Can You Do Your Own Gel Nail Extensions At Home?

I put myself to the test.

Someone filing their nails
Photo: Andrii Bicher/Getty Images

Pre-coronavirus pandemic, my bi-weekly trips to the nail salon were euphoric.

Even though my appointment would only last about an hour, it was a great excuse to not pay attention to my phone (or anything else for that matter), and instead, watch as my nail tech went through the satisfying motions of creating a perfectly polished gel manicure.

However, since COVID-19 hit, nail salons across the country were forced to closed. And while in some states they are slowly re-opening, in California, salons had to shut down for a second time, and are now prepping to provide outdoor services.

Although White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, M.D. previously told InStyle that getting a manicure is considered low risk, I still feel safer doing my nails at home where there's no risk. So, with the help of Amy Lin, founder of Sundays, and L.A.-based nail artist Brittany Boyce, I learned how to safely apply, and remove, gel polish at home a few months ago.

The only problem? The constant hand washing and handling of disinfectants were making my mid-length nails weak and brittle. I wanted to cut them all down and get a hard gel overlay, but that would mean a trip to the salon, which for the foreseeable future, is straight no for me, dawg.

I knew there had to be an at-home option somewhere, so I started browsing through Orly's website for a solution. That's when I was reminded of the magic that is Builder in a Bottle and knew I found exactly what I needed to get started.

Usually, I would have consulted with a nail artist to guide me through the process. But this time I wanted to see if the product and instructions were easy enough to successfully apply on my own — without the help of a professional.

But I won't spoil the result for you.

Read on to find out how it all went down in five steps.

VIDEO: The 10 Best Nail Polish Colors of Summer 2020

Step 1: Gathering My Tools

I received Orly's GelFX Builder In A Bottle Intro Kit as a press sample, which includes Builder In A Bottle, GelFX Nail Primer, GelFX Topcoat, two nail files, and a buffer — most of what I needed to get started.

The only other tools and products to make sure to have on hand are some rubbing alcohol, a nail clip, a cuticle pusher, cuticle oil, cotton balls, an LED/UV light to cure your gel polish, and Orly's Fast Forms, which are the real MVPs (more on that later).

You also want to ensure that you have a cover over whatever hard surface you're working on. I recommend layering a couple of sheets of paper towel over a placemat for easy clean-up.

A box of Orly GELFX nail polish kit

To shop: $100;

A small container of Orly quick and easy extensions

To shop: $15;

Step 2: Prepping My Nails

My nails were more or less bare by the time I was ready to start this new manicure adventure, so I didn't need to do much when it came to polish removal. However, whether you have on traditional lacquer or gel polish, make sure to completely remove everything from your nails before starting to apply for gel extensions.

Once I had a clean slate, I made the tough decision to completely cut my nails down (it was for the greater good), then applied some oil to my cuticles and pushed them back. I also made sure the sides of my nails were pristine by removing any hung nails and dead skin. Then, I lightly buffed my nail beds using the gray nail file from the kit.

Afterward, I poured 70% rubbing alcohol onto a cotton pad and wiped down my nail beds to remove any excess oil. I kept it close by for later.

Step 3: Creating the Extension

Now here's where you need to start paying attention.

After my nails had been prepped and cleansed, I opened up my box of Fast Forms. I made sure to find the correct size for each of my nails and laid them out in order before getting into the thick of things. Next, I applied the primer to each of my nails.

Once I was done, I grabbed Builder in a Bottle and applied it to the inside of the Fast Form, not my nail directly, making sure to use less product at the base of the form. If you spread on too much in that area, your cuticles will flood. When I was ready, I applied the Fast Form to its assigned nail and cured it under the LED/UV light for 30 seconds. Ironically, I got my lamp for a little under $30 on Amazon.

Once dried, I gently rocked and squeezed the forms to remove — then voila! But make sure to keep in mind that your extensions won't look flawless at first (mine sure didn't). You'll begin shaping them in the next step.

When I finished each hand, I applied two more coats of Builder in a Bottle to each nail, curing for 30 seconds in between.

Pro tip: It's a bit tedious, but for the best results, do one nail at a time. Depending on the size of my nails, I had to use my other fingers to hold down the Fast Form as it cured.

A SUNUV UV lamp for nails

To shop: $37;

Step 4: Cleansing, Shaping, and Filing

Remember when I said I kept my rubbing alcohol handy? To move on to the next step, I first needed to cleanse my nail to get rid of the tacky residue most gel products leave behind.

Like before, I poured some onto a cotton ball and wiped off the entire extension and the underside of the nail. Then I used a nail clip and file to mimic the same shape of my natural nails. But feel free to create whatever shape you prefer!

Once I was done, I gently buffed the extension, then cleansed it once more with the alcohol to prep for polish application.

Step 5: Gel Polish Application

With a fresh, clean slate, I started with one coat of the GelFX Basecoat, then cured my nails for 30 seconds.

While I normally aim for nude nails, this time I decided to follow up with two coats of Muy Caliente, a neon orange-red shade that I've recently fallen in love with. I cured it again for 30 seconds between each coat.

Next, I finished off with the top coat from the Builder in a Bottle kit and cured it for 120 seconds. Once my nails were out of the lamp, I gave them one final swipe of alcohol, and I was good to go.

Here's a little before and after for your viewing pleasure.

Someone's nails before and after an at home gel manicure

So the answer is yes, you can do your gel extensions at home — it's truly not as hard as you may think. But, if this is your first rodeo, you should carve out about two to two-and-a-half hours from start to finish so you do it right.

Trust me on this one: When it comes to doing your nails on your own, slow and steady wins the race — and gets the best manicure.

This is Winging It, where we're helping you master your favorite salon treatments and looks without having to leave the house.

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