I’ve been talking about builder gel and semi-hard gel on instagram A LOT recently because I’ve been using it to grow my nails and I’m quickly OBSESSED. I always knew that gel was magic to grow your nails long and add strength, but using it more consistently and perfecting my removal routine has been a game-changer for me! 

This blog post is going to cover what builder gel is, how I like to use it, and some info on my favorite products to use! I’m currently working on my next gel course, which will be like an intermediate to advanced level gel course which will cover builder gel, how to build your apex for soooo much strength, and how I like to e-file off my gel and “re-fill” my gel + e-file for cuticle prep! This is how i’ve been doing my nails and my client’s nails recently and it’s SO great. 


PS! So many people ask about my e-file! Here is my favorite one + my favorite bits!

I recommend that you read this post to understand what will be covered in MY NEW COURSE!! 

NEW COURSE all about E-file manicure prep and builder gel is now available if you want to learn EXACTLY how to do this process I'm outlining below!



Ok lets get into it…

What is builder gel & how does it compare to other types of gel? 

The builder gel I use is a semi-hard gel. But let’s back up and cover the basics of the types of the products to better understand what they are and how they work on you based on their strength! 

Level 1 - Nail Polish: this is the lowest level of strength. It’s a layer of color applied to your nails for looks but typically cannot give your nails much or any strength. 

Level 2 - Soft Gel: all soft gels are not created equally! There is hybrid gel polish and pure gel.

Hybrid gel polish - this is most gel that you see at salons unless they specify that they use pure gel (like a Japanese or Korean gel). Think of like OPI, Beetles, Shellac, etc. It’s gel polish that’s typically blended with another solvent or polish that helps it soak off easily/quickly. These typically don’t last as long as pure gel because it’s mixed with polish or an agent that literally helps it come off. This type of gel will give you some strength but it’s not as hard as pure gel or semi-hard gel, your nail will still feel flexible. 

Pure gel - this is the type of gel that I use and recommend, like Kokoist, my favorite gel brand! It’s literally pure gel, it’s not mixed with any other solvents to help it soak off. I also find that these products are more pigmented so you don’t need as many layers, and they’re easier to work with. They also last longer and give your nails more strength than hybrid gel polish but you can still soak them off. 

Level 3 - Semi Hard Gel: This level gives your nails a ton of strength, and this is where these base gels that I’ll be talking about fall under! This is a blend between hard gel and pure gel, but it can still be soaked off! You can use it to give your nails insane strength like you get with hard gel, and you can build nails (like nail extensions, if you want!). I’ll be using the terms builder and base gel and builder base gel interchangeably in this blog because I only use the Kokoist x Nail thoughts gels really, and they are both a builder, a base, and also a color ALL IN ONE!

Level 4 - Hard Gel: This is the strongest level of gel, and it cannot be soaked off, it can only be filed off. I personally don’t use hard gel because I find semi hard gel to be hard / strong enough for me! 

Level 5 - Dip/Acrylic: I haven’t used acrylic since nail school and I personally hate it. I found it really hard to use compared to gel and usually you get gel over the top of your acrylic anyways, so if you get the benefits of a hard product and all of the ease of gel, why not just use semi hard or pure gel?! Of course acrylics are good for people with SUPER long nails since they’re being built, but I’m only talking about doing this for natural nails and helping them grow in this post, so let’s just focus on that! 

So which level does builder gel fall into? Builder gel can either be semi-hard or hard. It’s used to build an apex on your nail (more on that below) or build a nail extension if you want to! I personally love the Kokoist base gels because you can use them like builder gels to build an apex and give your nails strength. I love this clear gel because it makes my nails soooo strong with just one coat. 

What is an apex? An apex is the curved stress area of your nail. Aesthetically, I think it gives you that true “plump” gel manicure look, but it’s also used to give your nails extra strength if they’re long so that they don’t break! In my new course, I’ll show you how to use these gels to build an apex on your nail. Make sure to sign up for my newsletter to be notified when the course is live! Photos below:

Ok now that we know our levels of strength, how do you know which product is right for you? Let’s get into a few scenarios, but first, here are some helpful links to start off with:

WEAK NAILS 101: If your nails are seriously weak and damaged and peeling (i’ve been there), read this post for some tips on how to get them healthy again. Gel CAN be used to help, but you need to get them a little bit under control first. 

GEL POLISH & MANICURES 101: I have a lot of followers who only like using regular polish but are interested in gel. This post tells you all about how and breaks down WHY IT’S NOT BAD FOR YOU! I actually credit gel 100% for growing my nails and keeping them strong. With regular polish, I have zero protection from the elements and from breaking or splitting them even if they’re feeling strong and they’re long. Gel gives me all of the protection I need and allows me to keep them growing without any breaks. 

Gel Manicure 1.0 Masterclass: Basic Gel Manicure Foundations, Application & Removal: I created this class for anyone who is interested in starting to do their own gel manicures at home, or anyone who already does gel, but wants to improve on their process and get a longer lasting, better looking gel mani at home! Click here to read all about the details of this class! So far, the results are incredible! 


