Gel Nail Extensions – How to Apply Gel Nails Properly

Gel nail extensions is rapidly increasing in popularity with new and improved mixes coming onto the market constantly. There are several different types of Gel but they all require a UV lamp to cure it. (This is also known as polymerisation) there are three main types of gel these are.

  • Hard Gel        (which has to be removed by filing)
  • Soak of Gel   (which is removed in acetone)
  • Gel Polish     (which is applied like a nail polish, and is also removed with acetone)

Some of the advantages of using a gel system are:-

  • Easy to apply
  • Low odour
  • More flexible, it is a gentler system acrylic.
  • Natural looking
  • Permanent high shine & gloss.

And some of the disadvantages are:-

  • Gels aren’t as strong or hard wearing as acrylic
  • Not as easy to repair as other systems if they crack or break
  • A complete cure is necessary for each nail
  • Some Gels create a heat sensation on curing under a UV light know as an exothermic reaction

All gel systems will have there own guide lines as to how the product should be applied, even thought the technique explained below is a generic one, please make sure you follow the manufactures guild lines for optimum results from the product.

  1. Complete full client consultation
  2. Sanities yours and your clients hands checking for contraindications
  3. Follow the preparation procedure (Please see our PREP Blog for a step by step guide, this is a very important part of the nail application, and should be done before any of the nail systems are applied)
  4. If the nails are being extended apply tips cut to length, shape and blend.
  5. Apply primer
  6. Pick up small bead of clear gel and place it in the centre of the nail, work it up over the free edge and down to the cuticle area in small circular motions, covering the whole nail, being sure to leave a clear margin around the sidewalls and cuticle. Complete this on four fingers of one hand (you can do 2 at a time if you prefer) curing the nails under the UV lamp as you go, when the four fingers have been done on each hand, apply to the thumbs and cure, at this stage all fingers will have a base of clear gel.

*HINT* Even though the gel is set and hard after curing, it will have a sticky residue,  DO NOT be tempted to wipe over the nail at this stage as this stickiness will give a better adhesion to the next layer of gel.

If your client wants a natural gel nail (no white tip) these following steps still apply, and you still work in 3 zones, the only difference being is you will be using a pink/clear gel in zone 1 instead of a white.

French manicure nail

Using a white gel (you can use a sculptor gel which is slightly thicker) pick up a small bead and apply to the free edge (zone 1) working it into the smile line in small circular motions, even the bead out to the sides of the nail and up and over the free edge to cap it, wipe your brush on a clean lint free wipe that has been moistened with a cleanse solution and remove any gel excess, and now sweep your brush to create your smile line, if you need to apply more product to even it out and prevent shadowing do this now, and try to get you smiles lines nice and even before you cure the nail. (Apply this to 2-4 nails at a time and cure). Repeat on the thumbs.

*HINT* Most gel lamps have built in timers, and the curing time for the nails is 2 minutes, if you are using an LED lamp this is a significantly shorter cure time as the light is more intense. Always follow the manufactures guild lines when using your gel product, as the curing times can be different, and make sure your UV lamp has the British standard flag of approval and has been PAT tested. (Portable Appliance testing, find out more in our Health and Safety Blog)

  1. Clean your brush and pick up a bead of pink/clear gel and place behind the smile line (zone2), this is the stress area and apex of the nail and provides the strength to the extension so it is very important that you get this bit right.   Gently work this onto the nail and pull a small amount up over the white, leaving the bulk in the stress area for strength and shape, and then work the bead down to the cuticle area, remembering to leave a clear margin around the cuticle and side wall (this only needs to be 1mm but its essential that it is there otherwise product will touch the skin causing lifting, also don’t try and stretch this second bead out to much as you need the bulk of it for the apex behind the smile line).

Now add a smaller bead to zone 3 and LIGHTLY pull it up the nail, at this stage you can get you client to turn her hand upside down, this is what is called self leveling and will pull the product to the apex area. Clean the margin around the cuticle and side walls with a clean brush if necessary and cure the nails under the lamp (again doing 2-4 at a time, followed by the thumbs).

*HINT*  Once this stage is complete have a look at the nail from all directions and if you notice any areas that need more product, apply some, it takes a while to get it right in 3 zones, so there is no harm in touching up and perfecting each nail as you go.

  1. Wipe any residue off the nails once set, and if you need to lightly buff over with a white block or 180 grit file to even out any lumps or un-even surface do it now, don’t apply to much pressure as you’ll file right through the white gel, this step is purely to give the nails an even finish. Shape and file in the side walls, then brush of any dust and wipe with a gel cleanser.
  2. Apply a top coat of finish clear gel, and cure. (2-4 nails at a time and then thumbs) Finish with a final wipe and massage nail oil around the cuticle.

Every client should be given an after-care advice leaflet, so it is an idea to devise your own list and hand them out after the treatment, this way your client can not blame you for not informing them if something is to go wrong with her nails. The advice you have given is written in black and white. Here are some for you to be going on with. 


  • Inform you of any allergic reactions straight away. And if she needs repairs on the nails to let you know before hand so you can allow sufficient time to repair them in her appointment.
  • Leave 2-3 weeks before maintenance appointments.
  • Always use a non-acetone polish remover and always use a base coat if applying colour to prevent discolouration and top coat to prolong and protect the polish.
  • Make follow up appointment before leaving to avoid disappointment.
  • Wear rubber gloves when using strong detergents and bleach.
  • Use a cuticle oil/cream daily to condition the enhancement and nail underneath.
  • Use a good hand cream.
  • Treat your nails as ‘Jewels not tools’.

These are the basic and if your client follows these steps then she will return with lovely looking extensions and healthy natural nails for many years to come.

Next Step Beauty College are a private training school offering gel nail extension course in over 40 locations nationwide. For more details call the nail college or contact us here