Build it up |

5 mins

Build it up

With clients aiming for strong, natural nails, builder gel could quickly become your salon’s best friend. Lollie Hancock finds out what you need to know

If there’s one thing we’re sure of, it’s that builder gel is becoming increasingly popular, with no signs of slowing down. Clients are moving away from acrylic extensions in favour of lengthening and strengthening their natural nails, and they’re turning to builder gel to get the job done – but what exactly is the product and how do you use it?

What is builder gel?

Builder gel is a type of gel polish with a thicker consistency to help strengthen the natural nails. “Builder gel is a hard gel overlay,” explains nail tech Bryony Howell. Chances are, when coming across builder gels, you’ve seen it referred to as “BIAB” – but not all builder gels are BIAB. “BIAB is the trademark name, created by The Gel Bottle Inc, that stands for ‘Builder in a Bottle’,” explains Howell. Other popular builder gel formulas include Dalí Artistic’s Gro Gel, Glitterbels’ Brush On Builder Gel, Gelish’s Structure Gel, INK London’s SOBIAB and 2am London’s Build it Baby.

Who should be using builder gel?

“Using a builder gel is great for clients who are prone to nail breakage or nail biters,” explains Hadis Saleh, beauty therapist at salon chain Rawr. “Available in a range of colours, it has a thicker consistency, and is designed to suit all while promoting natural growth.”

The product can be used to tackle a number of nail concerns, as Grace Ricketts, owner of Birmingham salon OK Cure Me, explains. “We have many clients with all different types of nails ranging from nail biters, brittle nails, ridges and soft nails. For us, using Dalí Artistic’s Gro Gel provides clients with a strong protective overlay which allows nails to grow.”

For those who love a longer nail, Shian Paul, founder of Shian Nails in Dalston, London, reminds techs that “it can also be used to create length as an extension on the natural nail”, thanks to the thickness of the product.

One thing nail brands have ensured when creating their builder gel formulas is a diverse natural colour range, so there is a shade for all your clients, as Howell adds, “It comes in lots of gorgeous nude tones – there is one to suit every skin tone. And it makes the perfect base for a French manicure.”

Mastering application

While the process is similar to other gel systems in terms of curing, the thickness of builder gel means it can’t be applied the same way as regular gel, because any inconsistencies on the nail are more obvious. “This thicker formula allows time for you to apply the builder gel and pull it into place, creating a smoother finish,” explains Ricketts.

Paul adds, “When applying builder gel, you are using it to sculpt a nail, create an apex or smooth out any imperfection of the nail; then you refine the builder gel application by using a file or buffer. This will ensure you create a perfectly even and smooth builder gel manicure.”

Potential challenges

One of the only drawbacks mentioned by the nail techs we spoke to was time. Due to the nature of the application process and the thickness of the gel used, applying and soaking off builder gel can be more time-consuming than with normal gel because it can take longer to cure or break down when soaking off.

Howell reminds us that soaking off the products isn’t the only option because “builder gel can also be infilled which is less time-consuming”. Infills can extend treatment time as the nail tech works to prep the nail, but Ricketts adjusts her pricing to reflect this – and suggests you should too. “An infill again takes longer than a gel polish removal but time, along with other factors, should be considered when pricing out treatments and clients should be made aware of the longer appointment times.”

With conversations around clients developing allergies to builder gel becoming hot topics on TikTok and in nail tech forums, questions have been raised about the safety of the formulas. Paul explains how these allergies can develop, sharing, “Allergies can come from the use of any product, both builder gel and regular gel polish.


Avoiding allergies

Sensitivity to gel can happen in the application process if it is not applied correctly and it touches the skin surrounding the nail; also if you are not using the correct lamp to cure the product.”

Hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA), acrylates, methacrylate and solvents such as acetone or dyes are ingredients commonly found in gel polish and builder gel that can sometimes cause allergies. It’s a good idea to check with any new clients to see if they have ever had a reaction to gel polish before you begin the treatment, to help inform which products you use.

For Ricketts, nail health checks are key to keeping an eye on any abnormal reactions to product. “A client can become allergic to anything at any point – but there are triggers,” she explains.

“As a salon owner, it’s paramount that staff observe their clients’ nail health to eliminate risks of a reaction. We infill every two to three weeks and do a full removal after their second infill and restart with new overlays. If we haven’t seen a client for a really long time, we do a full removal and a nail health check.”


For Saleh, nail prep also plays a big part, as she shares, “The nail plate and cuticles must be correctly prepared prior to application to avoid any product lifting. When a product lifts it can cause product and bacteria to become trapped between the enhancement and the nail plate which may cause an adverse reaction.”

The techs’ top tips for working with builder gel

Saleh: “Allow the gel to settle before curing in the lamp. Builder gel is generally self-levelling, so allowing it to settle and turning the hand upside down for a few seconds ensures this process is carried out to create a smooth and even finish.”

Howell: “My number-one tip for working with builder gel would be to work with one nail at a time and cure in between nails. This ensures flawless application and saves time so you don’t have to refine after application.”

Paul: “Practice makes perfect. As with anything, the more you do builder gel manicures, the more you can perfect your skill.”

Ricketts: “Can I say two? Regular nail health checks, and use a fine brush to push and pull the builder gel into place.”

This article appears in May 2023

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May 2023
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