Nail Extensions Types – How to choose?

What is the difference between Acrylics, Hard Gel, Acrygel, BIAB, Express Nails, Dip Powder, Fiberglass and Silk?

There are a few different nail extensions you can get. The most popular are Acrylics, Hard Gel, Dip Powder, Acrygel/ Polygel, Express Nails/Gel-X, BIAB, Fiber Glass and Silk Wrap.

Maintenance of any nail extensions is recommended every 2 weeks due to the speed of the natural nail growth.

1. Acrylics

Liquid and Powder Enhancement

The acrylic system is the oldest and most popular way of extending nails in the UK. The system consists of acrylic powder and liquid also known as polymer and monomer. The nail tech dips the brush in the liquid followed by dipping it in the powder. This creates a bead of product that is used to build your nail. It dries up by itself and does not require a UV/LED lamp.

The nail extension can be built on top of forms (sculpting) or on a preshaped plastic nail tip.

The acrylic powder can be colourful hence the nail design can be done straight away with the acrylic.

The liquid part has a very strong specific odour, therefore, it is recommended to work with the system in well-ventilated salons. Hence it is usually not the chosen product by mobile nail technicians.

It is possible to get an odourless monomer, however, this changes the way it is used and a UV/ LED lamp is required in order to cure the product.

It is easy to spot nail extensions that are made with acrylic. The most popular designs would be ombre nails, french smile lines, marble, encapsulated glitter or transparent extensions. This is also a prefered product for building 3D shapes.

Typical acrylic artists create extremely long nails. The longer the nail – the thicker it needs to be. All encapsulation, 3D embellishments, deep french smile lines etc look good only on long nails because they require a certain thickness. The nail tech will not be able to do the same design on a short-medium nail because it will look bulky, there will not be enough space for the gradient blend, marble or the Swarovski crystals.

When creating a shorter extension, the artist may prefer to do a design with Gel Polish on top.

The acrylic in some salons is considered dangerous because it contains the chemical MMA (Methyl Methacrylate). Make sure that your nail technician uses regulated acrylic which contains EMA instead.

MMA acrylic cannot be soaked off with acetone. Regular acrylic can. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid the contact of acrylic with acetone and other solvents, as they can affect the shape and texture of the nail. Thus acrylic is not recommended for people who frequently come in contact with water, detergents and other chemicals.


  1. Available in most nail salons
  2. Durable
  3. Strong even when used to create extra-long nails
  4. A prefered system for people who are very heavy-handed
  5. Can be soaked off
  6. No UV/LED lamp needed
  7. Variety of Acrylic powder colours


  1. Strong odour
  2. Can be damaged by acetone/ chemicals
  3. Prone to allergic reactions
  4. Does not self-level
  5. You need to work fast as it dries while you apply it
  6. Hard to master the liquid to powder ratio
  7. Take 24 hours to completely cure.

To get a better sense of acrylic nail designs look at the work of Annabel Maginnis @nails_by_annabel_m, Liza Winter @lizaliwi, and Betany Stockell @b_stockell  Read more about acrylics here

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2. Hard Gel

hard gel vs acrylics

Hard Gel Extensions are the most popular type in Europe. The product comes in pots. The consistency of the gel resembles a very thick varnish. It is applied in a few layers which are cured under a UV/LED lamp. The application can be done on forms (sculpting) or on tips.

The curing can cause heat spikes.

The gel system allows for a more natural appearance. The extension is thinner and more flexible.

Hard Gel is a file off system so it cannot be dissolved by acetone. However, some brands offer ‘soak off’ gels.

Hard Gels can be colourful. Similar to acrylic, the gel can be used to encapsulate, to do gradient designs, french manicures,  marble etc.  However, most nail technicians who use Gel, to build the nails, then do a design on top using Gel Polish. This is a prefered method when the artist wants to do detailed artwork.


