How builder gel saved my nails (and why I'll never get Shellac again)

Like, ever

Beauty Editor / July 27 2023

Am I a spoilt brat for admitting that getting my nails done feels more like a chore than a pamper sesh? Because that is unequivocally the truth. When you weigh the entire experience up, routinely having your nails done can be expensive, damaging to your nails, time consuming, boring and sometimes a little uncomfortable (have you ever had stubborn old gel polish scraped off you before? It can hurt).

Cool, so how about I just stop complaining and cease getting my nails done? Well, no because the trade-off of having a fresh mani that's been inspired by the latest celeb nail art is just too much fun to ever give up.

And besides, now that I've discovered builder gel, otherwise known as BIAB (or 'Builder In A Bottle', a type of gel created by The Gel Bottle), many of my mani woes have been taken care of. 

If you're entirely unfamiliar with this new-ish manicure, checkout our entire BIAB explainer

My complete builder gel manicure review...

The positives (there are many):

Well, considering my appointments have now extended from every 2-3 weeks to every 3-4 (maybe even five), I'm chuffed.

Although the manicure itself isn't exactly cheap (I've been paying the same as when I had SNS, between $75 to $80 each visit), I'm spending less overall as my appointments aren't as frequent. And for someone who doesn't love sitting in a nail salon every fortnight for an hour or more, I love that the application process is quicker and the time between visits has been extended.

As for the health of my nails, it's improved in leaps and bounds. Builder gel has a much thicker consistency than regular gel polish, so it's not exactly painted on (though it sits in a bottle with a brush) but rather blobbed and then shuffled across — you'll know exactly what I mean once you experience it. 

However, after being set with a UV lamp, those thicker blobs eventually settle to coat your nails in what I like to view as a shield of armour.

My nails, which were previously prone to breaks, have become noticeably stronger, longer and hardened since switching out from Shellac. On this factor alone, I'll unlikely ever return to my old method of gel manicures.

In my experience, my Shellac manicures would often begin to bubble and crack, sometimes after a week and a half, allowing water or air to get between the polish and the nail. This was where the damage would really kick in. Though when it comes to a builder gel manicure, that polish is sealed in tight, yet the overall wear is significantly more comfortable. 

In terms of the removal process, that gets another big tick. Builder gel has been designed to be soaked off (sans rigorous scraping, copious amounts of acetone and an electric buffer that looks like it came from your dad's toolbox). Once you've had your initial appointment, your follow-ups are just referred to as a "refresh". This is because the base clear coat has already been set, and each appointment that follows is simply to remove the top layer of colour, replacing it with a fresh update.

The negatives:

If you're after a specific colour or design, it pays to do a little due diligence prior to your appointment, whether that be via a phone call or an Instagram stalk.

Though the BIAB colour range is extensive (see here), builder gel is still a relatively new offering in Australia which means some salons might only be currently carrying a limited selection of shades.

The only other potential annoyance I'd flag is that this form of manicure mightn't be as readily available as other acrylic or gel offerings. For those who usually do walk-in appointments only (um 90 per cent of us), you might need to call and book well in advance. I waited almost five weeks before securing a spot at Mayfair Studios for my first appointment. Mind you, it was worth the wait. 

Are your manicures starting to do a little damage? Here's how to take better care of your nails...

Ruby is BEAUTYcrew's Beauty Editor. She is the CEO of nine global corporations. Just kidding. She does however, report on the latest beauty trends, celeb skin care lines (the wonderful, the so-so and the downright unnecessary). If you're ever at a lull in conversation with her, be sure to mention anything hormonal acne or Real Housewives and you'll be set for hours.