It seems like whenever I walk into a nail salon, there is yet another choice added to the list of available services. Recently, I became aware of the contentious Russian manicure, as well as the nail art trend known as dip powder nails and silk wrap nail extensions. However, nail art fans are particularly interested in one particular trend this summer, and that is the structured gel manicure.

On TikTok, the manicure method has millions of views, and there has been a steady spike in Google search traffic on structured gels, too. This is because people are seeking more information about the process, including the advantages, downsides, and cost of the procedure.

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What exactly is meant by the term “structured gel manicure”?

If you are familiar with the term “builder in a bottle” (BIAB), then you are also familiar with the term “structured gel manicure;” the only difference is in the branding. The same way that CND made Shellac a household name (it’s actually just a soft gel manicure using CND’s technique), The Gel Bottle has branded a builder in a bottle, also known as BIAB, which is a structural gel. Shellac is really a soft gel manicure utilising CND’s system. It’s called a service builder gel or BIAB at certain nail salons, a structural gel at others, and “plexi gel” by CND. In practice, though, it refers to the same thing: a gel manicure that is thick or extremely hard.

The purpose of a structured manicure is to enhance the natural beauty of the nail and, in certain situations, to lengthen it. According to famous manicurist and instructor Julie Kandalec of New York City, “to put it simply, a structural manicure entails using a building gel below the gel paint layer to create a more lasting and visually beautiful nail. According to the method’s proponents, “this technique focuses on making the centre of the nail (apex) thicker, resulting in a stronger and elegantly arched nail.” 

According to famous manicurist Laura Malarkey, a well-executed structured manicure will last the longest and look the finest. “They cause virtually zero damage to your natural nail and can actually help you grow your own nails long and strong, even if you are prone to breaking,” she explains.

There are many people that struggle with long nail growth and maintenance just like you. Or perhaps the ridges on your nails refuse to disappear despite your best efforts. Regardless of your predicament, a structured manicure is your best bet for getting the length and polish you desire. This method of nail care makes use of a thick gel foundation to level out and strengthen the nail for a flawless, long-lasting finish. That’s pretty amazing, right?

Ami Streets, a session manicurist based in London, explains that a structural gel manicure employs the application of a builder gel solution to provide a nail augmentation that is both extremely long-lasting and extremely robust. “Builder gel has a viscosity that is significantly higher than that of other gel-based products, which makes it possible to sculpt, shape, and extend the nail as desired.” If you use a structured gel on top of your natural nails, it will make them look fuller and result in a manicure that will last for a longer period of time. You may also add length to the tip of your nail by using a structural gel. This is another option. During this step, the gel is painted over a plastic nail tip, which results in the creation of a gel extension.

Because of its component profile, the structured gel polish goes on thick and has an appearance that is similar to that of rubber. According to Streets, “Structured gel polish typically contains a combination of ingredients such as oligomers and monomers (polymers that are found in acrylic nail formulas), and photo initiators [molecules that react to UV] allowing the substance to cure and set under UV or LED light.” “Structured gel polish is typically applied to the nails using a brush,” This thicker consistency will often give a longer wear period while simultaneously enhancing the strength and structure of the natural nail that lies underneath the coating.


Photo: Julie Kandalec

New York City-based celebrity manicurist and nail art expert Julie Kandalec. She started Julie K. Nail Academy, where she teaches business to other people in the nail industry.

In addition to her work with Nailing Hollywood, celebrity manicurist Laura Malarkey has partnered with the likes of Versace, Nike, and Sephora.

What exactly takes place during a manicure with structured gel?

Similar to obtaining a manicure with soft gel or Shellac paint, getting a manicure with structured gel involves shaping and moulding the gel a little bit more thanks to the thicker consistency of the gel. You first select your colour, and only after that do the preparation and application steps begin.

According to Streets, “Depending on the system or brand, a priming product is usually used to dehydrate [the nail] and create better adhesion for the base coat, which is applied and cured prior to the use of the building gel. The gel is applied starting at the base of the nail and working its way down the length from side to side in order to build and create structure.” According to Streets, the technique entails sculpting an apex, which is the highest section of the nail, in order to create balance and strength. This is necessary since the polish has an additional thickness. Sculpting is an art form, and this example demonstrates some artistry.

You also have the option of adding nail art to your structural gel. Particularly popular is the French manicure, which is done with structured gel polish.

How long does a manicure that is done using structured gel last?

Photo: Fresh Facials & Feet

You should expect a structured gel manicure to last for three weeks on average, but you may be able to extend its life to four weeks (I have). According to Streets, “the rate at which natural nail growth occurs will have an impact on the time between removals.” To get the best possible outcomes from your routine maintenance practice, I would suggest limiting the amount of time between sessions to no more than three weeks. The longevity is the primary advantage that comes with using a structured gel. Because it is applied in layers and has a substantial consistency, the gel will not peel or lift in the same manner that a softer gel may. One disadvantage, however, is that getting a structured gel manicure removed requires the assistance of an expert. This is significant since improper nail polish removal at home might cause harm to your fingernails and toenails. However, this does imply that you will be forced to participate in the gel cycle, which may be both time demanding and costly.

How much does it cost to get a manicure using structured gel?

The price of a structured manicure will always vary based on factors including the salon’s location, the skill of the manicurist, and the complexity of the design. However, according to Kandalec, the cost of a structured mani is around 40–50% more than that of a standard gel polish manicure. However, she does point out that the long-term savings make structured manicures more economical.

“Structured gel manicures are slightly more expensive than more traditional polish or other gel colour services offered in a salon,” notes Streets. “This is because structured gel manicures require a slightly higher quality gel.” “The application time for sculpting, enhancing, or extensions, in addition to the increased durability you can expect from this type of manicure, are reflected in the price,” In New York City, you should budget around $100 for the entire experience, but prices at individual salons might vary widely. It is possible for the price to increase if gel removal and art are included.

