What Are Soft Gel Nails? Learn All About It Here!

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What is a soft gel manicure?

Soft gel nails have recently gained popularity in the world of nails, offering a healthier alternative to traditional acrylics. 

Happy cheerful female in casual t-shirt with natural makeup and blonde hair posing flaunting her white soft gel nails

This innovation in nail care allows for a more comfortable, long-lasting, and seamless look that’s sure to turn heads.

In this guide, we’ll define what soft gel for nails are, discuss how to apply and remove them, and share tips about their care and maintenance. Let’s dive in!

Fast Facts

  • Soft gel nails are a healthier alternative to acrylics.
  • Different soft gel products exist: gel polish, builder gel, and extensions.
  • Soft gel nails protect the natural nails while offering the desired strength and length to your manicure.

The Basics of Soft Gel

Soft gel nails are a popular choice for those who love the look and feel of gel manicures. They are flexible, easy to maintain, and can be a healthier option for your natural nails. 

Soft gel nails are primarily made from a flexible and resilient gel-based substance, usually a polymer resin, that provides both durability and flexibility. 

These gels are cured or hardened using UV or LED light. But what makes soft gel great is that it can easily be soaked off with acetone. 

Knowing About Different Soft Gel Products

Soft gel doesn’t refer to one particular product.

Instead, it is an umbrella term for three of the most popular nail enhancement methods out there:

What Is Soft Gel Nail Polish?

Soft gel polish is your regular gel polish. It is basically just a long-lasting nail color, a step up from the traditional nail lacquer. 

For this reason, it provides an easy-to-manage option for at-home or salon manicures.

What Are Soft Gel Extensions?

Soft gel nail extensions, called soft gel tips or soft gel press-on nails, are pre-shaped nail tips made entirely from gel. The most popular of these is Gel-X from Aprés. 

These extensions cover the entire nail, similar to press-ons. They are simple to apply and can be easily removed when you’re ready for a fresh set. 

Soft gel extensions last about two to three weeks, depending on your nail growth and how well you care for them.

What Is Soft Gel Builder?

There’s also builder gel, a soft gel that can extend the length of your natural nails and add strength. 

Unlike soft gel extensions, builder gel is not pre-shaped and requires a skilled nail technician to sculpt the nails into the desired shape.

A woman's hands with pink and beige nails on a wooden table.

Advantages of Soft Gel Nails

Soft gel nails offer numerous benefits, making them popular for many people seeking a manicure. 


When you opt for soft gels, you’ll appreciate their durability and long-lasting finish, which means your gel mani remains chip-free for weeks.


One significant advantage of soft gel nails is their flexibility. Unlike hard gels or acrylics, soft gels are more forgiving regarding daily wear and tear. 

They can bend and flex with your natural nails, reducing the chances of your nails breaking but also helping protect your nail bed from damage.


Moreover, soft gels feel lighter on the nails, contributing to a more comfortable and natural sensation for the wearer.

Quick To Dry

When it comes to curing, soft gels require a UV or LED light, which means they dry quickly, setting your manicure in place in just a matter of minutes. 

This fast-drying process ensures that your nails are ready to go without any risk of smudging or accidentally ruining your freshly applied polish.

Disadvantages of Soft Gel Nails

Although soft gel nails have many benefits, there are some drawbacks that you should consider before getting them. 

Requires Acetone for Removal

One disadvantage is the removal process. While soft gels are generally easier to remove than other types of artificial nails, they still require soaking in an acetone solution. 

This process can be time-consuming and dehydrating to your natural nails.

Quick Tip

Always apply cuticle oil after acetone removal to bring back moisture to your nails.


When it comes to cost, soft gel nails can be more costly than traditional nail polish. 

Since they require professional application and maintenance, you should visit a salon more often to keep them looking fresh. 

Be prepared to invest more in soft gel nails than other manicure options.

African american woman in protective mask files nails with electric device to smiling asian lady client in studio interior

Emits a Strong Odor

Another downside is the potential presence of a strong odor during the application process. 

While not all soft gel products have a noticeable smell, some can emit a strong chemical odor that might be unpleasant for some people. 

Choose a well-ventilated salon or ask for low-odor gel products when getting your nails done.

Soft Gel vs. Hard Gel vs. Acrylic Nails

Nail salons often offer soft gel alongside other nail enhancements like hard gel and acrylics. They can be confusing if you do not know how they differ. 

Here’s a table of their characteristics for quick reference: 

FactorsSoft Gel NailsHard Gel NailsAcrylic Nails
Curing MethodCured with UV/LED LampCured with UV/LED LampCured by air
CustomizationPolish: does not add length
Extensions and builder gel: can add limited length
Can add extreme lengthCan add extreme length
AllergiesRareRareMore likely
Natural FeelYesNoNo

Soft Gel

Soft gels are perfect to give your natural nails extra strength without adding too much bulk. Additionally, they can be used for overlays and extensions. 

Soft gel extensions use lightweight and flexible tips to give your nails extra length, while soft gel overlays add a protective layer to your existing nails.

Hard Gel

Hard gel nails, conversely, are a more rigid form of gel. They are stronger and more durable than soft gels, making them ideal for creating long-lasting nail extensions and intricate shapes. 

