How to Apply Gel Nail Extensions

Updated February 21, 2017

Gel nails give the beauty conscious another alternative in nail care. Gel overlays create a sturdy artificial nail bed -- and corresponding nail tip -- that can withstand everyday wear and tear, better than a natural nail. In addition to durability, gel overlays are sought for their natural looking appearance. Unlike acrylics and fibreglass covers that dry white, gel nails dry clear and glossy. The transparency of this gel has even inspired artists to embed art in the viscous material.

Prepare your fingernails for gel application. Brush an application of cuticle softener on each of your cuticles. Gently push the cuticles back from the nail bed with a cuticle pusher.

Sand down the nail bed using an electric nail file. This step is optional, but it's one way to make the nail gel bond better. If you opt to use this method, apply light pressure and glide the file across the nail bed. This will roughen it and remove any shine. Once all of your nails have been filed, wash your hands with soap and water, to remove all the dust and debris from your nails. Dry them thoroughly on a paper towel.

Coat your nails with one application of primer. Allow it to dry. Now begin to work -- one hand at a time.

Apply bonding gel to your nails -- one hand at a time -- in a cuticle to free-edge fashion. Expose those nails to ultraviolet (UV) light for two minutes; if you did not use an electric nail file. This is referred to as curing the nail, and it helps the base gel adhere better to the nail bed. Apply the base gel immediately if you used an electric nail file. Do not expose your cuticles to the gel.

Put your hand in the UV light dryer for 20 seconds, to set the base gel.

Repeat Steps 4 and 5 for your other hand: Then wrap nail forms around all ten fingertips.

Apply clear sculpting gel. Apply the thick gel -- as a large dot -- at the base of the nail. Use the back of your brush to flatten it out. Swipe the gel, with the tips of the brush, over the nail bed and free edge -- out to cover the nail form. Mold the gel to the desired shape of your extension. Hold the nails in the UV light for 20 seconds, to cure the first application of clear gel.

Apply a second coat of clear gel. Cure the second application for two minutes in UV light.

Soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol, and wipe down each nail to remove the sticky layer. Your nails will appear clear and glossy, with natural looking tips.


The process of curing or adhering the gel to the nail bed can sometimes cause a burning sensation. This can happen especially if the base layer of bonding gel is too thick. Soaking the nail in rubbing alcohol will calm the pain.

Things You'll Need

  • Cuticle softener
  • Nail forms
  • Clear gel
  • Base or builder gel
  • Cuticle pusher
  • Paper towel
  • Protein bonding gel
  • Nail primer
  • UV light nail dryer
  • Cotton balls
  • Nail brushes
  • Rubbing alcohol
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About the Author

Sarah McLeod began writing professionally for the federal government In 1999. In 2002 she was trained by Georgetown University's Oncology Chief to abstract medical records and has since contributed to Phase I through Phase IV research around the country. McLeod holds a Bachelor of Arts in human services from George Washington University and a Master of Science in health science from Touro University.