A Request & A Tutorial

Warning! Long post!

Ok, as many of you know I have recently chopped my nails down to nubbins due to having to type on high-rise keyboards at school. Well, today my hubby tells me he wished I hadn't cut them down before Valentine's Day. To be honest I hadn't even thought about it, I just cut them off kind of spur of the moment like. So I tell him, I could use natural style tips and some gel and have longer nails in about an hour or so. His eyes lit up...so I did gel nails.

A while ago, I had a request for a tutorial (sorry don't remember who exactly it was and I'm too lazy to go through 3 months of emails) but no request for subject matter so I figured why not do it on this since I was going to do them anyway. I feel the need to clarify again that I am not a manicurist nor do I have plans to be one. I do nails for fun! I occasionally do gels for my mother and for special occasions, my older daughters. I had a set of gel nails done once last year. It cost me $50 (well $100 because I paid for mom's too). The lady told us that we'd have to come back in 2 weeks for a fill and that it cost $35. So when she did mine, I paid really good attention to how she did them. After I got home I did some research on the web and ordered some supplies. By the time 2 weeks was up I had everything I needed to do it myself. It cost me roughly $130 to order everything (UV light, builder gel, brushes, tips, etc.), I have done my mother nails about 10 times now - some fills, some completely from the beginning (as well as mine numerous times). So I figured I saved us about $1000 so far not having to go to a salon. I am about 1/3 of the way through my jar of builder gel and my mother still insists the ones I do for her last longer than the professionally done ones. Which kind of makes sense, if you come in more often they get more money.

Okay so on to the tutorial....

First, here's what I used. I have only tried IBD gels as they were the ones the manicurist used on us and they are the non-soak off ones...meaning these are highly resistant to all kinds of nail polish removers (have to file them down to "break" the seal to get them off). So I can paint my nails however I want and they don't breakdown with removal. A big bonus for me! I bought more IBD products than our manicurist used (probably why mine stay on longer). I use the following: IBD Dehydrator Nail Prep, Natural Nail Primer, Bonder, Clear Building Gel, Cleanser Plus, and Lavender Cuticle Oil. I also have IBD Intense Seal (didn't use this time) for when I want a glass-like finish.

I use them pretty much in the order listed. The first step for me is to do some maintenance. Remove polish (if wearing any), cuticle care (they are about to be punished) - apply cuticle remover, push cuticles back, etc.

Then, using a fine grain nail file, I lightly rough up the nail bed - this helps with gel and tip adhesion. When we had this professionally done, she used a Coarse grade one. I find this to be unnecessary a fine grain works just fine and does far less damage to the nail bed.

Next, if you are going to use tips, you need to select tip sizes. I do this for each nail all at the same time. It's way harder to select them once you're wearing some.

Then it's time to glue them on. I start applying from the pinky to the thumb, I just find it easier. This takes about 10-15 seconds per nail - be careful not to leave bubbles or glue your skin to your nail! Yes, I've done that....more than you'd think. LOL. I used IBD brush-on nail glue mostly because I found it on sale at Sally's and it works well. I also apply a small amount of glue to the edge of the tip, I think this helps with durability as well as blending (we'll get to blending in a bit).

At this point you have some serious claws going on! I asked the hubby if I should keep them like this since he wanted me to have long nails...the look on his face was priceless! LMAO

So now onto the shortening. I use a pair of false nail slicers because they don't crack the tips like using normal nail clippers can. I leave them a little longer than I actually want them and use a file for the rest. You can always file more off but you can't put it back once it's gone. I use a coarse grade file for the bulk of the length filing, then follow it up with the medium one.

I then use that same medium grain file to begin blending the tip with my real nail. The point is to basically file down that edge and make it more unnoticeable. I then proceed to go back over my blending with a fine grain to help smooth it out some before applying the gel. This is probably not necessary but I like the way it looks more than when I don't.

Brush off any remaining file particles and nail dust. Then I wash my hands with soap and water, then dry them completely on a clean, soft towel.

It's time to start with the gel process.

The first step for me is to use a cotton ball and apply the IBD Dehydrator Nail Prep. This dehydrates the nail (but won't crack the tip) to allow better adhesion of gel as well as acts as an anti-fungal and antibacterial sanitizer, thus helping to prevent any nasty nail infections. I actually use this twice (better safe than sorry right?), once before tips are applied and during this step.

I next apply IBD Natural Nail Primer, honestly I'm not sure how critical this step is but it didn't cost that much and it sounded important. I don't actually know what it does other than "prepares the nail for maximum adhesion." Our nail tech didn't use this on us, perhaps this is why the ones I do stay on so well. I "cook" this under the UV light for about 30 seconds. Before setting under UV light be sure you have removed any from your skin with acetone or it will set on your skin and become hard.

I then use IBD Bonder which, "is odorless and gentler to the natural nail than primer" and totally not necessary to use with the primer - one or the other probably suffices. I choose to use one coat of each, again maybe this is why they stay on so well. Again, be sure you have removed any from your skin with acetone or it will set on your skin and become hard under the UV light. I also do 30 seconds under the light with this one.

Now for the actual gel application...

When my mother and I had ours done, one of our biggest complaints was how THICK they turned out. I couldn't pick up anything, not even open the rubber cap blocking the port for my phone charger...VERY frustrating. So, with that in mind I don't do big, thick layers like our professional did (probably to speed the process along). I start with one very thin coat, clean up around the cuticles, and then fire under the UV for about 1 minute. I hear/read that you really only need 30 seconds to set it but I figure what's another 30.

Repeat gel coat, clean up, fire. Repeat again. I used 3 thin coats of gel, sometimes I need 4 or 5 but usually 3 covers and isn't too thick. For the last firing I use the 3 minutes setting on my UV light, just to be sure everything is "cooked."

After this last firing, there is a sticky coating (I mean REALLY sticky) which is what helps the different gel layers bond to the next. We remove it now with the IBD Cleanser Plus. I use a cotton makeup remover pad because it sheds less fuzz that a cotton ball and this stuff blows through paper towels after the 3rd or 4th nail.

The nails are shiny but slightly uneven and need to be filed smooth. I use the medium grain file, followed by the fine, to reduce the damage to the cuticles and because I don't find the coarse necessary. Our manicurist used a coarse file on ours and all of my cuticles were raw and half were bleeding when she was done. This was the point I was convinced I needed to do this at home!

Now after this stage, if you have any dips that are too low to file out or just want a shiny finish, you can use another coat of bonder/primer and another thin layer of gel - or the IBD Intense Seal for the glass like finish. Again 30 seconds under the UV light for bonder/primer, and 2-3 for gel or seal. I choose to go with the more "natural" look and after filing them smooth just headed onto cuticle care.

I trimmed off any torn cuticle (I wasn't as careful as I should have been). Then I apply the IBD Lavender Cuticle Oil and use the UV light to warm it up on my cuticles (about 5 minutes). I have found that this soothes the sting of raw or torn cuticles as well as helps lessen redness and begin the repair/healing. Any cuticle oil will probably work. I do love me some lavender though!

So now they are finished and ready to go or to paint or whatever your preference is. Here's a few shots of the finished product.

This took me about an hour and twenty minutes from start to finish, including stopping to take pictures. I can do this much faster on someone else because I can do the opposite hand when one is under the UV light. Mom's take me about 40 minutes for a complete set and about 15-20 for a fill.

Hope you enjoyed my first (and probably last - until I get a video camera) tutorial!

Much Love, The Dragon Lady


  1. Awesome tutorial! Super helpful. Sometimes it's nice to have nails longer than i can naturally grow them & this is a great alternative!

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