The good news: Gels are also made from an acrylic substance, but there is no liquid-and-powder mixing required and they can easily be brushed on in a thin coating. (A much less durable variation sometimes referred to as "glue gels" layers liquid glue with acrylic powder to get a similar effect.) Gels can be completely clear—ideal for women who just want a smooth, glossy finish on their nails to protect against chipping, peeling, and breaking. Unlike traditional acrylics, which can have a pretty powerful chemical smell, they're odorless.
The bad news: Gels are more flexible than regular acrylics, so they're not generally used to extend the nails. Most manicurists will glue a plastic tip underneath if you want extra length. Because the gel coating is less resilient, Arnold recommends gels for women who aren't too hard on their nails. Gels can be more difficult to remove than acrylics and need to be filed down a bit before they can be soaked off (for an average of 30 minutes).
Our tester says: "Two of my nails had broken quite far down, so the manicurist put tips on those to make them the same length as the rest before she brushed on the gel. I loved the result! My nails looked shiny and perfectly even, and I don't think anyone would have known they weren't mine. After a few days, they started looking a little chipped near the cuticle, though. They were definitely ready for a touch-up in ten days."
The good news: If your nails aren't very strong, wraps are a way to bolster them against breaks. They can be applied on all your nails or used just to patch up a tear in an individual nail until it grows out. "Wraps are great for women who keep their nails short but want a little extra strength," says Thompson.
The bad news: The glue that attaches wraps to the nails is water soluble, so this technique isn't a great option for women who like to swim, lounge in steam rooms, or cook a lot. Even with just daily showers and hand washing, "you'll probably need to have them glued back down every week," says Thompson.
Our tester says: "The manicurist glued tips on all my nails first because they were so short—I'm a biter—and then glued the silk on top. There wasn't the strong chemical smell that I've experienced with acrylics, so the process was quite pleasant—but, at an hour and 15 minutes, long. I thought the results were very natural. The wraps looked really good only for a week, though; after that you could see my real nails growing in underneath."