  1. No odour
  2. Flexibility and strength
  3. Less sensitivity to acetone and household chemicals
  4. Self-levelling
  5. Variety of colours to choose from


  1. UV/LED lamp is required
  2. Heat spikes can be felt while curing
  3. Removal is done only by filling
  4. Not suitable for extremely long nails and an active lifestyle
  5. Can come into contact with the skin and cause allergies
  6. You need to work fast as it may overflow the cuticle area and sidewalls
  7. few layers may be needed

Popular nail techs who use primarily hard gel are Merlin @merlin_nails, Celina Ryden @celinaryden and many Russian nail artists such as Viktoriia Legkova @viktorialegkova.

3. Acrygel

Also known as Polygel or Hybrid

what is acrygel nail extension types what is the difference

Acrygel is a new product and on-trend at the moment. It takes all advantages of Acrylics and Hard Gel nail extensions and combines them into one. It can be used to build nail extensions, strengthen your natural nails or fix a broken nail. It comes in a tube or pot and has a thick density.

Currently (beginning of 2020) not many brands offer this product and the ones that do not have a large variety of colours. This means that if the client wants another colour or design it has to be done on top with Gel Polish.

Nail extensions can be sculpted on forms, tips or using dual forms.

When opting in for dual forms, the product is applied inside the form and then pressed against the natural nail. It is cured under a UV/LED lamp and then the form is removed. It is a great way of building a nail fast but it is very limiting in terms of shape and structure.

When using tips or forms, the product is placed on the nail and moved around with a brush until the desired form is achieved. Then it is cured in the lamp. Usually, one scoop is enough to build the nail.


  1. Hypoallergenic
  2. Easy to work with
  3. No odour
  4. The dust produced when filling is heavier – does not fly in the air
  5. Reduces skin contact – limited overexposure
  6. Easy to file
  7. Does not harden until you cure it in the UV/LED lamp
  8. Light material
  9. Strong but flexible
  10. Doesn’t get damaged by acetone or household chemicals
  11. Natural-looking


  1. Does not soak off
  2. Currently, brands offer only a limited choice of colours
  3. Not as strong as Acrylic
  4. UV/LED lamp needed
  5. May produce heat spikes when curing
  6. Does not self-level

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4. Express Nails

Also known as Gel-X or Apres

Express nails are the fastest way to get nail extensions. The consists of a full coverage tip and gel. The gel is applied underneath the tip and pressed onto the nail. It is cured under UV/LED lamp.

It resembles the way you would stick on a press on a fake nail. However, it is more durable because instead of glue you use gel.

Some express nail forms such as Apres are more curved so when you apply it has an apex.

Apres Nails come only as transparent tips so if you want colour on top you need to get a Gel Polish manicure as well.


  1. Fast and Easy
  2. Pre-made shapes and lengths
  3. Easy to remove with acetone


  1. Does not last as long as the other systems
  2. Not as strong as the other systems
  3. Limited choice of shape and length
  4. It needs to be fit perfectly on the nail – no gaps or air bubbles
  5. Can be damaged by acetone and household cleaning products

5. BIAB ( Builder in a Bottle)

Also known as Biogel | Rubber Base | Builder Gel | Sculpting Base

biab vs gel polish

BIAB is a type of Hard Gel. However, it comes in a bottle and is with a thinner consistency. When building a long nail, the nail technician needs to build up an apex so that the nail is structured correctly and doesn’t break. Due to its thin nature, this is very time consuming to do with BIAB. Therefore, this product is used primarily as a natural nail overlay (to provide strength), as a means to secure a broken nail, correcting chipped corners or for short nail extensions.

It is applied in thin layers, each of which is cured under UV/LED lamp. The curing process may cause some temporary heat spikes.


  1. No odour
  2. Fast and easy to use
  3. Easy to remove
  4. Possibility to use it instead of Gel Polish base to improve durability


  1. Can not be used for building long extensions
  2. Requires UV/LED lamp
  3. Gives heat spikes when curing

Builder in a bottle comes in a transparent colour or natural/nude. Usually, the nail artist will apply gel polish colour and design on top of it.

