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A Deep Dive: Hard Gel

Hello hello! Welcome back! I hope you all are ready for another Deep Dive. This week we are talking about the elusive Hard Gel.

I’ll be completely honest with you, I barely knew what hard gel was before I went to nail school. Maybe it popped up as a new trend somewhere in my Pinterest feedback in 2014 as this brand new, healthier for your nails type of product. Heck, I even remember seeking out a nail salon in San Diego that claimed to provide hard gel nail services after feverishly YouTubing what it was and how it was applied. Now maybe it's because so much time has gone between that single nail service and today, but I genuinely can’t remember if this salon actually used hard gel or not! So when I read about and inevitably started to learn how to use hard gel in school, I felt like it was the first time I have ever seen or touched it before. But why?

Here’s the real kicker! Hard gel has been around almost as long as acrylic has. Acrylic nail systems were created in the 1970s and UV gel systems followed shortly in 1982. Unfortunately, UV gel systems did not take off because UV lamp manufacturers were not aligned with the nail industry and the wavelength of the emission light did not match the photoinitiators in the gels. They also had a tendency to yellow so they were pushed to the backburner while acrylic soared in popularity.

Ok, ok, but like....what IS hard gel?

Without further ado, hard gel is a type of nail enhancement product that has a gel consistency in various viscosities that requires a UV(or UV/LED) light to cure or harden the gel. It is similar in its chemical makeup to acrylic. It is made up of a shortened chain of monomers called oligomers.

Hard gel can be used to add length to a nail or as an overlay on top of the natural nail to add strength. You cannot remove hard gel with a solvent like acetone. It can only be filed off. That is how you know it is a TRUE hard gel. Hard gel has high abrasion resistance and durability. It is strong and flexible, but softer than acrylic.

It is extremely important to note that hard gel systems do NOT use a powder. If someone is marketing hard gel to you but applies a product that is not thick, sticky, and gel-like, then it is not hard gel and you are being bamboozled.

But why would you choose to use hard gel over acrylic?

Generally, unless specifically requested, I use hard gel on someone who has very flexible natural nails and wants to add length to their nails or wears their natural nails longer. Hard gel is more flexible than acrylic but is strong enough to endure the added length. It can move easier with the constant expansion and contraction of the natural nail, limiting the amount of possible lifting or chipping of the product.

Here’s how I apply a sculpted hard gel extension:

  1. Prep the nail using the Dry Prep technique.

  2. Apply forms to nails on both hands.

  3. Apply dehydrator and primer to all ten nails.

  4. Apply a thin base layer to all five nails on one hand. Cure. Repeat on other hand.

  5. Starting one finger at a time, create a thin tip in the desired length and shape of the nail on top of the form starting at the free edge. Cure. Repeat on one finger on the other hand while the first hand is in the lamp curing.

  6. Repeat one finger at a time until all ten nails have tips.

  7. Starting back on the first finger, scoop a big dollop of hard gel and, starting at the cuticle, float the blob down the nail to the free edge. Flip hand over and use gravity and a very gentle touch of your brush to float the gel into an apex. Flip back over and cure immediately.

  8. Repeat, one finger at a time, on the rest of the nails.

  9. Remove nail forms.

  10. Using 99% alcohol on a lint-free wipe, remove the sticky layer from the surface of all nails.

  11. Use an electric file to refine and de-bulk the nail.

  12. Use a hand file to finish-file and remove any file marks from the electric file, perfectly refining the nail shape.

  13. Dust off file dust with a nail brush and alcohol.

  14. Apply 2 coats of gel color of choice. Cure each layer.

  15. Apply your favorite top coat and cure.

  16. Cuticle oil up those babies and take pictures of your masterpiece!

I can go on and on about gel systems, so if you are curious and want to know more, please leave your questions in the comments and I’d love to dive even deeper!

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