," Nuñez says. "The chemistry also allows this enhancement to air dry," so no UV curing is required. That said, Yvett G is quick to point out that acrylics are known for their fumes, whereas builder gel is odorless.


Even though builder gel is easier to remove than hard gel or acrylic, it still requires careful steps and at least 20 minutes for the acetone to soak through the various layers. "If removed incorrectly, you can unintentionally damage your natural nails," Nuñez warns. "So first and foremost, avoid scraping and peeling at all costs. And while you're at it, turn on a good show or your favorite playlist to help you get comfortable, as this requires a lot of patience."

For best results, Nuñez says to buff off the top coat of each nail until it's no longer shiny. Then, affix acetone-soaked cotton balls to each finger with a foil. Sit like this for 20 minutes, then unwrap your nails and check the builder gel beneath. If the gel is loose, use a twisting motion while removing the foil and cotton ball to fully wipe it away; if it isn't loose yet, let your nails soak for another five minutes. After removing the polish, buff your nails to remove any leftover remnants, then revitalize your cuticles and hands with oil and cream, respectively.

"Remember to be patient and gentle during the process to avoid damaging your natural nails," Nuñez reiterates. "If you encounter any difficulties like stubborn gel, you may need to repeat the process. Trust me, it's worth being patient versus ending up with weak and brittle nails."

The Final Takeaway

If your ultimate mani goal is to achieve longer, stronger nails in an instant, builder gel is worth considering. It's easy to apply, available in most salons, and a breeze to remove. Just keep in mind that, since builder gel is designed to make your nails feel strong and durable, once it's removed your nails may feel foreign. "Your nails can feel thin or bare when you remove it because they don't have that coating anymore," Nuñez explains. "It's like when you take off a thick, heavy jacket and suddenly feel lighter. So I would also recommend applying nail strengthener once you remove the builder gel."

We've get you ready for your beautiful nails! The Shampoo Lounge has been attending to an international and Indonesian clientele since 2012 so check out our our website and our TripAdvisor reviews! We can’t wait to have you in.

Article written by Rebecca Norris for Byrdie

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