I got a Gel-X manicure for the first time before Burning Man. It stayed perfect the entire time.

  • I got a Gel-X manicure for the first time before going to Burning Man this year.

  • My manicure stayed perfect throughout the week, even while cleaning up in the mud after the storm.

  • I now believe Gel-X is the best manicure option, especially for special events.

While my experience at Burning Man 2023 was incredible — and wildly different from the headlines — the entire week wasn't a total breeze.

Life on the playa involves hard work that includes helping to build and strike down your camp, biking through crazy weather conditions, and, this year, cleaning up a lot of muddy trash (unless you're Diplo and Chris Rock).

But through it all, there was one thing that remained pristine, and it was the last thing I ever expected to remain perfect all week — my manicure.

"Why would anyone get a fresh manicure right before a weeklong event that's as famous for its tough conditions as its amazing parties?" you might be asking yourself.

Allow me to explain.

Anneta during storm at Burning Man
This year's Burning Man had even tougher weather conditions than usual.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

In the weeks before I left for Black Rock City — the temporary Nevada metropolis where Burning Man has been held since 1991 — I texted a few veterans for beauty advice. I had heard all about the alkaline playa dust, which can hurt your hair, cuticles, and feet without proper care.

I had already booked an appointment to get some classic Burner braids (shout-out to Tasha Tripp at Butterfly Loft Salon in LA, whose braids stayed perfect all week). But some friends also recommended I get a manicure to help protect my nail beds.

When I arrived at Nails on the Moon in Santa Monica, I was planning to just go for my usual gel manicure. But when I told my technician I was heading to Burning Man the next day, he shook his head.

"Where you're going? You need Gel-X," he said.

I'd heard a bit about Gel-X, although I'd never tried it before. The manicure, which was invented by Aprés Nail in 2017, features pre-formed nail extensions that are applied with a gel base and cured with an LED light. The extensions are cut and filed to your preferred length and shape and then topped with a gel manicure.

I was worried about trying something new right before such a big week, but my technician swayed me — and I'm so glad he did. While a Gel-X manicure definitely takes longer and costs more than a regular gel mani, I was ecstatic with the result.

As someone with really small nail beds, I loved how the Gel-X extensions shaped and elongated my nails. The extensions were also far easier to wear than I expected. Not only are they lighter than acrylic nails, which I've avoided for years, but they felt even lighter than the extension tips I got while trying to pull off the trendy "aurora" gel manicure (which didn't even survive a weekend at Coachella).

Cleaning moop at Burning Man
My nails stayed strong through this mud cleanup.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

But what surprised me the most about my Gel-X manicure was how durable it was, no matter the conditions I threw at it.

Gel-X manicures are meant to last around three weeks, but Burning Man is hardly your usual routine. Throughout the week, I was putting my hands through dust and mud and handling heavy equipment. I even used my nails while I spent six hours scraping off trash that had gotten stuck to mud during the storm. But my manicure never faltered, and it continued to protect my actual nails.

I've now been back from Burning Man for a week and have yet to see a single chip or dent. While my nails have grown out a tad, they're still shiny and sparkly — and still getting compliments.

Anneta's Burning Man Manicure
While my nails have grown out a bit, the actual manicure remains nearly flawless.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

While I don't have the bank account to become a full-time Gel-X devotee, I definitely plan to switch to it for special events.

And, of course, for my next Burning Man.

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