Hardcore nails for hardcore people

Growing long nails can be pretty tough. I’ve read a lot of different techniques and approaches people swear by to help get talons. These range from using expensive nail strengthening techniques, the right file, avoiding any sort of house work, to changing your diet.

Now, I’ve tried none of these, apart from strengthening base coat treatments and such like, but I have found one particular approach that definitely does work so I’m going to throw my advice in the to mix, which is especially relevant to those of us out there who do housework and exercise and so forth.


Gel is possibly one of the most amazing things ever and has quite literally changed my life. And by gel I basically mean all products that require curing, or hardening, under a UV lamp. I’m going to tell you a bit of why I am such a fan of the stuff, if you’re wondering about similar sorts of things. You can read about how I do my nails here.

I got my first gel manicure and pedicure done a couple years ago now, specifically for going away on holiday (a winter sun holiday). After three weeks I was absolutely stunned. Still shiny, no chips… AMAZING! I’d been on beaches so I at least expected my toe nails to have dulled – but no!

My second gel manicure came 6 months later when I went on a long holiday to Canada, partly to attend a wedding, so of course I wanted my nails to look epic for the time I was there, with no effort on my part. I also wanted to give extensions a go as I had short nails (I don’t bite, they’re just very thin). This time I got tips done with a gel overlay. Again, they lasted perfectly for a full three weeks! I even painted over them to cover up the growth. At this point I knew I was on to something…

By now some of you are probably thinking, “yeah but gel manis are expensive, and getting it off is hell”. You’re not wrong, it’s not the easiest thing on the planet to get off, though you can still have it removed, if you’re patient, without ruining your nails too much – though of course to do it you need to file the nail bed a bit, so they won’t be gleaming when left bare.

Anyway, flash forward to my birthday later that year – the boy and his family get together and buy me everything I need to do my own gel manis (which I’ll write a list for in the post I write about how to do it), including three lovely shades of CND Shellac. They must have done their research!

At this point, as I’ve previously written about, I also discovered the wondrous world of nail art! Obviously gel manis aren’t conducive to experimenting every other day with new designs. But, it was from my scouring of YouTube videos that I slowly started to uncover something amazing…

…You can extend your nails using builder gel!

This is awesome for a few reasons:

  1. You don’t have to glue on tips, which whilst I’ve never had problems with them flicking off, I’m paranoid about that, and anyway the result you get is super strong, but still flexible.
  2. You’re more free to sculpt the nail the way you like it, and try interesting shapes, like stiletto and flare.
  3. Builder gel doesn’t soak off. Unlike your other gel polishes like CND shellac and Gelish, etc, once this is on, it ain’t coming off (short of filing it off). This means you can remove any polish on top of your nicely reinforced nails, and off you go to start a new design without the hassle of having to re-do the gel or fear or weakening it.
  4. Unlike acrylic you’re not dealing with overtly dangerous chemicals, and it’s a little less finicky. No mixing of liquids and powders, that will start to set whilst you’re still working it.

If you can’t be bothered with extensions, then you can still start using builder gel to reinforce your natural nail, and then fill them in as they grow out!

The thing that really changed my mind about whether or not I should do it, or could be bothered doing it, was two-fold really. Firstly, I can’t grow my nails out naturally, so even if I did decide to try and remove the gel once it had grown out, I didn’t think my natural nails would have a chance in hell anyway. Secondly, I saw a post on Pintrest (I will try to find it) that essentially said “gel is a way of life”. So it just kind of clicked from there, that if I put in a bit of effort, I could get what I wanted (a philosophy with which I’m not unfamiliar with).

I’ve been using gel on my nails now for a year and couldn’t be happier. Of course it does mean putting the effort in to do in an in-fill every 2-4 weeks, but that’s not too tough, and it now means I have beautiful long nails that I can try out all sorts of exciting different nail art designs on… and it’s SUPER CHEAP because I have the swag to do it myself.

And finally, just to boast about how strong gel nails are and to make the title of this post make a bit more sense: my lifestyle includes a lot of using my hands. From the not-so-hardcore daily punishment of typing (seeing as I have a desk job) to the more hardcore weightlifting and training that I do outdoors, often involving being in gravel and mud doing push-ups and suchlike.

SO, if you’ve got brittle nails and are looking for a way of helping them to grow out, or cheat and get longer nails anyway, then think about gel! They’re expensive to keep maintain if you rely on visits to the salon, but for a small financial investment (or drop hints to get as a gift) and a reasonable investment of time, you can do them yourself, and whether you opt for doing the soak-off variety of using the super hardcore builder gel, doing gel manis is a surefire way to get longer, stronger nails (albeit artificially).


I feel I should also just add a few notes of caution, though please don’t let this put you off from trying.

  • UV is what damages your skin out in the sun, and over-exposure can lead to skin cancer. Use the UV oven sensibly – i.e. don’t bake your hands in it – you can use sunscreen, though be careful to not get oil on the nail bed as this can lead to lifting (the gel coming away from the nail bed)
  • Given that the gel is long lasting, be super sure not to get gel in to or on infected skin, nail or cuticles, as you could be letting an infection fester away. Again, with careful application you should be avoiding getting gel on anything but your nail to avoid lifting anyway, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
  • The technique isn’t that tough to pick up, but be patient, do your research, and of course practice makes perfect.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Salon professionals get paid because they’re experts at what they do. If you want to be guaranteed amazing nails every time then they’re your gals and guys. I have the utmost respect for nail techs and the great job they do, BUT if you have no money but still want epic nails then you can still get good results yourself.