Nail Extensions: To Gel or Not to Gel?

Do you know any girls with envy-inducing nails? While some people are blessed with long and strong natural nails, there’s a good chance they’re rocking nail extensions, like many celebrities on red carpets and reality shows. But aside from how polished nail extensions can make your hands look, they come at a cost.

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I’ve never had really great nails. They’re weak, bendy and usually break before they achieve any kind of length. So before I headed to a friend’s recent wedding, I decided to try out nail extensions, AKA acrylic or gel nails. There are slight differences between the different types, but essentially, they’re all just artificial tips attached to your natural nail. They’re also supposed to last for a couple weeks at minimum, which is better than a normal manicure.

The Process

After managing to squeeze into an evening time slot without an appointment at my local salon, it was time to get down to business. My previous shellac manicures have taken about 45 minutes but with all the additional steps, I was there for at least 90 minutes.

Step 1

The manicurist trimmed my nails short and buffed them down.

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Step 2

Large plastic nails were chosen to fit the size of my nail, glued on with a gel to the tip of my nail, and cut and filed down to my desired shape and length. These don’t even look that long but for someone with fragile nails, this was quite a change.

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Step 3

A couple layers of gel were painted on my nail and cured by UV light to even out the surface where the fake nail was attached. After that, the shiny surface was buffed down.

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Step 4

After the nail extension application was complete, we continued with a regular shellac manicure: one base coat, two coats of polish and one top coat, all cured with UV light.

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After I walked out of the salon after parting with $90 including tip, I couldn’t stop looking at my hands. They felt and looked so elegant. But as I reached into my bag for my house keys and the tips of my nail caught on something, tugging my nail beds uncomfortably, I knew I was in for a long couple weeks and almost wanted to turn around and head back to the salon to get them removed.

It took time to get used to these new talons. Pulling up zippers and doing up buttons became a chore, as did typing on my computer and phone. And as someone who writes for her day job, these nails weren’t ideal. Every time my nail caught on something, it hurt a bit. And they just didn’t feel natural – like the tips of my fingers were always numb to sensations.

The Removal

After less than two weeks of wear, I decided it was time to get them removed as a big chip had developed that snagged my hair when I washed it. I was excited to get my normal nails back but was dreading the removal because gel nails don’t soak off with acetone like other nail treatments, meaning they’re removed with sheer brute force.

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The manicurist started by trimming off the tip, then used a small electric drill to file down the thick layers, then resorted to manually clipping and prying off the remainder with cutters and files. It was a hateful process and I was fearful she was going to rip off my nails. When everything was removed, I was dismayed at the state of my nails. (I’d taken pictures but accidentally deleted them – probably for the better as they looked terrible). They were rough, splintery and paper thin and she cut them super short as they would have broken if they were any longer anyway.

After a quick coat of nail strengthener, I was on my way. Unlike my first trip home from the salon after the gel manicure, I didn’t admire my hands. My nails looked stubby and shabby and felt bare. But when I reached into my bag for my keys and grabbed them with full dexterity and without any snags, I was definitely happy to have my old nails back.

Final Thoughts

I almost see nail extensions as a bit of a status symbol. They’re not cheap and require big chunks of time to get them applied and maintained, meaning you’re probably someone who has an excess of both. And because they make everyday tasks difficult, from putting on makeup to cooking and chores, they’re not practical for people who need to accomplish a lot with their hands.

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Yes, they look beautiful and elongate your fingers, give you a confidence boost from compliments and having picture-perfect nails 24/7, but they’re also impractical for daily tasks, expensive and result in nail damage that I’ll be paying for until my nails grow out in a couple months.

While I’m glad I had the experience, I personally wouldn’t get them again unless it were for extraordinary circumstances.

What’s your experience with nail extensions? Would you get them?

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