This Nail Extension System Is the Perfect Non-Damaging Alternative to Acrylics

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These Nail Extensions Are the Perfect Non-Damaging Alternative to Acrylics
Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images

After over a year of doing my own manicures at home (which I eventually gave up on), I was relieved to finally be sitting in Julie Kandalec's private nail studio Julie K Nail Artelier in Manhattan in late May.

Not only was it refreshing to be in such a gorgeous space for a manicure, but knowing that my beat up nails would look just as good in about two hours was a feeling I can't even begin to describe.

During "the before" days — you know, back when I took manicures for granted — I had tried nearly every nail system in the books, including acrylics. And while they're great for creating hard extensions, the damage they caused to my natural nails eventually turned me off of the whole process entirely. So, I opted to grow my own nails out and just get bi-weekly gel manis instead, which I did for years. Then COVID hit.

Although I have a curing system and plenty of gel polish at home, the increased hand-washing and use of heavy disinfectants left my polish constantly peeling, with the nails underneath feeling dry and rough. Eventually, I just decided to cut my nails down, put on a couple coats of OPI's Nail Envy, and call it a day.

But after I was vaccinated and my girl Moderna had her two weeks to marinate, I got introduced to CND's Plexigel nail enhancement system and I was ready to give gel and nail extensions another go.

"CND Plexigel is a semi-hard gel which means it is significantly more durable than soft gel," Kandalec explains. "Designed to be a multi-problem solver for flat, brittle, or torn nails, Plexigel is a flexible, yet tough, coating that glides on to plump, lengthen, or repair a multitude of nail issues. It also protects the natural nail underneath the enhancement."

Now, I know a lot of brands promise no damage to the natural nail, but in this case it is absolutely true.

Plexigel typically lasts around three weeks, and a little after that mark, the overlay on my pinky nail popped off as I was getting dressed. Much to my surprise, my natural nail still looked perfectly healthy and the free edge didn't break off or feel weak.

Acrylics could never.

Here, I chatted more with Kandalec to find out everything you need to know about CND's latest nail system that you'll definitely want to try out this summer.

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How does it CND's Plexigel system differ from acrylics?

Acrylic is a cousin of gel, consisting of a liquid (monomer) plus a powder (polymer). When combined in the proper ratio — approximately 1:1 or 1:1.5 — they harden on their own. Gel is an oligomer — in short, a different kind of molecule and requires the aid of UV to cure. Polymers also have a high molecular weight than oligomers, which explains why they feel heavier on the nail than gel. Because of its strength and durability, CND Plexigel is able to be sculpted out to add length as well, where soft gel can only add a minimal amount of length, if any at all. CND Plexigel is one clean and simple step, all-in-one convenient bottle that also shortens application time.

I was actually surprised how easy the application was. Let's break down the process.

After manicuring the nails, prep with 99% isopropyl alcohol. The Plexigel Bonder cures under the CND lamp for 10 seconds, then each layer or bead of Plexigel thereafter is 60 seconds.

There are a few nail extension systems that are sold for at-home use. Why is it important to still go to a professional for services like CND's Plexigel?

Seeing a trained professional is always a good idea for nail enhancement services. Doing gel, dip, and acrylic at home can easily cause overexposure, which may lead to allergic reactions. How does never getting your nails done again sound? It can happen when too much monomer or gel gets on the skin and the person doesn't know how to properly clean it.

CND Plexigel
My nails with CND Plexigel and some nail art. Courtesy

How much does this service generally cost in salons?

This varies greatly based on skill, region, demand, or several other factors. Expect it to be at least two times as much as your standard polish manicure.

These nails typically last around three weeks, what is the removal process like?

Gels that are hard and semi-hard need to be removed by a professional. First, the enhancement is gently filed down to about 15% to 20% of its thickness, avoiding filing the natural nail. The rest is soaked off by saturating a small piece of cotton in Offly Fast Moisturizing Remover and wrapped in foil. After about 15 minutes, the remainder will flake away, leaving behind a healthy nail. A great reminder is to never peel your nails off. Peeling an enhancement off takes layers of your natural nail plate with it, which in turn makes it even harder for the next coating to adhere to the nail.

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