When you go to a nail salon, you can choose a basic manicure on your natural nails or longer artificial nails. Gel and acrylic nails are two of the most popular options, but many women might be unsure of what the difference is and which one works better for their lifestyle.
The nail extensions are made and applied differently. While both options can be matched to the shape of your nails, they are basically fake nails placed on top of your natural nails.
Let’s break down the advantages and disadvantages of acrylic vs. gel nails.
Everything you need to know about gel nails
Gel nails are a type of artificial nail used to extend the length of the nail. It is rising in popularity in nail salons everywhere, despite its hefty price tag. The process of applying gel nails is a three-step process that starts with a nail tip applied to the natural nail to increase the nail’s length. A base coat, clear gel and top coat of gel polish are then applied to the nails. Each layer is cured (hardened) under a UV lamp for three minutes and dried before the next layer is applied. Once all of the layers are completed, the nail is filed with colored nail polish or nail art.
The top coat provides the natural-looking nails with a glossy finish. The base coat primes the natural nail that helps prevent damage to the nail bed that is often seen when acrylic nails are used. The application of gel nails is faster and more flexible than acrylic nails because they are hardened under a UV lamp. The gel nails are odorless and easily removed with acetone.
However, the cost of gel nails can be prohibitive at $25 to $60 per salon visit, though at-home gel kits are available for purchase. The exposure to UV light is a potential skin cancer risk. The gel nails aren’t as strong as acrylic nails, which is another thing to consider. Your lifestyle and budget will be a big factor in what type of nail enhancement is best for you.
Gel nails last up to 14 days, while acrylic nails can last two to three weeks before they need to be refilled or removed. At around the 2-week mark is when your natural nail growth becomes noticeable. After the gel nails start to dull, you need to go back to the salon to get the nails removed. You can do it at home, but only if you’re very careful not to damage your cuticles.
- They give your nails a natural, glossy look
- Gel nails can last 14 to 20 days without chipping
- The UV lamp cures (hardens) gel nails faster
- More flexible than acrylic nails
- The gel nails are easy to remove
- No chemical fumes during the application process
- Pricier than other artificial nails
- Frequent gel use can damage nails
- Can’t be refilled like acrylic nails
Everything you need to know about acrylic nails
Acrylics are the most popular type of artificial nail. They are created using a liquid monomer and a powder polymer to create a hard layer on top of the natural nail. Like gel nails, the process starts with a nail tip being applied to the nail. A brush is then dipped first in the liquid monomer and then the powder polymer. This creates a ball that is applied to the nail bed. More liquid monomer is used to pat the acrylic into place. The chemical mixture is then air dried to cure, or harden, the acrylic nail.
Most nail salons offer acrylic nails with an average price of $35. After a few weeks, you can opt to have the nails refilled for just $15. The low price makes acrylic nails the most popular choice in artificial nails. The acrylic is also very strong and durable. They can last as long as three weeks without cracks, breaks or chips.
The hard protective layer created by the powder polymer and liquid monomer can be difficult to remove without damaging your nail bed. The long nails can also be unmanageable in day-to-day life, depending on your job and activity level. The chemicals used in the application of the acrylic nails can emit a strong odor that can cause headaches or nausea.
Unlike gel nails that can come in many colors, acrylic nails are often transparent and need an additional layer of nail polish.
- Strong and durable nails
- Acrylic nails can last up to three weeks
- They form a hard, protective cover over your natural nails
- The transparent nail can be a canvas for nail art and color
- If an acrylic nail breaks, it can be fixed easily at home instead of the salon
- Your nail beds can be damaged during the application and removal processes
- Less natural looking than gel nails
- It takes longer for the acrylic nails to harden compared to gel nails
- A strong chemical odor is emitted during the application process
Which last longer, gel nails or acrylic?
Acrylic nails last longer than gel nails. They can also be refilled monthly, whereas gel nails have to be completely reapplied every two weeks. Gel nails are more natural looking and flexible, but some people find that they fall off easier. Repairing an acrylic nail can be done at home, but gel nails need to be repaired at a salon.
Gel nails are also susceptible to softening and discoloring when exposed to the sun. Acrylic nails are thought to be the more rigid and stronger of the two types of artificial nails. When deciding between acrylic nails and gel, you have to consider if natural looking nails (gel) are more important than long-lasting nails (acrylic.)
Are gel nails or acrylic nails for you?
The results of gel and acrylic nails are very similar. Both types of artificial nails are meant to lengthen shorter natural nails while being durable and making your fingers appear longer. Whether you should get gel or acrylic nails depends on personal preference, lifestyle and affordability.
Gel nails are quite pricier than acrylic nails and need to be reapplied every two weeks. Acrylic nails can last up to three weeks and can simply (and cheaply) be refilled. However, if the length of time at your initial salon appointment is important, gel nails are applied much faster than acrylic nails. This is due to the use of a UV lamp to harden the gel instead of air-drying like acrylic nails. It can take up 24 hours for acrylic nails to harden.
Gel nails have a more natural and glossy appearance than other types of artificial nails. Both gel and acrylic nails are durable and strong, but only gel nails have flexibility. That means acrylic nails cause more damage to your nail bed while you are wearing them and upon removal.
The application process for each type of artificial nails is very different. Acrylic nails are created using liquid and powder chemicals. A brush is dipped in the liquid and then the powder. A ball of the mixture is dropped on the nail and then patted to cover the natural nail. The gel nails have a three-step process that includes a base coat, the clear gel and a top coat.
The chemicals used in acrylic nails can emit a strong odor. Pregnant women are advised against getting acrylic nails, but even non-pregnant women can get headaches and other ailments from the fumes. Gel nails are odorless and thought to be friendlier for the environment.
Both types of artificial nails are strong and durable, which can be helpful if you have a job where you often use your hands. If the nails do break, acrylic nails are much easier to repair. You can fix a broken acrylic nail at home. Gel nails can’t be fixed at home and require another pricey salon visit.
Acrylic and gel nails are both easy to remove, though the removal can cause damage to your natural nail. Acrylic nails are soaked in acetone solution for removal. Some types of gel nails can be removed by soaking in acetone, but most need to be filed off. The frequent exposure to acetone, in either case, can result in brittle, weak nail beds and damaged cuticles. Getting your nails done in a professional salon help decrease the possibility of nail damage.
Gel and acrylic nails can be applied as extensions or overlays. Extensions are plastic tips that are cut and shaped to match your nail. They are glued to your nail and secured with acrylic or gel. If you prefer to enhance your natural nails, the gel or acrylic is applied directly to your nails and shaped and buffed to an overlay finish.
If you are insecure about the length of your nails or like the looks of artificial nails, acrylic and gel nails are two of the most popular options available in nail salons. Long nails with elaborate designs and bright colors are a huge trend right now. Artificial nails provide a blank canvas for you to show your creativity.