Hard gels offer more versatility than soft gels for nail designs, as they can be sculpted and shaped more easily. 

However, they may feel less natural than soft gel nails due to their rigidity.


Acrylic nails are a completely different type of nail enhancement, made from a combination of polymer powder and liquid monomer. 

When these two components are mixed and applied to your nails, they form a hard, durable, and long-lasting enhancement. 

Acrylic nails are highly customizable and can be used to create various nail shapes and styles. 

However, they may be more prone to causing allergies, especially if you have sensitive skin, and may feel heavier and less flexible than both soft and hard gel nails.

How To Apply Soft Gel Polish

You can’t go wrong with soft gel polish for easy DIY nails. Here’s how you do it:

What You’ll Need

  • Soft gel polish kit (includes base coat, gel polish, and top coat)
  • UV or LED lamp
  • Nail file
  • Cuticle pusher
  • Alcohol wipes
A woman is getting her nails done at a nail salon.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Prep the natural nails. Start with clean, dry nails. Push back the cuticles, trim the nails, and shape them as desired. Lightly buff the surface of the natural nails to create a smooth base.
  1. Buff your nails gently to remove any shine and create a rough surface for the gel to adhere to.
  1. Apply a thin layer of base coat to your nails and cure them under the UV or LED lamp according to the kit instructions.
  1. Apply a thin layer of soft gel polish to your nails, making sure to cover the entire surface. Cure your nails under the lamp according to the kit instructions.
  1. Repeat step 4 until you have achieved the desired opacity and color.
  1. Apply a thin layer of top coat to your nails and cure them under the lamp for the final time.
  1. Use an alcohol wipe to remove any sticky residue left on your nails.

This video can serve as your guide as you do it on your own:

How To Apply Soft Gel Nail Extensions

Soft gel nail extensions are a great way to add length and strength to your nails. With the right tools and techniques, you can easily do them at home.

What You’ll Need

  • Nail trimmer
  • Nail dehydrator
  • Nail primer
  • Gel base
  • UV or LED nail lamp
  • Soft gel nail tips
  • E-file or primer
  • Nail gel glue
  • Cuticle oil or moisturizer
  • Alcohol
  • Lint-free wipes
  • Nail cleanser
  • Nail File (100 grit)
  • Gel top coat (optional)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Prep the natural nails. Start with clean, dry nails. Push back the cuticles, trim the nails, and shape them as desired. Lightly buff the surface of the natural nails to create a smooth base.
  2. Use a nail dehydrator to remove any moisture from your nails.
  3. Apply two coats of nail primer to your nails; this helps the gel products adhere better.
  4. Apply a thin coat of gel base to your entire nail; ensure it’s not too thick.
  5. Cure the gel base under a UV or LED nail lamp for 60 seconds.
  6. Select soft gel nail tips that fit your nails from side wall to side wall.
  7. Etch the underside of the soft gel nail tip with an e-file or chemically etch it with primer.
  8. Use nail gel glue that has a thicker consistency to adhere the soft gel tip to your nail.
  9. Apply a thin layer of glue to the etched area of the soft gel tip.
  10. Press the soft gel tip down at the cuticle area and hold it firmly; ensure the gel does not go too far past the free edge to avoid contact with the skin.
  11. Cure the tip under your nail lamp for about 5 to 15 seconds to secure it; fully cure the soft gel tip in a full-size lamp for the recommended time.
  12. Apply a gel top coat to the free edge of the tip to prevent lint from sticking to the tacky layer left by the nail gel glue (optional).
  13. Examine all areas to make sure the gel fully covers everything.
  14. Cure the gel top coat in your nail lamp for 60 seconds.
  15. Use a lint-free wipe and nail cleanser to remove any residues left.

Here’s a tutorial video you can watch for guidance:

How To Apply Soft Builder Gel

Applying soft builder gel and making your own extensions might seem cumbersome. But with proper knowledge and technique, you can do it by yourself. 

What You’ll Need

  • Nail trimmer
  • Paper forms
  • Builder gel
  • UV or LED lamp
  • Nail file (100-grit)
  • Cuticle oil or moisturizer
  • Alcohol
Master manicurist in beauty salon increases nails by lengthening client nail plate with acrylic or gel female client nail.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Prep the natural nails. Start with clean, dry nails. Push back the cuticles, trim the nails, and shape them as desired. Lightly buff the surface of the natural nails to create a smooth base.
  1. Take a paper form and peel it off from the sticker. Save the small tab at the end.
  1. Turn the paper form and the tab around so that the sticky sides face each other.
  2. Attach the form to your nail, aligning the middle of your nail with the middle line on the form. 
  1. Squeeze the sides of the form to secure it. You can leave the form slightly open for a square shape or squeeze it more for a stiletto shape.
  1. Apply the builder gel to your nail using a floating technique, meaning the gel should not touch your skin. Start at the center of your nail and build out the gel.
  1. Use a UV or LED lamp to cure the gel on your nail according to the gel’s instructions. This process usually takes around 60 seconds.
  1. Squeeze the tips of the form and gently remove it from your nail. If there’s any excess gel, you can file it away later.
  1. Use a 100-grit nail file to shape your nails to your desired style, whether square, coffin, or another shape.
  1. Apply a top coat. Cure it under the UV or LED lamp as well.
  1. Clean the nails with alcohol to remove any sticky residue.
  1. Apply cuticle oil or moisturizer to keep your nails and cuticles healthy.

