Manicure Guide! Gel, SNS, Glue-On… What are these?

Since I’m a big manicure fan and have tried a bunch of styles, I figured I’d write up a little review for y’all because these things are confusing AF. I’m going to describe the various types of manicures that I’ve gotten, how they work, and why I like (or don’t like) them! As I moved around the US in the past 10 years, I’ve realized that nail salons in different areas have different recommendations and use different lingo so I’m doing my best to summarize that here as well.

Disclaimer: I had a couple beers before I wrote this post 🙂


This is basically just the little plastic piece that the nail technician glues on the end of your nail to make it longer. It’s shaped like a nail tip and is about an inch and a half long. The technician will glue it on to the tip of your nail and then clip it down and file it to your desired length and shape before your manicure. This can be done with any type of manicure, but costs extra. When you want extra length, you would ask for “Gel and tips” or “SNS plus tips”, etc. Some salons seem to call it extensions, while others call it tips.

I usually get almond-shaped nails because my nail tech at Queen Nails in Austin told me that they will make my fingers looks longer and skinnier, which she was definitely right about 🙂 The coffin shape is also very popular right now, but IMO, can make your fingers look stubby. I used to default to the classic oval/round shape, which you can’t go wrong with.

I try not to get them too long so that typing and putting in my contacts aren’t an issue. Beware: you literally won’t be able to pick up a dropped coin if you get them too long… Super frustrating! I also get the thumbs shorter than the others so they don’t make that annoying clacking noise when I use my phone… i.e. don’t want to be Sheana from Vanderpump Rules, lol.


I have been getting gel in some shape or form on my nails for years now. I used to get it on my natural nails only and then started adding the tip about a year back when it became more popular to have long nails. This is my favorite type of manicure because it lasts the longest and looks the most natural. However, you’ll definitely be sacrificing the health of your natural nails as they get super thin if you don’t give them breaks to grow out between wears. Here is how they look:

Application: This usually takes about an hour. It’s a base coat, a couple coats of the colored polish and then a top coat. You’ll stick you nails in the UV light in between each coat to harden. If you pick a lighter color, they usually do an extra coat, which can add more time. They are dry immediately so there is no chance of messing them up!

Cost: I used to get these for $40 in North Carolina (with tip extensions), but they are charging $55 and up at every salon in Austin. I called every salon near me with 4-star or higher reviews and had no luck finding one for less… SO annoying. This style also isn’t as popular here in Austin, which I’ll get to later.

Longevity: Even with my obnoxious habit of picking at my nails, I always make at least to the 2-week mark, sometimes 3 weeks, before one breaks or pops off. If that happens, you can just head back in for a fill, where they can swap out the color, fix the broken ones and make them look good as new again.


Gel was the norm in OH, CA, SC and NC at most salons I went to (yes, I moved around a lot), but when I got to Austin, the salons literally URGE you to do dip powder. After discussing with various nail technicians, I realized: 1. Gel is actually a lot harder to do from the technician’s perspective so there are fewer trained to do it at each salon, and 2. It’s better for the health of your nails and skin (no UV) and is rapidly gaining popularity.

After a few months in Austin, I finally succumbed and tried it. The brand they use at my salon is SNS, which is why you sometimes hear people refer to dip manicures as SNS manicures. My verdict is that yes, it does leave my nails somewhat healthier, and yes, it looks almost as good as gel, but no, it does not last as long. I’m sitting here typing this 9 days into my second dip powder manicure with just nine nails on my fingers since one broke off yesterday (while I opening a water bottle… lame). I don’t think they look quite as natural as the gel nails either because of the thickness. Here is the result:

Application: Total time is just less than an hour. They brush a resin on your nail and then dip it in the pigmented powder (usually SNS brand), brush off the excess and then repeat a few times. It will look kind of lumpy at this point, but they buff and file it down to make it smooth. It will then look very matte. They’ll add a a top coat to seal the manicure and add sheen. It’s immediately dry and hardened.

Cost: $55 with tip extensions in Austin. Same cost as gel.

Longevity: I was told it lasts as long as gel by both friends and nail technicians, but it seems to just not be jiving with my lifestyle… IDK! I can’t get them to last the full two weeks. The good news is that most spas will usually repair it for free or a few bucks, but of course, leave a good tip if you go this route!


I recently was in line for Starbucks and happened to overhear a nail technician waiting for his coffee compliment a woman on her nails; “Wow! Your nails look amazing! Where do you get them done?”. The woman replied that they are KISS brand glue-on nails that she buys at the Kroger around the corner. He examined them more closely and remarked that he was shocked and couldn’t tell that they weren’t done in a salon. I was standing there with my very nice gel manicure waiting for someone to compliment mine, but no one did… haha! Anyhow, when my gel manicure finally came off a few days later, I headed straight to the grocery store to but the glue-ons.

My verdict: These are really, really good for a weekend or an event, but they come off pretty easily. Here is how they turned out:

Application: 5-10 minutes, including dry time. They were pretty easy to glue on and indeed looked very good — no bumps and obviously very symmetrical. I did glue one on a bit side ways and had to soak it in some acetone to remove and reapply it, but that didn’t take long.

Cost: $6-9 for one kit. So cheap! I also bought the extra bottle of glue for $3, which I realized was a good idea because it works better than the one that comes in the pack — the glue was more adhesive and the cap keeps the product from drying out.

Longevity: 3-4 days. After a couple days, one popped off, but luckily the kit comes with a bunch of extras so I just glued on another! It also doesn’t tear apart your nails the way that gel and SNS do so they stay pretty healthy. Super awesome if you’re between manicures, low on cash just wanting to switch up your nails pretty often.

Wooooh hope this was helpful! How do you guys wear your nails? Just curious!

Ps – The only ones I haven’t tried are old-school acrylics so drop a comment if you have any insight!

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