If you have really weak or bendy nails, you should definitely read the post about to get them healthy. You might need to cut them short and let them be for a few weeks, but when you’re ready to start your gel manicures, I recommend using the Kokoist Megastick Basecoat! This is a level 2 soft gel, pure gel, base coat that gives your nails strength, but it also lets them flex a little bit. It’s best to use this base coat because your nails are able to flex a little bit while they’re gaining strength. If your base coat was semi hard or hard, it would have no flexibility at all, but your nail underneath would have a lot of flexibility, which can cause the gel to pop off because it’s not able to stick to your nails that well! I would suggest using this base coat for 2-3 months until your nails are feeling so strong and not as bendy or flexible, then you can move on to semi hard gels! 

If your nails are already pretty strong, still flexible, but not feeling so weak and bendy, you can work with semi-hard gel! This gel has some flexibility still, but so much strength that your nails will feel strong and won’t really bend or break at all with normal daily activity!!

Ok now lets get into products & the process! 

See all of my favorite gel products and process listed in detail here:

My new process that I’ve been doing lately is this:
*NOTE: I’ll be going over this process in detail in my new course!!! Are you signed up for my newsletter yet?! You’ll also get a special promo code once it launches :)

  • Remove existing gel with e-file leaving a thin layer of the base gel in tact
  • Use the e-file to remove cuticle from my nail
  • Nip cuticle
  • File & full surface of nail to even it out and make it smooth
  • Cleanse
  • Apply base gel and build an apex
  • Apply color or art with gel
  • Top coat with gel 

This process has been a GAME CHANGER in my nail routine recently. My nails have grown so much! Look how long they are!!! And they’re so strong. I’m hooked :D 


PS, use my code KARA10 from 10% off all of these products + everything at Kokoist! 

^strawberry lemonade!!! I LOVE IT!

Ok so I’ve hyped these up so much over the past few years and it’s for a good reason!! These base gels are:

  • A base gel & a color all in one (which means you can do 1 or 2 coats with just this product and then a top coat and then be done with your mani! SO FAST!) Think of these like how some nail polish has a built in base coat, like Olive & June or Essie gel couture! You can skip the base coat step and just do the color. These are the same! You can use one product that's your base coat & color in one :)
  • A builder gel (I’ve talked your ear off enough about this)
  • Now they come in so many new colors!!!!! 

There are now 12 new colors in addition to the 6 colors that came before this collection! Be sure to check out this post for all of my favorite get products in general! And now for the new bases:

Hard Candy: This is a BRIGHT red, but it’s sheer/jelly and it’s amazing!

Strawberry Lemonade: This one is IT! It’s my ideal hot pink. It’s sheer, it’s jelly, it’s EVERYTHING! 

Cotton Candy: This one is like strawberry milk’s hotter cousin. It’s milky hot pink. YUM! 

Milkshake: A true baby pink! 

Hazelnut Creamer: This one is like peachy base’s more opaque cousin! SO GOOD 

Cantaloupe: This one is also similar to peachy base… A little more peachy than Hazelnut! 

Mauve: A sheer, moody mauve!!

Iced Latte: A warm, peachy brown with a jelly consistency!! 

Nutmeg: A warm, rich, brown 

Mocha: A deeper almost cooler brown! 

Champagne: If peachy base had gold flecks in it, this would be it!! 

Rosé: A sheer, rosy pink with sparkles! 


Sheer rosy pink base with chunky rainbow colored glitter!

Shop Here!


Clear base polish with glowy golden chunky glitter 

Shop Here!



Warm peachy pink sheer base with golden shimmer

Shop Here!


Cool toned sheer pink base with rainbow shimmer

Shop Here!


Milky pink sister to Mochi Base. Sheer milky pink with rainbow shimmer

Shop Here!


Sheer neutral light brown polish

Shop Here!


Sheer peachy neutral pink base

Shop Here!


Peachy sheer polish. Like Peach Base but much more sheer! 

Shop Here!


Warm rosy pink sheer. Like your nails are blushing!

Shop Here!


Glassy barely there pink sheer polish. Almost like clear base with a drop of pink added! 

Shop Here!


Glassy sheer light lavender polish. With two coats, the purple would really pop!

Shop Here!


Sheer juicy baby blue polish! Would also pop with two coats. 

Shop Here!


My other faves from the OG collection: 

Peachy Base - My ALL TIME favorite base gel :) A sheer, peachy neutral

Strawberry Milk Base - A sheer, milky pink! 

Milky Base - Sheer, milky white!

Clear Builder Base (I JUST used this on a broken nail to fix the crack so I didn’t need to cut of my entire nail! I have a video about it HERE!

If you have any other questions or are confused about any thing regarding gel or the products or process or truly ANYTHING, leave a comment or put your questions here for me to clarify during my new course or future posts! 

Don’t forgot to use my code KARA10 and shop through my link if you pick any of these up! I can’t wait to see your nails!!

*Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning I get a small % of your sale, at no cost to you! This helps me support this blog and my life :) Thanks so much for using my links and codes and your support!!!


  • Where do I purchase the mag. Stick base coat?

    Kathleen Jones
  • Hi. Thank you for giving me privilage to leave my comment. I really like rubber gel nails and want to know that after smoothing the nail how and what to apply step buy step. Thank you.
    Queen Matsoara
  • Do I create Apex when I apply base and top gel? I want to know if I need to have structure in the first step and last step.

  • Do I create Apex when I apply base and top gel? I want to know if I need to have structure in the first step and last step.

  • Hey, so I’ve been using Luminary Soft gel on my nails, and everytime I use it, the gel starts lifting from the free edge. My nails are super short, and I feel like I’m doing all the necessary prep work I can think of, but they just keep lifting! Any recommendations would help.


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