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8 Types Of Nail Polish You Should Know

The type of polish you use has a big impact on your manicure.
December 26, 2022

Whether you’re headed to the salon or giving yourself an at-home manicure, you may have noticed that there is no shortage of options when it comes to nail polish. Aside from the traditional formula you’ve been using since you were a child, there are new formulas like gel, builder gel and dip powder that each have their own unique benefits.  

Since understanding the difference between all the options can be a little difficult (don’t even get us started on picking a color) we’ve outlined the difference between eight of the most common types of nail polish and other manicure services or enhancements you may see at the salon (and on social media). Consider this your guide to all things nail polish.


1. Traditional Nail Polish

Let’s start with the basics: traditional nail polish is the kind that has to dry —  it’s what many of us think of when we think of nail polish. It’s offered in a variety of finishes from shiny to matte to shimmery and this type of nail polish doesn’t require other equipment like UV or LED lights. 


It’s not the most long-lasting option and you can expect to make it through a week (sometimes less) before becoming victim to a chipped mani. However it’s quick to apply, it doesn’t require expert skills to use and it’s the best option if you can’t commit to the same color for too long.


2. Gel Nail Polish

Gel nail polish is a super popular polish at the salon and in recent years, at home, too. Your nail technician (or you if you’ve mastered an at-home gel manicure) will paint the gel polish onto your nail and will use an LED light to cure it for 30 to 60 seconds so it can harden and dry. The end result is a glossy manicure that you can expect to last for around two weeks. 


Gel can be used on your natural nails or on top of lengthening nail services like acrylics, press on nails and gel extensions. Gel nail polish, like traditional nail polish, is available in tons of different finishes like cream, matte, glitter, holographic and cat-eye. 

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3. Acrylic

Acrylic doesn’t come in a bottle like traditional or gel nail polish, instead it’s a powder that’s mixed with a monomer to create a gummy liquid that hardens. It can be used to strengthen your natural nails or on top of tips to add length to your nails. It’s applied with a brush and as the acrylic hardens, it can be filed to your desired shape. Acrylic nails last around two to three weeks and can be filled once or twice before an entirely new set is required.

4. Breathable Nail Polish

If you’re wondering what type of nail polish is best for your nails, allow us to point you in the direction of breathable polish. In short, breathable nail polish allows oxygen and water to pass through your polish and to your nails, rather than creating a barrier over your nails like acrylic  and gel polish does. This makes breathable polish less prone to chipping because chipping occurs when moisture and oils disrupt the barrier between your nail polish and your nail. 

Breathable polish lets the oils and moisture in, which not only leads to a long-wearing manicure but healthier, hydrated nails. Expect your breathable nail polish to last for about a week to 10 days. If you can’t go a few days without your traditional polish chipping, this is a good option to try.

5. Polygel

Think of polygel as a hybrid between acrylic and gel nail polish. This nail treatment comes in a tube, has a gel-like consistency and is applied on top of your bare nails or nail extensions with a brush. It can be used to sculpt, shape, fill in and lengthen your nails and it’s cured with an LED or UV light. 

Many people love polygel because it’s ultra-durable but still feels like natural nails. In comparison to acrylic, it contains fewer chemicals, it’s odor-free and it’s one of the longest wearing polish options, lasting up to three weeks. 

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6. Dip Powder

Dip powder is another type of nail enhancement service known for its long-lasting formula. It’s durable and can last around three weeks to a month which is why so many people love it. Whether you head to the salon for your dip manicure or do it yourself at home, the process is simple and quick.

A base coat is applied to your nails and then the powder is applied on top. This process is repeated, with the excess powder being brushed off so your manicure isn’t chunky, until you’re left with an opaque layer of polish. To finish your dip manicure, a layer of clear powder and a sealant is applied to create a shiny overlay, similar to a top coat. The nice thing about dip powder is that it doesn’t require an LED light and it dries in minutes.

7. Builder Gel 

If you swear by a gel manicure, you may have heard of builder gel or BIAB — builder gel in a bottle. The names can be used interchangeably and are another type of gel polish with a stronger, less pliable finish than normal gel polish, that can be used as an overlay treatment or as a medium to lengthen your nail shape. 

Builder gel tends to come in a bottle like normal gel polish, it’s also cured with an LED light and can be soaked off with acetone. Builder gel is also used with gel extensions to bond the nail tips to your natural nails.


8. Hard Gel Nail Polish

Hard gel nail polish is stronger and more rigid on the nails than gel nail polish but it’s not as strong as builder gel. It comes in a bottle and is cured with an LED light but it can’t be soaked off with acetone like gel nail polish or builder gel. Hard gel is more resilient to chemicals so while the only way to remove it is by filing it off, the good thing is that it can also be filled so you won't need a new set every time you get your nails done. Hard gel is typically used to strengthen your natural nails or as a way to extend the shape of your natural nails with a foil sculpting tool.

Next: How to Get a 2-in-1 Mani With Color-Changing Nail Polish

Photographed by: Reece Andavolgyi, Photo Design: Sarah Duvivier

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