Are there any potential drawbacks to getting a manicure using structured gel?

Both the expense and the amount of time required to remove and reapply the coating might be prohibitive. In addition, if you want to stay away from nail lights and direct exposure to UV rays, this may not be the right service for you. However, according to Streets, a structured gel manicure is a wonderful idea if you’re looking for the greatest bang for your buck in terms of longevity and durability (for example, you’re going on a two week vacation and don’t want to have to worry about your nails), and it’s also a good idea if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck in terms of longevity and durability.

“Those who are looking for a service that will last for a long time and can add strength and support to nails that are weak and brittle should consider getting a structured gel manicure,” adds Streets. She is of the belief that using a building product on a consistent basis, such as a structured gel, can assist with the growth of the nails by supporting, fortifying, and strengthening the nails so that they can survive the effects of wear and strain. In practice, it serves the function of a shield that is placed on top of the natural nail. This assumes that you have a professional do the application and removal of your facial hair every three weeks. If the success of TikTok is any indication, it appears to be working for those who are willing to commit to the maintenance.

Types of Structured Manicures

“It gets its name from the type of gel used (structure gel),” Malarkey informs us, explaining the origin of the term “structured manicure.” Both soft structure gels (like the Aprés Soft Gel Builder, $25) and hard structure gels (like the Gelish Harmony Hard LED Clear Builder Gel, $20) require curing with an LED lamp. Malarkey clarifies, “The distinction is that soft gel can be soaked off with acetone, while hard gel must be filed off.” 

Photo: aprés

The majority of manicures have some sort of structure, and they tend to be either soft or rigid. “These are semi-hard gels that fall between soft and hard gels,” she explains. Since they are so tough, you only need to file off 90% of the surface before soaking off the last 10%. Acrygel is a type of gel with a hybrid structure. A hybrid gel and acrylic composition is used in this method, which is then patted into place with a particular slip solution and cured under a UV or LED lamp to produce a strong and long-lasting nail, as explained by Kandalec. 

Photo: Gel Nails

Kandalec claims that although artificial nails are made using powder (polymer) and liquid (monomer), they are still a form of structured manicure. “It creates a strong and durable base layer that can be shaped and buffed to perfection,” she explains.

What to anticipate from a Structured Manicure

The procedure and length of time required for a structured manicure might change depending on the structure gel used, the skill of the manicurist, and the client’s desired outcome (e.g., whether or not the client wants long nails and/or nail art). Kandalec advises following the manufacturer’s guidelines for base coats, lamp wattage, and cure periods while using structure gel, as there are so many varieties available nowadays. The following are the stages that should be taken during a basic structured manicure, whether you are doing it yourself or getting it done by a professional:

As with every manicure, the first step is to clean and prepare the nails. To make sure your nails are completely clean, remove any old polish, file them, push back the cuticles, buff the surface, and then wipe them off with an alcohol wipe. 

Base coat application is optional and will depend on the type of gel you select. The solution may be found in the instructions or with your nail technician. 

If you want a stronger and more defined form, Kandalec recommends using builder gel. “Apply the builder gel in thin, even layers to the centre of the nail, building up the apex to create a stronger and more defined shape,” she explains. Follow the manufacturer’s LED light curing directions for the gel.

Take off the sticky coating, if any: Some building gels, like ordinary gel polish, leave a sticky coating after they cure. These spots can be removed by using acetone or by filing them down. Kandalec explains, “We call this ‘top filing,'” meaning the highest priority submission. Before going on to the next step, make sure to clean any dust from the filing surface.

Once the building gel has hardened, it is time to apply the gel polish of your choice. Kandalec recommends applying two coats of gel polish and curing them separately under an LED light as directed.

Top coat should be used to protect your manicure from chipping and to increase the shine, as recommended by Kandalec.

Finally, to get the most polished appearance with your manicure, be sure to thoroughly moisturise your cuticles and hands. In order to moisturise your hands and prevent premature ageing on an often-ignored section of skin, we advise going for the Olive & June Cuticle Serum ($23) and the Supergoop Hand Screen Sunscreen SPF 40 ($38).

A manicure with a lot of structure will take some time. “The more structure gel is needed to create a strong nail, the longer your appointment may take,” Malarkey adds of clients with longer nails. “If you want to add nail art to your appointment, it will take a while.” 

The Removal Method

A structured manicure’s removal method is dependent on the gel used. Malarkey claims that acetone will remove soft gels because of their porous nature. Hybrid and hard gels, meanwhile, require a filing. Naturally, this has the potential to break nails, so extreme caution is required. This is why it’s important to have a professional nail tech remove your hard gels whenever feasible.

In Conclusion

The base coat of a structured manicure is often rather thick and serves to level out the nail bed. “Structure gel can be topped with any gel or lacquer polish or nail art,” explains Malarkey. “It typically comes in clear, pink, white, or nude colours; however, some manufacturers have gone above and beyond by providing a rainbow of options, so that you may not even [feel the need to] put any other colour on top.”

Structured manicures may not be available at every nail salon just yet, but that will change soon, according to Malarkey. She explains, “I personally offer structured gel manicures as my standard manicure service because I believe this is the best and healthiest way to provide a long-lasting and flawless manicure that also benefits my clients’ nails.” As an example, “my favourite structure gel is the Luminary Nail Systems Multi-Flex Gel ($14), which is a soft gel that flexes with the natural nail but doesn’t break or chip, and comes in a variety of colours.” If you want your manicure to last as long as possible while also making your nails appear longer and smoother, a structured manicure is the way to go.

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