A Manicurist’s Guide to Offering Nail Extensions



Not all of us are born with beautiful nails that defy breaking, splitting and cracking. Thankfully, there’s a solution for those of us with less-than-perfect nails who want to rock a killer manicure—nail extensions.

“Nail extensions” is a broad term for any type of tip that is glued onto the tip of the natural nail to add length. When combined with a nail overlay (usually acrylic or gel), nail extensions create length, strength, and shine. Once you perfect the art of nail extensions, only you and your clients will know that their nails are anything other than totally natural.

Your nail extension skills will earn you a loyal clientele and plenty of repeat business, so it’s always worth your time to ensure you are at the top of your game when it comes to nail extensions.

What Are Nail Extensions?

Nail extensions, also commonly referred to as nail tips, are applied to the nail plate with a nail adhesive. Although there is a vast array of nail shapes and thicknesses when it comes to nail tips, the most important part of the process involves matching the tip to the nail shape to ensure a snug fit and a seamless appearance.

The goal of applying nail tips is to ensure that they are blended into the natural nail, at the seam. Once this is accomplished, the nail tip can be trimmed and shaped according to the client’s preference. The application of the overlay strengthens the nail extensions and provides a smooth, clear finish suitable for polish.

In general, nail extensions should not be any longer than one half of the existing nail plate, past the free edge. This allows the nail plate itself to securely anchor the nail tip and prevent undue stress on the nail.

Types of Nail Overlays for Nail Extensions

There are three, main types of overlays for nail extensions:

  • Acrylics
  • Gels
  • Fiberglass/silk nail wraps

You will find a solid customer base that will prefer one over the other, and you will also likely develop a preference yourself:


Acrylics have been the go-to product for nail extensions for decades. The acrylic overlay is a combination of liquid monomer and powder polymer which, when combined, forms a hard, protective layer that is formed and brushed over the natural nail and nail tip. Many clients prefer the strong, glossy coating that acrylic produces. Acrylic nails are also considerably less expensive than gel nails.

On the downside, acrylic often leaves nails weak and brittle, as the natural nail is not exposed to air while beneath the acrylic. Damage to the nail bed may also occur. Many clients also avoid acrylic nail extensions because of the fumes and chemicals associated with them.

One of the biggest concerns with acrylic nails is nail fungus, which can occur between the natural nail and the acrylic nail if moisture becomes trapped between the layers (often as a result of a lifted nail caused by a lack of regular nail maintenance). Once fungus begins to form, the acrylic nails must be immediately removed and the client must seek medical treatment to prevent the fungus from spreading.


Gels are praised for their strength and durability, whether they are applied to a natural nail or nail tip. The gel is applied in a similar manner to nail polish. A few layers of gel polish are applied on top of the nail extensions, with each layer cured by placing it under a UV light.

Gels produce a hard, shiny surface that is resistant to cracking. They are the ideal alternative to acrylic nails, as they do not damage the natural nail. Gel polish is also odorless and is often considered to be a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative to acrylic nails.

However, there is still a concern about exposure to UV light and skin cancer associated with gel nails, leaving some clients wary of having gel overlays.

Fiberglass and Silk Nail Wraps

Fiberglass or silk nail wraps are still used today, although not nearly as often as acrylic or gel nails. Nail wraps involve cutting pieces of fiberglass (or pre-cut silk fiber strips) to fit the nail extension and then sealing it onto the nail with resin or glue. After the glue has dried, the nail extension with overlay is buffed until smooth.

Fiberglass and silk wraps are a nice alternative for clients allergic to the chemicals of acrylic or gel nails. However, the cost is higher and the process is more time consuming.

Advanced Training in Nail Extensions for Nail Technicians

An initial nail technician program leading to state licensure will cover nail extensions and nail overlays in great detail, including acrylic, gel, and fiberglass enhancements, tips, sculpting, and professional, safe removal.

Many beauty academies also offer advanced training in nail extensions. Advanced courses in nail extensions are designed to take your skills in nail extensions to a higher level.

Some examples of advanced courses in nail extensions available to nail technicians include:

  • Acrylic Sculpting
  • Acrylic Extreme Shapes
  • Advanced Course in Acrylic and Gel Nails
  • Advanced Acrylic Nail Extensions
  • Advanced UV Nail Extensions

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