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If you’ve ever sought a manicure that lasts longer than regular nail polish, you’ve likely been faced with the gel nails vs. acrylic nails debate. While both of these options are a great way to try out various nail trends, locking down the right style for you is easier said than done. With risks of chipped nail polish, broken nails, and more, selecting the proper technique is key for ensuring your nails go the distance. If you’re ready to figure out once and for all how gel and acrylic nails differ, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’re breaking down the differences between gel and acrylic nails, so you know what to ask for at your next salon visit.
Let’s cover gels first. Gel nails are made by a three-step process, which consists of brushing a base coat, nail polish, and top coat over your natural nails. With each coat, the nail is placed under a UV light for somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes to cure. Once cured, the layer of gel polish hardens and won’t smudge like a regular nail polish. The final result is nails that sport a glossy and freshly manicured look.
If you want to extend the length of your natural nails, gel nails also come in handy. Gel extensions, we’re looking at you! This popular technique consists of an extended tip, typically made of acrylic, that’s attached to the ends of your nails. Next, your nails undergo the normal process of applying a gel nail polish system and being placed under a UV lamp to set.
Moving onto acrylics! Acrylic nails are made of a combination of liquid and powder that’s laid over your natural nail with a brush. Once the mixture is applied, your nails are filed and shaped to emulate the look of natural nails. After your acrylic nails are shaped, each nail is painted with a base coat, nail polish color, and top coat. Nails are then set under a fan to dry.
Although gel and acrylic nails can provide similar results, there are key differences with each nail style. As we mentioned above, gel nails typically consist of brushing coats of polish on your natural nails and are cured with a UV lamp. Once complete, gel nails will usually last for around 14 days without chipping. Toward the end of this period, gel nails may start to peel or lift at the corners.
When you’re ready to remove gel nails, all you need to do is soak them off, and you’re good to go. Typically, a cotton ball soaked in acetone is placed over the nail, then each nail is wrapped in aluminum foil. After around 10 minutes, the gel polish is easily able to be removed. While gel nails can be prone to peeling, they are known to be more flexible than acrylic nails and won’t damage your natural nails.
On the flip side, acrylic nails provide a hard, protective layer due to the powder and liquid hybrid mixture they're created with. Since acrylic nails are so durable, you don’t have to worry about your nails cracking, breaking, or lifting while you have the acrylics. However, acrylic nails tend to look less natural than gel nails. These nails are also challenging to remove without damaging your nail bed. To keep your acrylic set intact, you’ll have to refill your nails every few weeks. And once you remove acrylic nails, you’ll have to wait for the damaged nails to grow out to get your nails back in shape. Typically, acrylic nails are removed in salon by a nail technician, whereas gel nails can be removed more easily at home.
As with many things in life, the answer to this question really boils down to your personal preference. If you love natural-looking nails, gel nails are a great choice. They’re also a great pick to help prevent your nails from getting damaged. On the other hand, if you’re trying to avoid cracking or peeling nail polish, acrylic nails will suit your needs. Keep in mind, if either gel or acrylic nails are incorrectly applied, you run the risk of damaging your nails. The key to getting the best gel or acrylic nails is to rely on a licensed nail technician to give you your manicure.
Next up: Now that you know the difference between gel and acrylic nails, it’s time for another nail lesson. Head on over to our article, Your Intro to Dip Powder Nails, to expand your knowledge.
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