I’ve been sharing so much about builder gel recently because my love for it is truly going nowhere. It’s what’s on my nails pretty much all of the time! I sourced a bunch of your questions about it on instagram so this post will cover that + a compilation of other blog posts that you can refer to to learn more about builder gel. 

ALSO! I am releasing a brand new course that covers Builder Gel Application so you can learn exactly how to do this at home!

My new course will cover: 

  • A thorough presentation on the WHY behind my entire process

  • A thorough explanation of the products and processes I use and how they can effectively make your manicures last and grow your nails long & strong

  • Gel manicure demo with a builder gel base coat - how to get a perfect apex/build your base for a beautiful and strong mani

  • Please note: this course DOES NOT include manicure prep, gel manicure basics or my e-file manicure prep content. Check out My E-File Manicure Prep & Builder Gel Course for the e-file content and the Gel Manicure Course for more on gel manicures too! 

  • Read more about the course HERE!

Before I get into the questions, I want to share the different levels of gel to really understand what product is right for the state of your nails: 


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 Class: 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! 

Here are some other blog posts that will be helpful to reference in regards to my favorite gel products: 

My favorite gel products, polishes & processes + how to mix regular & gel polish 

What I'm shopping for & what I recommend from the Kokoist Sale! - UPDATED! 

How I'm Growing My Nails With Gel Polish! 

Let’s get into the Q&A!!

Q: What’s the difference between base gel & regular gel? 

A: You should always use a base gel before your color gel in order for the gel to have something to grip on to. If you only do the color, it may very easily lift off since there is not base!

Q: I love the Kokoist base gel but I have the hardest time getting it off. Any tips?

A: I have pretty much switched to only removing my gel with an e-file, and i swear by it!! It takes a little bit of learning but it’s so much faster and pain free, unlike soaking off with acetone! 

If you are still interested in going the acetone route, whenever I do this, I will file off my gel until theres only a thin layer left. So if you’re wearing a color, basically file it all the way off until you get to your base and then soak it off! Also, if you know you’re planning to soak off your gel, I would avoid any primers or bonding agents to make it easier for yourself. 

Q: How do I build an apex?

A: I like to do a slip layer and then a thicker bead of polish that I gently work side to side going down the nail, and then I use the brush to make sure everything is in place. This process is explained in FULL in my Builder Gel course ;)

Q: Can this be used with a peelable base coat?

A: I have used peel off base coats before with gel and they’re not my favorite for long lasting manicures. The base coat will eventually start to lift and your manicure will come with it. If you don’t mind this, then that’s ok, but in general, your adhesion will be pretty weak with this type of base coat.

Q: Is this the same thing as a gel manicure?

A: Not always. There are so many different names for gel manicures. In my mind/vocabulary, a gel manicure is a soft gel manicure (refer to the different levels of gel at the beginning of this post) and won’t give your nails too much strength. A manicure using builder gel is sometimes called a gel overlay or a structured manicure too. This uses a semi-hard or hard builder gel that gives your nails strength and makes them very hard and difficult to break. 

Q: How do you clean up pooled polish?

A: Always try to clean up pooled polish before you cure. Once you cure, it’ll be frozen in place. This is one thing I love about gel is that you can play around and get the polish exactly where you want it without worrying that it’ll dry and get goopy like regular polish does. It’ll only freeze in place once you put it under the lamp!

Q: How often do you re-do your base?

A: I typically re-do mine when they are grown out at the bottom, mostly because I make nail content and I like them to look freshly manicured if I can help it ;) But if you follow my process/method, your nails should last 2+ weeks and then you can re-do your base when you’re ready!

Q: Can builder gel be used alone? 

A: Short answer no. This is another case of things having multiple names, so make sure to read the labels/info of the product. The Kokoist x NT builder base gels that I recommend are a base gel, a builder gel, and a color all in one, so you could technically just use this product and then a top coat. I’ve not used a top coat a few times and it looks ok, but it won’t last as long or be as shiny as with a top coat. If you get a product that is just a builder gel, you will need to use a base gel and a top coat gel if you want it to last as long as possible! 

Q: My builder gel lifts and chips right away. What can I do?

A: This is one of my most frequently asked questions! I would suggest going through a few questions to troubleshoot:

- Are you prepping the nail fully? Not filing your tips too much? Removing all of the shine with a buffer? Dehydrating / cleansing fully with alcohol?

- Do you need a more adhesive base coat? Read THIS POST for more info on types of gel and how to know which gel is right for your nail type. 

- Are you building an apex properly? If you need help on this, make sure to check out my builder gel application tutorial!

- Are you curing the products fully? I always recommend using a lamp that is fully mirrored to cure the entire manicure. Check out my recommendations here.

- Are you using a top coat and capping your tips with each layer of polish? 

- Are you hydrating your nails/cuticles with cuticle oil & not using your nails as tools? 

Q: Which clear builder gel do you recommend? 

A: I’ve really only ever used the Kokoist x NT clear builder gel. This is a base gel & a builder gel, and instead of also being a color, it’s just clear! 

Q: When do you need to build an apex?

A: I suggest building an apex if your nails are a little longer than your finger tips / longer than them in general. The goal of building an apex is to give your nails a new strong stress area if your nails have some length. It also is a nice, healthy, plump look. My nail beds personally are very flat and straight, so when I add an apex, they just look plump and nice, in addition to having extra strength!

Q: When I try to build an apex, it’s sometimes uneven and lumpy. How do I fix this?

A: A few things! Make sure you’re using a user friendly gel. This is why I truly can’t speak highly enough about the Kokoist x NT builder base gels enough. They are self leveling, so they really smooth out nicely on their own without too much work required of you. Also, make sure you’re applying just the right amount of gel on your bead. If you don’t have enough, you might be smooshing around the gel to cover your nail but it’s not enough to truly settle in place so it's leaving gaps on your nails. Another thing I like to do is flip my finger over to let gravity pull the gel into the correct area of the apex and then flip it back over and cure! 

Q: Can I use builder gel purely as a strengthening tool and then use regular polish over the top?

A: YES! Read this blog post for all the details on this process:

Q: Best products for beginners? 

A: Here is what you’ll need to get started!!

If you have any other questions, please leave a comment or DM me on instagram so we can chat!!


  • Uvnailx Transform your nails with the lasting brilliance of UV Gel Nails and the convenience of Gel Nail Sticks.

  • Uvnailx Transform your nails with the lasting brilliance of UV Gel Nails and the convenience of Gel Nail Sticks.


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