What are BIAB nails? What you need to know about the trending, long-lasting manicure

We've quizzed the pros on everything BIAB nails, while our beauty editors share their first-hand experiences with the 'builder' treatment...

A close up of a hand with a milky-pink manicure by nail artist, @matejanova/ Mateja Novakovic on a light pink background
(Image credit: Instagram: @matejanova/ Mateja Novakovic)

Everyone's getting BIAB nails these days, claiming they are a healthier and longer-lasting alternative to gels - but what does the 'builder in a bottle' actually entail and is it right for you?

Highlighted as one of the must-do 2024 nail trends, BIAB promises a high-quality finish to rival that of classic gels but with added shine and staying power. It's said to be healthier than most treatments, as the 'builder' technique is designed to provide a hardwearing and long-lasting layer over your natural nails, allowing them to grow underneath, without the risk of chipping and tearing. All issues that often plague our bare talons and prevent them from reaching our desired length. This is, of course, a strong claim, as most nail services typically fall into one of two categories: traditional polishes - offering superior care but can chip within days - or more durable but potentially nail-knackering (in the long run) options like acrylic nails.

So, if you're still debating between BIAB vs gels, we've quizzed the experts on what to know before getting BIAB - whilst also reviewing the treatment ourselves...

What are BIAB nails?

So, let's begin with what a BIAB nail treatment entails and why it's a popular alternative to straightforward gel manicures...

What is BIAB?

"BIAB is a soak-off gel that is harder than regular gel polish," explains Treatwell Nail Expert Laurie Nicholl, from Lacquered & Stripped Salon. If you're wondering where the name BIAB comes from, it's an acronym created by The Gel Bottle, the brand that invented the service. "Builder In A Bottle aka BIAB, is a soak-off gel builder ideal for creating strong overlays and as a strengthening barrier for natural nails." explains nail expert and The Gel Bottle content creator, Tiffany Abbigaile.

In terms of appearance, you can expect something similar to gels or Bio Sculpture nails; a smooth, plump, and robust nail, albeit in a limited range of colours. "BIAB usually comes in clear or colours like pink," says Nicholl. This is because, due to Biab being a stronger and thicker gel, a UV lamp would struggle to penetrate very dark and pigment-rich shades in order to cure them properly.

However, if you love a bold gel mani you can combine the two. "A gel nail colour can be painted directly on top of BIAB or you can make the most of our BIAB shade range and simply top coat for beautiful nude nails," explains Abbigaile. This means you can achieve pretty much any look you like, from a simple pink nail design to getting creative with nail art if that's your thing. 

Pros & Cons to BIAB nails

So, before we dive into who BIAB works best for and how it compares to gels and acrylics, what are some pros and cons of the treatment to be aware of?

Pros to BIAB:

  • Strengthening properties: This treatment works to reinforce your nails, allowing them to grow without the risk of breaking.
  • Longevity: Experts say a BIAB manicure can last upwards of four weeks, which also makes it a great alternative for gel lovers who are finding that their nails are suffering from the more frequent gel removal process.
  • Shiny finish: If you're weighing up BIAB vs Gels, the former offers a very similar look and can be adapted to varying nail shapes and lengths while warding off any pesky chipping or damage.

Cons to BIAB:

  • Limited colour range: As mentioned, this is one potential con, however, this technique is very versatile and can actually be combined with gel shades - we'll get to the how in the next section!
  • Removal: Like with most nail treatments, the removal process can be a tad arduous with the experts stressing the importance of professional removal - to minimize the risk of nail damage.

Who should get BIAB

Anyone looking to protect, strengthen and grow their nails as well as those who already get regular gel manicures.

Who should avoid BIAB

If you have really brittle or extremely damaged nails, you should try to avoid this style of nail treatment but a nail expert will be able to advise you on the best course of action.

All in all, this is a nail treatment with a lot of offers and we've outlined everything you need to know - from our firsthand experience of BIAB to expert guidance...

How to get BIAB nails

As with most beauty treatments, going to a professional will always garner better results than doing it yourself.

