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Skin Deep: Here's everything you need to know about long false nails

For those with bendy, weak nails.

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Welcome to Skin Deep with Louise McSharry, my opportunity to put years of obsessing over beauty products and techniques to good use. I won’t tell you something is good if it’s not. I won’t recommend products I haven’t actually tried. As the magical sitar in Moulin Rouge said, I only speak the truth.

I have terrible nails. They are bendy, weak nails, which peel away, layer by layer when they grow to any length at all. My nail beds are short, like a child’s, and no matter how heavy duty the Shellac, nail varnish peels away from them within hours of it being applied. For the first twenty years of my life, I accepted this. The nice nail life was not for me. Then one day I was with a friend of a friend, loudly admiring her long, shiny black nails, and everything changed.

‘They’re fake,’ she said.

‘Press ons, like?’ I replied.

‘Oh no,’ she said, nose firmly in the air at the notion. ‘They’re acrylic.’

It was a matter of days before I had them (my colour was neon pink), and I’ve essentially had them ever since, aside from a grim stint when I simply couldn’t justify the expense. Currently, I have gel extensions. They are long and pointy. Sometimes very pointy, sometimes less pointy (it seemed prudent to for a rounder shape when my baby was brand new, although it killed me). They are the kind of nails that prompt people to ask questions, so I thought I would answer some of them here today.

Got my nails did and I'm loving them.

A post shared by Louise McSharry (@louisemcsharry) on

First, the basics. What are nail extensions? They start with a plastic tip which is glued to the end of your nail, just like any false nail you’d buy in your local chemist. The tip is then cut down to your desired length, before your natural nail is covered with either gel or acrylic. Gel comes in a pot and is a sticky er… gel. It stays soft until you place your hand in a special heat lamp which hardens it. Acrylic usually comes in powder form and is combined with a tiny amount of solution to create a gel-like substance before it is placed on your nail. It dries quickly and becomes hard without a lamp. The gel or acrylic is then filed to make it look like a natural nail (or an unnatural nail, if you’re going for something unusual), before being painted whatever colour you desire.

The gel/acrylic then grows out with your natural nail, resulting in a gap. To maintain the extensions, you then go back to the salon to get ‘refills’ when they remove the polish, file it all down, apply more gel/acrylic and repaint. This process takes about an hour and a half. How often you get refills depends on how fast your nails grow and how rough your lifestyle is on your hands. Before I had Sam I got them done every three weeks, but these days with all the buggy-wrangling and car seat juggling I find that I start to lose them after two weeks.

A full set of gel/acrylic extensions will set you back around €40, although this varies from place to place. You can expect to pay about the same for refills, although again, it varies.

Shopping around for the best deal local to you is worthwhile, but make sure you’re getting value for money, and not just paying less for sloppy service. Because this is a beauty treatment which requires regular upkeep, you’re going to be returning to whichever salon you choose time and time again. Make sure you’re happy, and that you trust them. I stopped going to a salon a few years ago because I saw the owner give a girl who specified that she wanted gels a full set of acrylics. She kept questioning it, and he kept insisting he was using gel when it was obvious that he wasn’t. The bargain wasn’t worth giving money to someone I couldn’t trust.

So, what is the difference between gel and acrylic extensions? Gel extensions are largely accepted to be better for your nails. In fact, the girls in Tropical Popical, where I get my nails done, told me that if a client is struggling to grow their own nails they often suggest a gel overlay to keep them strong until they get the desired length. The gel can then be filed away, leaving long, natural nails. According to the Trop Popettes, if your gels are applied and removed correctly, they won’t do any damage to your own nails. Acrylics are a bit harder on your nails and a bit smellier during application, but tend to last longer than gels. You can paint and repaint gel nails, removing colours with nail polish remover, while acrylics won’t react well to acetone so they are less flexible stylistically. Really, which you prefer is really a matter of personal taste.

Thanks @glamglamniamh for my new talons! 😍

A post shared by Louise McSharry (@louisemcsharry) on

That’s all the basic stuff, now to the more complex issues.

How do you type with really long nails?

You develop your own system surprisingly quickly. At this stage if I get mine filed too short I struggle.

What about texting?

Same thing. It’s hard at first, but after a few days you’re used to it.

Can you, eh, wipe yourself?

Absolutely. This has literally never been an issue for me.

Do they break all the time?

No. If you are careful, and maintain them with regular appointments, you shouldn’t have a problem. Jessie, my nail tech, has a mantra: ‘They’re jewels, not tools!’

So it’s just totally grand?

Honestly, you get used to almost everything really quickly. Picking up coins, opening and closing jewelry clasps and using some ATMs can be tricky. But hey, that’s the price you pay for fabulousness!

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