Beauty Q&A: What Are Polygel Nail Extensions?

November 21, 2022
Ariel Wodarcyk
By: Ariel Wodarcyk | by L'Oréal
Image of nude polygel nails with glitter on a pastel background

If you’re someone who struggles with biting your nails (we don’t judge) or can’t stand a chipped manicure, artificial nail enhancements can be a game-changer. Acrylic nails and gel manicures last longer than regular manis and are a great way to help mitigate a nail-biting habit. But if you’re looking for another way to grow out your nails and make them appear longer for weeks at a time, polygel nails may be your new salon go-to. To find out what polygel nails are, how long they last and why they’re great for getting longer, stronger nails, we reached out to Gina Alcedo, celebrity manicurist and founder of Nailvana L.A., and Julie Kandalec, a celebrity manicurist in New York City. Keep reading to get the full scoop on polygel nails.

Editor’s Note: While we primarily refer to them as polygel nails in this article, they are also sometimes called acrygel nails, since Polygel is a brand owned by Nail Alliance. The terms are often used interchangeably in a salon.

What Are Polygel Nails?

“Polygel nail extensions are a nail enhancement that is more flexible and lightweight compared to acrylic but is harder than regular gel or Gel-X nails,” says Alcedo. “Polygel nails are great if you want long nails but have trouble growing your natural nails.” 

According to Kandalec, polygel comes in either a pot or a tube, which your nail tech will then mold to your nail using a brush dipped in an isopropyl alcohol solution and a nail form or nail tips. 

Nail forms come in sticker form or as clear plastic overlays that your nail tech will apply to your nail and use as a guide as they’re building the polygel nail. They will remove the form once the shape is molded. This is the most common method for applying polygel nails. Nail tips, however, are plastic overlays that are glued onto the nail and then trimmed and filed to create the desired shape and length. They are not removed at the end of the process. 

How Polygel Nails Are Applied

After going through the motions of a traditional manicure (pushing back and removing dead skin away from the cuticle) the nail tech will file the nail bed to remove any oils. After the initial prep, Alcedo says your artist will apply nail bed dehydrator to further remove any moisture or oils before painting on a nail primer and actually applying the polygel. 

Once the prep work is complete, a ball of polygel will be applied in the middle of your nail using a spatula. Then, your technician will begin to work and mold the ball of polygel to give you the shape and length that you desire, using a brush and isopropyl alcohol to spread the gel. If you want nails that are longer than your natural length, your nail tech will use a mold to sculpt the new length and shape. 

Alcedo explains that once your hand is done, it will be cured for 60 seconds under a UV light. Then, your technician will file away any rough edges to ensure a soft and smooth finish.

The process is similar to getting a regular gel manicure, with the option of making your nails look longer than they did when you started. 

How Long Do Polygel Nails Last?

You can expect your polygel nails to last up to four weeks if applied properly, Kandalec says, and depending on how fast your natural nails grow. Those with fast-growing nails (we’re jealous!) may need to get their polygel touched up even sooner. Four weeks is the maximum amount of time to wait — if you’re getting your nails filled in, try to stick to the two-to-three-week mark.

Should You Do Polygel Nails at Home?

If you’re considering DIY-ing your polygel nails at home, Kandalec cautions against it. “When it comes to the chemicals in gel and acrylic, I highly recommend going to a salon to a professional,” she says. “If you are a newbie and get it all over your cuticles, it can take a really long time to soak off, and it can also cause an allergic reaction if used improperly.” 

It’s essential to get the polygel ingredients on the nail, rather than on the skin, she says, and to achieve the proper ratio of gel to alcohol solution — which can be tricky to achieve for those of us who aren’t nail pros. 