However, if you are very skilled at DIY nails and have the right equipment, it is possible to do BIAB nail designs at home. We'd especially recommend trying your hand at these simple and expensive-looking nails.

Can I do BIAB nails at home?

You can, but only if you're quite skilled...and patient! BIAB functions much like regular gel polish in terms of prep and method, so is painted on as a base coat that then has to be cured with a UV lamp.

However, due to the thick and gloopy texture of BIAB, it can be difficult to control and apply correctly, which is where professional skill is needed. If you want to achieve the look of BIAB from home but lack a nail tech diploma you could use one of the best at-home gel nail kits to replicate the effect. 

Our beauty team recommends...

What happens during a BIAB nails appointment?

In order to test the service, I booked in with Gabi at Paint Nails. As Paint's in-house BIAB expert, Gabi told me that this service is surging in popularity and that it's her personal favorite because the process is "like an art."

How long does BIAB take to apply? While the treatment definitely takes a little longer than your usual gel mani (block out 1.5 hours to be safe) if you've ever had salon Shellac or are au fait with how to do gel nails at home, a BIAB appointment will feel like familiar territory, with a few key differences. 

It begins with prep, which includes cuticle work, buffing, and filing the nails into shape. Gabi then ensured no dust was left on the nail plate with a nail brush and a wipe of acetone. The BIAB process then began, in five steps:

Beauty editor Fiona McKim's biab nails, step by step

(Image credit: Fiona McKim)
  1. Base: Working one hand at a time, a thin layer of BIAB is painted on all five nails and cured under a lamp. This step is the same as gels and creates an even base for the BIAB to be created on top of.
  2. BIAB application: Now, your nail tech will work on one nail at a time, applying a thicker layer of the BIAB color (I chose a creamy milk nails hue) working it all over the nail by fanning out the brush and 'building' the nail up with the gel.
  3. BIAB shaping: Next, a very fine brush is used it to gently shape and push the BIAB gel into a smooth and plump layer, before curing it under the lamp. Precision is essential at this stage, as your nail tech needs to create a perfect shape and then quickly cure the BIAB in place so it doesn't move or set unevenly.
  4. Filing: Once each individual BIAB nail has been created, your nail tech will gently file and buff the top of the nails to create a smooth look.
  5. Cleaning and top coat: The nail is then cleaned again to remove any oils and a topcoat is applied and cured, much like step 1. You can either choose a clear topcoat, as I did, or have gel color applied for a more vibrant look. Cuticle oil is then applied, and I was treated to a mini hand massage with cream.

What you need to know about BIAB

BIAB is still a relatively unknown treatment, so this is everything you need to know if you're thinking about getting it...

How long does BIAB actually last?

Fiona's hand showing BIAB nails after two weeks

Fiona's BIAB nails after two weeks, with gel color on top

(Image credit: Fiona McKim)

As for the million-dollar question, how long does BIAB last? Experts agree that up to four weeks is the industry standard, although they can last longer. I can report that a fortnight on from my appointment (and with the addition of gel color) my BIAB is still 100% perfect, with no chipping, or lifting. The best thing is how trustworthy BIAB feels, my nails seem unusually strong and robust. I've been opening cans of Coke worry-free and enjoying the satisfying 'clack' of drumming them on hard surfaces to communicate impatience when the occasion calls. 

Wondering how to make BIAB last longer? If you want to extend the life of BIAB, you can have an appointment for an infill of the regrowth, which is actually one of the key benefits for nail health. "Since the product can be infilled, it reduces damage to the natural nail caused by removing gel polish," explains Nicholl. It's best to have BIAB infills every 3-4 weeks. However, if you get impatient to switch up your color every 10 days or so, it might be better to have regular gels applied instead.

Who are BIAB nails best for?

The world can be divided into a few nail personalities. There are those who like to keep things short, clean, and au naturale. There are those who prefer a cute squoval nail in a single on-trend color, then there are acrylic addicts who love ultra-long nail shapes and nail-art adorned talons. Luckily BIAB is a fairly adaptable service for almost any nail preference, and as you'll see from my diminutive talons, BIAB on short nails looks just as good as it does on long ones.

