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 to spend hours sitting in a salon, has made me an easy convert to press-on. I’ve become a die-hard fan of DIY pop-on manicures, but they’re not without their faults – mainly because they don’t last nearly as long as regular gel polish. That is, until beauty’s creative mind TikTok entered the chat and introduced a brilliant hack to give press on nails an upgrade and far more staying power: combining UV gel with false nails. The goal is to get weeks of wear and salon-level quality and shine, often at drugstore prices.
When pandemic precautions forced nail salons to close shop in 2020, many people learned to do their own nails, tired of sitting at home and staring at their untidy cuticles. Many of my friends bought UV lamps and started doing their own gel manicures at home, while I stuck to my basic faithful prints through it all. But when TikTok’s beauty community found 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 myself.
TikTok user Yesy Ada has shared several viral videos shows his approach to curing press-on, including one with more than 2 million views and counts. In her TikToks, Ada makes it look easy: With a pair of Amazon pressons on standby, Ada applies a layer of Beetle’s nail glue and heals it below a UV lamp. She then adds gel to the back of her press-on nail, as you would with a gel extension, before applying and flash-curing it as well.
When she’s done with all five fingers, she sticks them back under the lamp for another 60 seconds, drills off excess gel, and files down the nails. Ada finishes with a layer of soak-off gel top coatheals again and she’s done.
The result? A surprisingly easy manicure that looks like she went to a top salon. After watching her videos, I scrolled through a few more users’ attempts before discussing 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 a bit flimsy by nature. I reached out to Eunice Park, the head of research and development at Après Nailwho shared some insights about the growing trend.
“There’s no way for anyone to say this is a completely safe and foolproof method because you’re mixing two systems that weren’t originally made for each other,” warns Park. “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 that the difference between true gel extension tips and most press-ons is largely in quality and material. Après Nail’s Gel-X’s extension tipsfor example, are made of soft gel, whereas most cheap presses are made of thinner plastic.
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Another concern is user error in DIY jobs: Improper application or removal of gel-cured press-ons can 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 each hand can be slightly different,” she says.
Park also warns first-time users of Gel-X Kit or any other gel set at home 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 onto the skin around the nail,” says Park. “Any gel product is really only intended for the nail plate. Regular exposure of gel products to the skin can cause skin irritation.”
Of course, if you’re brave enough to try the trend, Park recommends, of course Gel-X Kitwhich comes with everything you need, plus the brand’s own gel extension tips to use instead of press-on: “Press-on is a great place to start experimenting with fun nails, but if you then move on to using gel, 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 Gel-X Kit and my favorite presses, the Just kiss but better nails. Once I decided on the right nail for each finger, I found it surprisingly easy to apply the right layers of polish and then cure.
My nails looked as good as my press-ons usually do, but felt infinitely sturdier. Granted, it was a little annoying having to vacuum them off salon-style instead of pushing the presses off one by one (my guilty pleasure), but for me the longevity was well worth the extra effort to remove them.
I always have been a press girl in the heart, so I can confidently say that I will continue to apply them with this gel-cured method when I have time. The UV lamp and kit might be a bit of a lot at once, but when I think about what I’ve spent at salons in recent years, it’s actually a smarter purchase.
If you’re eager to put your faith in TikTok and give the trend a try, find a few of my favorite taps below for some mani motivation to get you started.
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