If you love the look of longer nails but don’t have the time or budget to go to a salon, try press-on nails — you can find our favorite sets on Amazon here, plus tips from a celebrity manicurist on how to make them look as natural as possible here

How to Care for Polygel Nails

Kandalec says to keep your polygel nails hydrated with a cuticle oil on top of the nail and under the free edge — aka the part of the nail that extends past your fingertip. This will help keep the polygel from lifting and separating from your natural nails. We recommend the Essie Apricot Cuticle Oil, which you can massage into your cuticles twice a day to rehydrate them. You can also apply a hand cream multiple times a day to help retain moisture — this is especially key after washing your hands. Try the CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream, a gentle, fragrance-free option that nourishes dry skin. 

It’s also important to not pick at your polygel nails, Kandalec says, as picking can lift the gel and damage your natural nails underneath.

Similar to acrylic nails, you can get your polygel nails filled in at the regrowth — Kandalec recommends doing so every two to three weeks. This will “rebalance” the nails, so that the polygel enhancement isn’t just weighing on the tips of your nails. 

How to Remove Polygel Nails

Removal is pretty simple, and according to Alcedo can be done without a visit to the salon. “Cut the extension off and use a file to remove the remainder of the polygel on your nails,” she says. Only cut the part of the nail that is longer than your natural nail, or the free edge that extends past your fingertip. Soak your nails in acetone first to help loosen the polygel. Otherwise, polygel nails usually last about three weeks before needing some maintenance. If you’re extra concerned about nail health, however, it’s best to go to a salon — you may accidentally over-file your nails at home, which could cause your nails to peel or become damaged. 

Is Polygel Bad for Your Nails?

“I can't stress this enough — nail enhancements themselves don't damage your nails when applied and removed properly!” says Kandalec. Instead, the pro notes it’s improper application and removal that can hurt your natural nails. There are a surprising amount of factors that can go wrong when applying or removing polygel nails — they could be overfilled at the wrong angle, cured for too long underneath the UV lamp, cured under a too-strong UV lamp, or picked or peeled away during the removal process, says Kandalec. That’s why she strongly recommends visiting a salon to get your polygel nails done, instead of attempting to DIY your set yourself. 

If your nails do feel weakened after getting polygel nails, using a strengthening polish, like the Essie Hard to Resist Nail Strengthener Treatment, can help them grow back stronger in just three days. 


Essie Hard to Resist Nail Strengthener Treatment

How Much Do Polygel Nails Cost?

Polygel nails can range anywhere from $50 to $150 for a fresh set, with fill-ins ranging from $50 to $100. How much your polygel nails cost will depend on where you live and the salon you choose. Check out this guide to finding a great nail salon in your state, and make sure the salon you visit is safe by looking over this quick checklist

What's the Difference Between Polygel and Acrylic?

Polygel has a similar thick consistency to acrylic, says Kandalec, but unlike acrylic, it needs to cure underneath a lamp in order to harden, which makes it similar to getting a regular gel manicure. Also, acrylic is made by mixing acrylic powder and monomer (a bonding agent) together, whereas polygel is a thick gel that comes in a pot or a tube and is applied to your nail with a brush and a solution of isopropyl alcohol to help it glide on easily. 

What's the Difference Between Polygel and Dip Powder?

“Dip powder is layers of colored acrylic powder between layers of resin,” explains Kandelec. “The powder is sprinkled on the sticky layer of resin, or sometimes dipped into a jar of it — but it's not sanitary unless it's your own jar.” Dip powder is very durable, but Kandalec notes that it’s difficult to remove and not very strong, which means you can’t use it to mold a new mail length or shape, as you can with polygel.

Are Polygel Nails Right for You?

If you’re looking to grow out your natural nails with something that’s lightweight, flexible and longer-lasting than a traditional manicure, you might love polygel nails. Plus, if you try them now, you might be ahead of the curve, says Kandalec. The pro predicts the nail technique is going to continue to grow in popularity. “Acrygel is very durable and very hard. It's very, very popular in Russia and Ukraine and is a product that is really starting to become really popular in the States,” she says. 

Photo: @tainanrodriguess, Design: Juliana Campisi

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