"BIAB is perfect for clients with weak natural nails who want to grow them out, or clients who want the strength of extensions without the length," explains Nicholl.  We recommend applying BIAB on natural nails as we find it’s great for clients who want to keep their natural length. For regular gel polish wearers, we recommend switching to BIAB if you find the gel removal process has weakened the natural nail."

IS BIAB bad for your nails?

In short, no. BIAB works to strengthen the natural nail and prevent breakage or weakness that is typically caused by acrylic extensions or naturally brittle nails.

If you are a nail-biter, it will help you to kick that habit too, as BIAB is too strong to bite through. It also won't chip or break, so the nail underneath remains protected and is able to grow.

How do you remove BIAB?

Unsurprisingly, every expert we spoke to stressed the importance of professional removal, to preserve the health of the natural nail. "The bulk of the product needs to be removed first by either a nail file or electric nail file. We will then soak a cotton pad with acetone, place it on the nail then wrap it with foil," explains Abbigaile.  "After a few minutes, the foil can be removed one nail at a time, by gently scraping away the product with a metal cuticle pusher." 

This doesn't sound like it would be the healthiest move for your natural nail (ask any expert is acetone bad for your nails and the reply is a resounding yes) but steps are taken to ameliorate any damage. "Once removed, we rehydrate the nail with cream and oil," explains Abbigaile. 

BIAB vs Gel: Editor review

"I'm one of those people who always has my nails done, getting my gel replaced every month like clockwork" says woman&home Digital Beauty Editor, Aleesha Badkar. "However, earlier this year I was finding some of my gel treatments slightly dulled, with little scratches and imperfections after a couple of weeks, regular chips and sometimes even broken nails. I also noticed that during gel breaks, my (usually very strong and fast-growing) nails would be exceedingly weak and I would struggle to grow them past the fingertip.

"As I was a regular gel-getter, I thought that BIAB might be worth a try, as it could just be added to each time, without the need for removal and would hopefully give me a stronger and longer-lasting mani. And boy was I right. Five months of regular BIAB manicures left me with constantly faultless nails that boasted shine, polish and a whole lot of strength. Not only was it strong enough to stop nails cracking after those pesky little door catches, but my nails actually grew faster than they usually would naturally.

"And while BIAB manicures don't really require breaks thanks to the protein in the formula, I'm now a month into a break and my nails are making it towards a healthy length - unseen during a gel break for me. Call me an official BIAB convert."

Aleesha Badkar, Digital Beauty Editor at woman&home
Aleesha Badkar

Aleesha is Digital Beauty Editor at woman&home, where she gets to share her expertise into all the best techniques, sharpest tools and newest products - with a particular savvy in skincare and fragrance. With years of beauty product testing experience, she always knows what to recommend.

BIAB vs Acrylic: which is better?

The answer to this question depends on what you want to achieve with the look and feel of your nails. In terms of nail health, BIAB is definitely a better alternative to acrylic as it provides increased strength without compromising the natural nail. 

When it comes to extensions, the answer is trickier. Whilst extensions can be done with BIAB, they typically won't be as long as acrylic ones. "BIAB can be applied on acrylic or UV Gel; however, it won’t enhance the result of the extensions. With BIAB, you can do very short extensions, but they usually need to be done with tips, not sculpting," explains Nicholl.

Alternatively, if you want to work on growing your natural nails and eliminate extensions altogether, you might be wondering if BIAB makes your nails longer without the need for falsies? Absolutely. If you are consistent with BIAB and get regular infills, it won't take long for your natural nails to grow long and healthy. 

How much do BIAB nails cost and where can I try it?

The costs will vary from salon to salon but expect to pay around £45 for your first set, the same again for infills and £15 for removal.

"BIAB is growing in popularity amongst our customers. We definitely expect to see more salons adding it to their treatment menu," says Nicholl. 

If you like the sound of BIAB and are keen to try the service for yourself, it is currently available at selected The Gel Bottle partner salons nationwide. The best way to find one is to check your local nail bar on Treatwell (UK). We also round up the latest Treatwell discount codes each month to help you find money off your next appointment.

Fiona McKim
Beauty Editor, womanandhome.com

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.

With contributions from