For me, there are few beauty struggles as frustrating as breaking a nail or chipping a freshly-painted manicure. That, paired with my lack of patience for spending hours sitting at a salon, has made me an easy convert to press-ons. I've become a die-hard fan of DIY pop-on manicures, but they're not without their own set of flaws — mainly that they don't last nearly as long as regular gel polish. That is, until the creative minds of beauty TikTok entered the chat and introduced a genius hack to give press-on nails an upgrade and far more staying power: combining UV gel with fake nails. The goal is to get weeks of wear and salon-level quality and shine, often for drugstore prices.
When pandemic precautions forced nail salons to close up shop in 2020, lots of people learned to do their own nails, tired of sitting at home staring down their unkempt cuticles. Plenty of my friends purchased UV lamps and began to do their own at-home gel manicures, while I stood by my basic trusty press-ons through it all. But with TikTok's beauty community finding a way to marry the best of both worlds — using gel kits to cure press-ons as if they were gel extensions — I became curious to try it out for myself.
TikTok user Yesy Ada has shared multiple viral videos showcasing her approach to curing press-ons, including one with more than 2 million views and counting. In her TikToks, Ada makes it look easy: With a pair of Amazon press-ons on standby, Ada applies a layer of Beetles Nail Glue and cures it underneath a UV lamp. She then adds gel to the back of her press-on nail, as one would a gel extension, before placing it on and flash-curing that, too.
After she finishes all five fingers, she pops them back underneath the lamp for another 60 seconds, drills off any excess gel and files down the nails. Ada finishes with a layer of soak-off gel top coat, cures again, and she's done.
The result? A surprisingly easy manicure that looks as if she's gone to a top salon. After watching her videos, I doom-scrolled through a few more users' attempts before debating my own UV lamp purchase.
But first, I wanted to talk to an expert and see if the viral approach was safe for my nails, which are by nature a little flimsy. I reached out to Eunice Park, the research and development manager at Aprés Nail, who shared some insights on the growing trend.
"There's no way for anyone to say that this is a totally safe and foolproof method because you're mixing two systems that weren't originally made for each other," Park cautions. "Gel works best with gel. And press-ons have their own systems, usually with glue. Most nail products work best when used with the system they were intended for."
It seems the difference between true gel extension tips and the majority of press-ons lies largely in quality and material. Aprés Nail's Gel-X’s extension tips, for example, are made of soft gel, whereas most inexpensive press-ons are made of flimsier plastic.
Another concern is user error associated with DIY jobs: Improper application or removal of gel-cured press-ons could cause damage to your nails and the skin around them, so Park advises anyone considering trying the trend to practice, practice, practice. "Everyone's hands are different, and even between two hands, the nails on either hand can be slightly different," she says.
Park also cautions first-time users of the Gel-X Kit or any other at-home gel kits against overdoing it on the amount of product they use. "A common mistake is for first-time users to use too much gel and have it spill out onto the skin around the nail," says Park. "Any gel product is really meant only for the nail plate. Regular exposure of gel products onto the skin can cause skin irritation to occur."
Of course, if you're bold enough to try the trend, Park recommends the Gel-X Kit, which comes with everything you need, plus the brand's own own gel extension tips to use instead of press-ons: "Press-ons are a great place to start experimenting in fun nails, but if you're then moving onto using gel, I highly recommend experiencing Gel-X. Our system offers durable, long lasting nails that are easy to apply and great to wear."
With all of Park's wisdom to guide me, I (cautiously) decided to try using the TikTok-viral method in conjunction with the Gel-X Kit and my favorite press-ons, the Kiss Bare But Better Nails. Once I decided on the right nail for each finger, I found it surprisingly simple to layer on the proper coats of polish and cure accordingly.
My nails looked as good as my press-ons usually do, but felt infinitely sturdier. Granted, it was a little annoying to have to soak them off salon-style instead of flick the press-ons off one by one (my guilty pleasure), but for me, the longevity was well worth the extra effort to remove them.
I've always been a press-ons girl at heart, so I can confidently say I'll continue to apply them with this gel-cured method whenever I have the time. The UV lamp and kit might be a bit of a splurge in one go, but when I consider what I've spent at salons in years past, it's actually a smarter buy.
If you're keen to put your trust in TikTok and give the trend a try, find a few of my favorite press-ons below for some mani motivation to get started.
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