[Updated] The ultimate guide to builder gel nail services

Published 23rd Nov 2022 by Lollie Hancock

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, aka GelsByBry. 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 Dali Artistic’s “Gro Gel”, Glitterbels’ “Brush On Builder Gel”, Gelish’s “Structure Gel”, INK London’s “SOBIAB” and Glossify’s “Naturabuild”.

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 Rawr.

“Available in a range of colours, it has a thicker consistency, and is designed to suit all whilst promoting natural growth.”

The product can be used to tackle a number of nail concerns, 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. Using Dali 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, reminded us 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 nails 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!”

How is application different to regular gel?

While the process is similar in terms of curing, the thickness of builder gel means it can’t be applied the same way as regular gel, as 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.

“When applying builder gel, you are using this gel to sculpt a nail, create an apex or smooth out any imperfection of the nail,” adds Paul.

“Then you refine then builder gel application by using a file or buffer, this will ensure you create a perfectly even and smooth builder gel manicure.”

How do you prep the nails for builder gel application?

Thorough nail prep is key to getting long-lasting results.

"To begin, the client should wash their hands, then they should be sanitised. File the nail, ensuring the free edge is completely smooth. If the builder gel is only being applied to the natural nail, file the free edges into the desired shape, ensuring all are the same length and shape," says Nippard.

"For cuticle work, lift and push back the proximal and lateral nail folds and remove the non-living tissue from the surface of the nail, ensuring there are no traces of cuticle skin left on the nail plate."

Nippard advises removing the shine from the surface of the nail using a 180-grit file, ensuring you only touch each part of the nail once.

"Then thoroughly clean and sanitise the surface of the nail, ensuring there is no dust or cuticle debris around the edges of the cuticle area and side walls." The cleaner the nail the less chance there is of lifting...

Are there any drawbacks to builder gel? 

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, as “[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 – something you should do too. 

“An infill again takes longer than a gel polish removal but time along with other things are considered when pricing out treatments and clients are made aware of the longer appointment times.”

Click here for our guide to pricing nail services.

Can clients develop allergies to builder gel?

With conversations around clients developing allergies to builder gel becoming hot topics on TikTok and in nail tech forums, it raises questions about the safety of using builder gels.

Paul explains how these allergies can develop, sharing that, “Allergies can come from the use of any product, both builder gel and regular gel polish.

“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.”

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 always a good idea to check with any new clients to see if they have reactions to gel polish before to help inform which products you use with them. 

For Ricketts, nail health checks are key to keeping an eye on any abnormal reactions.

“Chemistry was never my strong point at school. That being said, a client can become allergic to anything at any point - but there are triggers,” explains Ricketts.

“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, “Correct nail prep is of extreme importance when applying any nail enhancement.

“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.”

Top tips for working with builder gel 

The techs all shared their top tip for working with the formulas to ensure the best results.


Hadis 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 ensure a smooth and even finish.


Bryony 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).


Shian Paul

Practice makes perfect! As with anything the more you do a builder gel manicure the more you can perfect your skill.


Grace Ricketts

Can I say two? Regular nail health checks and use a fine brush to push and pull the builder gel into place!


What do you think about builder gel? Let us know in the comments...

Lollie Hancock

Lollie Hancock

Published 23rd Nov 2022

Lollie Hancock is a content writer at Professional Beauty. She creates content for the website, magazine and social media channels. Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

Have all the latest news delivered to your inbox

You must be a member to save and like images from the gallery.