I Tried Orly’s New Gel Nail Extensions — & This Is What They Look Like

"Are those your real nails?”
A few years ago, this question was pretty nonexistent. If you were tuned in enough to ask someone if their nails were enhanced, then you could likely already spot the telltale thickness of acrylics from a mile away. But as more and more women want to go from short and sporty to elongated and adorned, the technology to take them there has evolved.
You might have heard about the magical powers of dips and tips — from nail brands like SNS and Aprés, respectively — but there’s a brand-new extension option that’s providing some healthy competition. Enter: Orly’s GelFX Builder In A Bottle. It's an in-salon, hard-gel extension system that looks and feels so much like natural nails, you’d think you won the genetic lottery of nail strength. 
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Whether you’re craving a little extra length in order to try fall’s nail-art trends, trying to kick a biting habit, or lusting after Cardi B-worthy digits, this new service can get you there. Of course, there are downsides — and I'm not just talking about the struggle of typing with extra-long tips. Even so, I got hooked when I tried the new system (typos and all). Want to learn more? Cue up “Money,” and let’s get into the details.
What Is It?
“Builder In A Bottle is a unique formula in that the brush-on application and soak-off removal are similar to a soft gel, but the durability is similar to a hard gel or acrylic,” says Shanee Pink, Orly's international creative director. “The formula makes it possible to get longer, stronger nails without the cracking or damaging breaks typically associated with hard gels and acrylics.”
Upon first glance, Builder In A Bottle looks and feels just like a regular gel polish, but it’s strong enough to soar far past the end of the nail, and it's sturdy enough to last two to three weeks before being filled or removed, just like dip powder or acrylics.
How Does It Work?

Orly nail artist Brittney Boyce started my manicure just like any other — with shaping, filing, buffing, and cuticle care. Once my nails were cleaned and prepped, she pulled out an odd-looking slip of silver paper, twisted it into a cone, and slid it just under my natural nail. She then brushed a thick layer of the formula from my cuticles to the end of my nail and over the paper until she reached my desired length. A few seconds under a UV lamp and my gel was solid as car paint. She then slid out the paper, and voilà, long nails.
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Boyce then trimmed and shaped the extensions, with clippers and a regular file, before applying my gel color. I opted for red French tips, but the options are endless, from jelly nails to solid color to simply leaving them clear (which is damn cool if you ask me). You can also get regular polish on top.
The gels are thin, but they're not magic, so they do feel a little thicker than I was used to. However, after a few days, I acclimated to my new nails nicely. (By "acclimated" I mean I got used to typos in every single text message I sent — whatever, my friends get it.)
Where Is This Service Offered?

I got a free sneak peek of the product in the brand’s Los Angeles shop, Orly Color Labs, but salons across the country are just starting to offer Orly’s GelFX Builder In A Bottle. To try it for yourself, Pink suggests Dime Nails and Be Rosy in Los Angeles; Mario Tricoci locations in the Chicago area; or Juarez Salons and Regal Nails across the country. Can't find a salon near you? Email the company directly, and a customer service rep will locate one for you. (Yes, it's that new.)
How Long Does It Take?
Pink notes that a full set can be done in as little as 45 minutes, but I found that it’s best to plan for two hours. The length of the service depends on what has to be removed from your nails, whether you pick a solid color or art, and other factors. (It took Boyce 1.5 hours to complete my full set.)

How Much Does A Full Set Cost?
Like all nail treatments and services, it varies between locations, but Pink says a full set should start around $85.
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How Long Can I Keep Them On?
Between two weeks and as long as you want. Regularly applying and removing gel extensions can weaken the nails (all that buffing, scraping, and soaking dries and thins the nail bed), so nail pro Queenie Nguyen recommends filling them to maintain the look for a few months as your nails grow. “The extensions should last between two and three weeks,” she says. “Then, it’s best that the clients make a return appointment for a fill if they decide to keep the extensions on to avoid air bubbles and breakage.”
A fill is easy: The top layer of gel color is removed and the nails are shaped, then more Builder In A Bottle is added on top. Nguyen also notes this strategy is useful when growing out your own natural nails. "Fill them every time you come for an appointment until the natural nails underneath grow out to the desired length, then you can soak off the builder entirely," she says.
What's Removal Like?

No matter your goals, only go to someone who is familiar with the product for removal. First, the tips are cut down to just above the tip of the natural nail, then it looks a lot like normal gel removal. “The process is quite similar to soft gel removal," Nguyen says. "It is best to file down 80% of the product and leave 20% of it on the nail for soak off. The technician needs to be very careful so that she or he doesn’t file the product down excessively and touch the natural nail plate — this is crucial." In my case, the removal took a good 45 minutes, so they definitely take longer to soak off than soft gels, but don’t let anyone rush this process.

After removing my Orly extensions, I didn’t suffer from any breaks, but my nails were very thin. I had to baby my digits for a week or two before trimming them down a bit and going back in for regular gels.

Would I Do It Again? 
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While my nails were definitely weaker after, I’d go back for seconds in a heartbeat. The dryness I felt immediately after the removal dissipated with my normal routine, which is basically just wearing gloves when washing dishes and cuticle oil before bed. And a few weeks later, I knew the extensions had passed my test when I started to miss the confidence I took on from such badass lengths.
What's more, Nguyen tells me that because the gel is thinner than most, no one will know if they're mixed in with soft gels. So, the Builder in a Bottle can easily be applied to just a few nails to disguise broken tips or uneven lengths until they grow out. (We all have that nail that always breaks.) Accurately typing on my iPhone with the added length, on the other hand, might never get easier...
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