Here’s a detailed video for your reference:

Maintenance and Care of Soft Gel Nails

Tips for Maintaining Soft Gel Nails

Following a proper maintenance routine is essential to keep your soft gel nails looking great.

Although soft gel nails are known to be durable, they can last even longer if you take good care of them. 

  • Regularly moisturize your hands and nails with a high-quality hand cream. This will help keep them looking healthy and strong.
  • Protect your nails from everyday wear and tear. For instance, wear gloves when doing household chores or washing dishes.
  • Avoid using your nails as tools, like opening cans or peeling stickers. Doing so can cause unwanted stress on your nails, leading to potential damage.

Tips for Longevity and Damage Prevention

To maximize the lifespan of your soft gel nails and minimize potential damage, follow these expert tips:

  • Choose a reputable nail salon as skilled manicurists can apply the soft correctly.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to water as this can weaken the bond between the soft gel and your natural nail.
  • Pat your hands dry after washing them, and consider applying a coat of clear nail polish for additional protection.
  • Consider getting a fill-in every two to three weeks to prevent your natural nail from showing through.

How To Remove Soft Gel

What You’ll Need

To remove soft gel nails, you will need the following items:

  • Pure acetone
  • Warm water
  • Nail file (240 grit or higher)
  • Cotton pads
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cuticle stick

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Submerge the pure acetone bottle in a bowl of warm water.
  2. Gently buff the gel nail’s surface with a file to break the gel seal.
  3. Soak cotton pads in the warmed acetone.
  4. Place a soaked cotton pad on each nail.
  5. Secure each nail by wrapping it with aluminum foil to hold the cotton pad in place.
  6. Let the nails soak for approximately ten minutes, letting the acetone soften the gel.
  7. After ten minutes, gently unwrap one nail and use a cuticle stick to encourage gel removal. Rewrap if necessary.
  8. Perform this process for each nail individually.
  9. After removing most of the gel, gently file any remaining gel using a 240-grit or higher file.
  10. Clean your nails with soap and water and apply cuticle oil or cream to maintain nail health.

Check out this video to see how it’s done:

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Soft Gel Overlay?

A soft gel overlay is a nail enhancement technique where a thin coat of builder gel is applied over the natural nail to create a durable protective layer.

The gel overlay is designed to provide extra strength and support to the natural nail while enhancing its appearance.

In short, when doing a gel overlay, you use a builder gel as if it were regular gel polish.

Here is a helpful tutorial video for gel overlay: 

Can I Swim in Chlorinated Pools or Saltwater With Soft Gel Nails Without Damaging Them?

Yes, you can swim in chlorinated pools or salt water with soft gel nails without causing significant damage to them. 

Soft gel nails are known for their durability and flexibility, making them suitable for various activities, including swimming. 

However, it is essential to care for your nails properly after swimming by rinsing them with fresh water and using a good-quality moisturizer to keep them in top condition.

What Should I Consider When Selecting Nail Art Designs for Soft Gel Nails?

When selecting nail art designs for soft gel nails, consider the following factors:

  1. Your style: Choose a design that reflects your personality and complements your overall look.
  2. Color coordination: Select colors that go well together and match your outfit, accessories, or makeup.
  3. Event or occasion: Opt for a design that suits the event or occasion you’re attending, such as a wedding, party, or professional setting.
  4. Nail shape: Choose a design that complements your nails’ shape, whether short or long, round or square.
  5. Trends: Stay up-to-date with nail art trends for inspiration, but ensure the design still reflects your style.

Consult your nail technician about your preferences and what would work best for your soft gel nails. They can guide you in finding the perfect design for you.

A woman's hand holding pink and white manicured nails on a pink background.

Opt for Soft Gel on Your Next Manicure Session!

So now you know everything about soft gel nails! 

They’re a fantastic choice if you want beautiful, long-lasting nails that care for your natural ones. Soft gels come in various forms, from nail polish to extensions, and each has its charm.

The great part is that they’re durable, flexible, and comfy. Plus, they dry super fast. But remember, there are a few cons, like the acetone removal and cost. 

So if you want to give your nails a stylish makeover, soft gels are worth a try. Go ahead, try them out, and enjoy fabulous nails!

Want To Discover Nail Designs for Your Soft Gel Nails?

Check these out:


  • Angela Ramos

    Angela, an astute Business Administration graduate pivoted her career from the corporate world to the creative sphere of writing and editing. With four years of experience in crafting compelling blog posts she blends her analytical acumen with a flair for storytelling. Her journey into beauty writing was fueled by a personal quest to conquer acne, sparking a deep-seated passion for skincare and makeup. This pursuit has transformed her into a dedicated explorer of the beauty world, constantly seeking and sharing the most effective and transformative beauty products.

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