6. Fiberglass

nail extension types what is the difference fiberglass nail extensions

Fiberglass is used together with Hard Gel. It gives the initial form that the gel is put on and it comes as strings.

It is used to create short-medium nail extensions which are durable and thin. They are usually natural looking and it is easy to pinch a C curve. This method has been around for many years but it is just starting to gain popularity now.

It is usually used to create square nails.


  1. Thin
  2. Natural-looking
  3. Durable
  4. Perfect for fixing a broken nail


  1. Hard to achieve the desired shape
  2. Mimics the growth of your natural nail – if the natural nail grows downwards the extension will do too
  3. Not suitable for building long nails
  4. Require Hard Gel or BIAB on top

7. Silk Wrap

silk fiberglass nail extensions

Silk is similar to fiberglass or if you have heard of the ‘teabag’ method of fixing a broken nail. It can be used to strengthen natural nails or provide additional length. The silk is glued on the nail with resin and then activated with a spray. Hard gel is applied on top to provide additional support.

This was a popular method for nail extensions in the 80s. However, nowadays not many salons offer this service.


  1. Provide strength to natural nails
  2. Thin and natural-looking


  1. Outdated
  2. Only used for short extensions or broken nail fixes.
  3. Require Hard Gel or BIAB on top
  4. Not suitable for an active lifestyle or if you frequently have your hands in water

In terms of design, the nail artist may choose to leave the hard gel look or apply gel polish colour and nail art on top.

8. Dip Powder

Also known as SNS nails

dip powder nail extensions

Dip Powder Nails, a popular brand is SNS, is a coating that can be used for short extensions. It is hard to build an apex and correct nail structure so it is more recommended as a natural nail overlay rather than creating nail extensions.

It is a system that consists of powder, resin and activator (some brands use gel).


  1. Quick to do
  2. Easy to apply
  3. Provides strength
  4. May not require the use of UV/LED lamp
  5. It May be suitable for you if you have allergic reactions to other nail products
  6. Easy to remove with acetone


  1. Multi-layers needed which may make the nail thick
  2. Not suitable for long nail extensions
  3. Lots of powder is wasted on each client
  4. Can only be used on top of tips or natural nails

The powders come in many colours so you can achieve a beautiful manicure without the need for Gel Polish or Nail Varnish. However, designs are impossible to do. The most you can achieve is a gradient between colours. If you decide to get a gel polish design on top you may find that your nails look a bit thick.


These were all popular nail extensions types. But how to choose which one to use on your nails?

Every artist has their personal preference. In order to get the best service, I suggest that you opt-in for the product that they master. If you are a fan of nail designs and detailed paintings, the extensions underneath the design do not matter. As an expert, I can make an educated guess on the system used but the ordinary person won’t be able to. You can be allergic to one product and not to the other. Some people’s nails hold Acrylic better while others have problems with it and prefer other methods. Experiment until you find a system that works for you.

If your nail technician masters all these options and you are unsure which one to go for here is my summary:

Get Acrylics if you are really into extreme nail lengths and encapsulated glitter. Best for long – extra long nails.

Get Hard Gel if you are looking for a lighter version and more natural-looking nails. Best for short – long nails.

Get Acrygel if you want to have the best of both worlds and are looking for a natural look or a Gel Polish Design. Best for short – long nails.

Get BIAB if you want to strengthen your natural nails but don’t want additional length.

Get Dip Powder if you are allergic to Gel Polish or you do not like the use of UV/LED lamp.

Get Fiberglass if you want medium square nails which are thin, durable and with a deep C curve.

Get Silk Wrap if you have a broken nail that needs to stay in place until your next appointment.

None of these systems is damaging to the nail when used correctly. Visit educated nail technicians who know how to take care of your natural nails. If you wish to remove the nail enhancements do so only by going to a professional.

Use cuticle oil at least twice a day and get regular nail appointments to maintain the beautiful look of your hands.