What is a Structured Gel Manicure | 3 Defining Characteristics

A structured gel manicure is a gel nail application that is applied thicker than just brushing on your gel product, as is the case when you do a Shellac or Gelish type manicure.

Today we’ll be talking about 3 defining characteristics of a structured gel nail application.

A structured gel manicure can also be called a structured gel overlay because in any case you are manicuring the hands and also overlaying them with a nail product.

For the purpose of booking and pricing in the salon I used both terms, gel manicure and gel overlay, but I could have easily just said one or the other.

For example, I called a “Gel Manicure” my procedure of applying a structured gel base and then the color, no builder gel at all.

I then called a “Gel Overlay” the process of adding a thin base, followed by a structured soft builder gel. And as you may already know, that soft builder gel for me is Japanese soft builder gel. It’s got enough thickness and weight to it to give a reinforced but very natural apex and definition.

I’ve always said that you can think about applying your gel base or builder in a structured manner as if you’re adding fillers to lips, not that I would know what that feels like, but I think we all know  what that looks like, fillers plump the lips up. In the same manner we are plumping up the nails. And just like some plumped up lips can look like a bit too much, so can some structured gel nail services. So it does take a little finesse to apply just the right amount of gel so that the application looks aesthetically pleasing.

Here are the 3 defining characteristics of a structured gel nail application. 

Structured Gel Manicure Defining Characteristic #1 In order to achieve a structured gel nail application (remember A.K.A. gel manicure or gel overlay) you must use a thicker viscosity gel. Usually this is what your options look like:

Very often you see on Instagram nail techs using a tinted builder in a bottle product to create their structured overlays. The viscosity of these is typically thick, and they have a semi-hard texture that makes them quite durable. They also tend to self level like a dream.

Two downsides of tinted base gels for me, their not huge, just personal preference to me. 

#1 A few of them require bonders and primers for long wear. These 2 adhesion improving agents can over time take their toll on the natural nails, making them yellow, dehydrated or brittle, or a combination of all of these.

#2 Is that most of them offer a variety of foundation shades, but when it comes to re-balancing, you will have to remove just about the entire old gel product to work with the natural hue of the nail again or not mind the different shade of gel if you will be re-applying the product but in a different shade.

Again not big deterrents just some personal preferences, and if yo want to stay strictly Japanese Gel Kokoist is the only one that carries tinted builder in a bottle. And it is a 3 in one option, base, builder, and color.

Now for at least 6 years, I have been structuring my gel nail applications with premium soft potted gel formulas. I started with Bio Sculpture before moving strictly to Japanese Gel.

In the salon I loved overlaying with Bio Sculpture Base Gel for my structured gel manicure services. It just has such a nice viscosity and the adhesion to the natural nail is unparalleled. Super gentle, but super strong.

However, at that time I found Japanese Soft Builder Gel to be stronger, and my clients were wanting to go longer with their natural nail overlays and so that is why I made the shift.

As you may already know, my favorite brands of soft potted gel including Bio Sculpture are Vetro, Leafgel, & Kokoist, and honestly you cannot go wrong with any one you choose for your structured gel overlay application. Bio Sculpture has even made new formulations of builder since my first training with them.

Vetro’s builder gel is called Extension Clear II, Leafgel’s is called Sculpting Gel II, and Kokoist’s is called Excel.

So to recap defining characteristic #1…

In order to achieve a beautiful structured gel nail applications, you need a thicker viscosity gel. When using premium soft potted gel as I do. Bio Base Gel is excellent for short to medium length nails, for longer natural nails add a soft builder gel.

Structured Gel Manicure Defining Characteristic #2 Thicker gel nails.

But hold up… thicker does not mean ugly and bulky. Your structured gel nails will be thick in all the right places. And again, when I say thick… I am not saying just load up your brush with as much gel as possible and plop it on the nail, there is some technique to this to allow for beautiful self-leveling.

We’ll get to this in more detail in our next characteristic.

Now I can tell you this for certain… by making your gel nail application thicker, you’ve already increased your gel nails wearability by like A-LOT! Now, if you can give  it the perfect definition, AKA structure by your self-leveling technique you are golden!

Now I gotta be honest here, out of your whole roster of clientele, there may be literally one or maybe 2 clients that actually will not like a thicker gel nail application, no matter how beautiful your structured gel nail application is. They really want that flat polish look which is pretty, but there are a couple things they should consider if they opt out your structured gel nail application, and no… this does not mean you have to discount their service either.

Sooo… what do you do?

Well #1. I would strongly encourage you to explain to your client why it is that you opt in for more voluminous applications. Let her know that this method of application provides for the longest wear of her gel nails. Let her know that you trust this method of application and it is the one that actually makes you insure your work.

And #2. Allow her to opt out, and into a thinner gel base application (so you’ll use the same gels, you would just not structure them) but not without letting her know that her gel nails may wear a little less, but Hey, let’s try it!  

So to recap characteristic #2 thick, but defined. 

Structured Gel Manicure Defining Characteristic #3 Smooth apex…

So in the previous defining characteristic of a structured gel nail application I alluded to having good definition when applying your gel thicker. You cannot and will not, promise me, just apply a thick blob of gel and just call it a structured gel manicure. 

Instead, to achieve a beautiful self-leveled or structured gel nail application you need to build an apex.

Let me take you through where exactly an apex should be placed.

First off… What is an apex? An apex is the area of your gel application with the highest point, the highest peak. It should be smooth and also should be where the highest concentration of gel lies. In other words, your highest concentration of gel should not be at the cuticle area or the free edge, and I went over this in last week’s video, so make sure to check it out at the end of this video, or come back to this part again and click the card at top.

Now that you know what the apex is, where do you set it. The apex is there to protect the stress area of the nails. The stress area of the nails lies on the end of the smile line of the nail. The smile line is the connection area where the free-edge stops being connected to the bed nail. Most of us have a smile line shape, others have a straight line or maybe if there is a bit of damage something squigly is happening instead.

Naturally, our first inclination will be to just place that apex exactly at the smile line, but I want you to actually place it up to 2cm behind because you want to account for the growth of those nails, and so that apex will shift in a couple of weeks. Your goal is to place that apex a little behind so that during those weeks your clients nails stay structured and protected.

The best way to create a beautiful tall apex using potted soft gel, is to turn the hand upside down and allow gravity to form it for you.

Alright, time to bring it all home.

What is a structured gel manicure?

A thicker gel nail application that is perfectly balanced with an apex to support the natural nail.

Thank you so much for joining me today, and if you would like to know more about soft potted gel formulas like Japanese Gel and application check out my brand new masterclass down in the description box below.

Have a merry start to the week and I’ll see you in the next one. Bye for now.

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