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What Are Builder Gel Nails?

Consider this your cheat sheet to all things builder gel nail polish.
February 24, 2023

Between gel extensions, dip nails, acrylic nails and gel nail polish, there is no shortage of options when it comes to a long-lasting manicure. What you choose typically comes down to preference and most people tend to pick one type of nail enhancement and stick with it — that is  until something new and potentially better comes along. 

A trendy innovation for your manicure that is quickly gaining popularity is builder gel or BIAB — builder gel in a bottle. You can think of builder gel as a step up from normal gel nail polish. It’s a great option for growing out and strengthening your natural nails, and creating length with molds or nail enhancements with nail tips. If your curiosity is piqued, keep scrolling as we share everything you need to know about builder gel nails in case you want to upgrade your manicure for your next salon appointment.
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What Is Builder Gel?

Builder gel is a type of gel polish with a thick viscosity that is used to create length, thickness or strength on your natural nails or nail enhancements (i.e nails tips). Builder gel can be separated into two categories, builder gel or builder gel in a bottle (BIAB) and hard gel.

Typically, builder gel in a bottle is a thick gel that adds strength to the nails or nail enhancements and can be soaked off with acetone. Builder gel in a bottle is a softer gel, but it creates a much stronger overlay on the nails than traditional gel nail polish so it’s great for helping your natural nails grow. If you’re a nail-biter, it’s also a sound option to protect your nails because it’s too rigid to bite through.

Builder gel comes in different colors but clear, nude and light pink shades are the most common shades in comes in. Builder gel can be used like your average nail polish, or you can apply a layer to strengthen your nails (called an overlay) and top it off with a traditional gel or nail polish to add color or trendy nail art. It can also be used to create short gel extensions or as a glue to bond pre-shaped gel extensions to the natural nail.

Hard gel is another type of builder gel that typically comes in a pot and creates a rigid layer over the nail. It comes in many different colors and finishes. The biggest difference between builder gel in a bottle and hard gel is that the latter has to be filed off, it cannot be soaked off. Hard gel is similar to acrylic, it feels strong on the nail, though hard gel has more flexibility so it’s less likely to crack. 

A softer gel, like BIAB, is best for natural-looking nails and short extensions whereas hard gel is a better option for extra-long nail extensions because it adds more strength.

How Is Builder Gel Applied?

Builder gel application is different from traditional nail polish. The nails are cleaned, shaped and buffed to helps the base coat adhere to the nail, as with other nail applications. You’ll also want to clean up your cuticles before applying your builder gel. 

Typically, a bead of builder gel is applied and gently glided down the nail with the brush to build up the apex of your nail (the highest point on your nail bed) to add strength. While traditional nail polish is applied with long vertical strokes, builder gel goes on with small, horizontal strokes to build up the polish across the entire nail.

If you’re using hard gel in a pot, then a separate brush will be used to apply the gel to your nails.

Both builder gel in a bottle and hard gel are applied to the nail and cured with a UV nail lamp. UV nail lamps can emit UV rays that can damage the skin on your hands, just like a sunburn. To avoid this, apply an SPF 30 or greater, like the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Invisible UV Fluid, to your hands and fingers before your gel manicure. 

At the salon, expect builder gel to cost anywhere from $40 to $80+ depending on where you live, what salon you go to and what color, design and length you get. Builder gel nails can be achieved at home, but there is a learning curve to perfecting them. They require a bit more effort and skill than traditional gel polish because it’s not just painted on in vertical strokes — it’s swiped across the nail to build up the apex and add strength. If builder gel is applied incorrectly, it can result it thick, uneven and bumpy nail polish.

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Is Builder Gel or Acrylic Stronger? 

Builder gel may not feel as strong as acrylic nails but it has more flexibility. This means builder gel nails are less likely to break if you hit them on a hard surface. Acrylic and hard gel are a pretty even match in terms of strength, although hard gel has more flexibility so it’s less likely to crack. While it’s good to have strong nails, especially if you’re using nail extensions or tips, a polish with some flexibility is more durable to wear and tear and less damaging if you break a nail.

Is Builder Gel Better Than Acrylic?

Whether builder gel or acrylic is better is going to be entirely based on your personal preference. Builder gel in a bottle is less damaging to your natural nails than acrylic because it creates a thin coat on your nails that allows them to remain healthy and grow while you wear the polish. If you’re looking to grow and strengthen your natural nails, builder gel in a bottle is the best choice.

Hard gel can be damaging because it has to be filed off, which can cause serious trauma to your nails if it’s done incorrectly. Acrylic has the biggest potential of damaging natural nails based on its application with excess nail filing that can thin the natural nails and its rigid shell that can break your nails if you hit your hand on something. 

Builder gel, gel extensions, polygel, acrylic nails and any type of nail enhancement can be damaging if applied and removed incorrectly. Ultimately, the right technique is what will keep your natural nails in good condition and that comes down to finding the right nail tech with proper education. 


How Long Does Builder Gel Last?

Builder gel lasts about two to three weeks. Due to its strong, viscous texture, it’s less prone to lifting, like regular gel nail polish. Builder gel and hard gel can be filled so you don’t need a new set every time you get your nails done. A fill focuses on the outgrowth at the base of your nail, filling in the empty space with new builder gel to make your manicure look fresh.

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How Do You Remove Builder Gel?

Most builder gel in a bottle formulas can be soaked off with foil, acetone and cotton, just like your average gel polish. Hard gel nail polish must be filed off. Typically hard gel will come in a pot so that can help to differentiate between the two. Your BIAB nails can be removed at home whereas hard gel nails should be removed at the salon by a professional since they need to be filed off. If you know how to properly use an e-file (an electronic nail file) without damaging your natural nails, then you can carefully attempt to remove hard gel at home.

Next: 5 Tips to Make Your Press-On Nails Last for Weeks

Photo Credit: IG@/bymollyf, Photo Design: Sarah Duvivier

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