What’s The Difference Between Acrylic and Gel Nails?


Difference Between Acrylic and Gel Nails

Getting a manicure is one of life's little luxuries. With so many nail service options though, it can get confusing. Two of the most popular enhancement services offered at salons are acrylic nail and gel nail treatments. While they both offer lengthened, polished nails, these two options vary quite a bit. Understanding the difference between acrylic and gel nails can help you decide which option best fits your lifestyle and nail health needs. Keep reading as we break down the key distinctions.

The Application Process

The first major difference between acrylic and gel nails is the application or installation process.

Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails are applied using a powder and liquid system. The technician mixes the acrylic powder and polymer liquid to create a thick mixture with a doughy texture. After that, the technician applies the mixture to the natural nail and shapes it into the desired style using a nail form. The mixture hardens quickly under a UV or LED lamp. Once the mixture hardens, you can shape and polish the nails as desired.

The application process takes some time as each nail is custom designed and formed to the desired shape. Most full acrylic nail sets can take over an hour for application. Fills needed every two to three weeks are much quicker.

Gel Nails

Gel nail manicures use prefabricated gel polish from small containers. The gel polish has an integrated brush that allows the technician to paint it directly on the natural nail much like traditional nail polish. However, gel polish is cured under a lamp, hardening it instantly on the nail once applied.

Several coats of gel polish are applied to add thickness and structure to the nail. The application of gel nails is much faster than acrylics, typically taking 30 to 40 minutes for a full set. Because gel polish is simply layered on the nails versus molded, the process is simpler with fewer steps.

Durability Differences

Acrylic and gel nails also differ quite a bit when it comes to overall durability and longevity:

Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails are extremely hard and durable. The acrylic mixture bonds to the natural nail creating enhanced strength and resistance to breaks and chips. Well cared for acrylic nails can last four to six weeks between fill appointments. Acrylics are one of the most long-lasting nail options available.

Gel Nails

While gel polish hardens under the lamp, it lacks the durability of molded acrylic. It chips and cracks more easily than acrylic enhancements. Additionally, as the nail grows out, gaps appear between the polished gel and natural nail tip. Gel polish also can start lifting off the nail bed as it grows. To achieve the best results, you should get gel fills every two to three weeks.

Appearance Variances  

In terms of aesthetics, acrylic and gel nail results have some visible differences as well. These help determine which option provides the preferred nail appearance:

Acrylic Nails

Custom blended and molded directly on the nails, acrylics allow for an endless variety of shapes, lengths and styles. Technicians can create square, squoval, oval, almond and coffin shaped nail tips with acrylic powders. Lengths range from short to extremely long. Additionally, acrylic powders come in clear variations as well as endless colors allowing for creative options. You can achieve everything from French tips to nail art with acrylic nails.

Gel Nails

While gel polish comes in countless different colors, it lacks the shaping abilities of acrylic. Gel manicures result in natural, rounded looking nails with a polished enhancement. Extra length can be attained, but the shaping abilities are limited compared to acrylic powders. Those desiring a French tip, vivid ombré or coffin shaped extensions would not achieve the desired effect with a basic gel manicure. That said, gel extensions are available for sculpting and shaping versatility similar to acrylic nails.

The Removal Process

Taking off acrylic and gel nails also involves very different processes. Understanding removal needs can help determine which option best suits your maintenance preferences.


To avoid excessive damage to the natural nails, a technician should professionally remove acrylic enhancements. The removal process involves soaking the nails in acetone to dissolve the acrylic. This follows by gently filing and buffing off remaining traces. When done properly, the natural nail is left thin but not excessively compromised. However, too much exposure to acetone can lead to excessive dryness. That’s why its best left to the professionals and avoided for at home removal.

Gel Polish

Basic gel polish can be removed at home or by a professional. For home removal, acetone is required to break down the layers of hardened polish. Foil nail wraps soaked in acetone are applied and left on for 10 to 15 minutes allowing the solution to penetrate. After removing the foil, residues are filed and buffed away leaving a clean nail bed. The process is less harsh than acrylic removal but still leads to some dryness. Having a professional removal is gentler but not required.

The True Damage Risks

All nail enhancements carry some level of damage risks. However, acrylic and gel nails do differ when it comes to the true potential of natural nail harm:

Acrylic Risks

Due to the intensity of application and removal procedures, acrylic nails carry higher damage risks:

  • Application risks lifting layers of the natural nail
  • High chance of overexposure to potentially harmful chemicals
  • Filing and shaping leaves nails thinner and weaker 
  • Improper fill scheduling leads to cracking and separating
  • Removal can overly dry and thin the nail beds

Overall, acrylics present more danger for long term or permanent nail issues. That said, visiting a reputable salon and properly caring for the nails greatly reduces potential harm.

Gel Risks

Gel polish is often considered a safer option than acrylic nails. Damage risks stem mainly from improper removal and maintenance issues:

  • Picking or peeling lifting gel can remove natural nail layers
  • Not properly preparing the nail bed can lead to fungus and infection 
  • Excessive fileing during removal can lead to thinning 
  • Exposure to UV lamp during curing can burn skin and cuticles

While no nail option is truly without risk, gel polish done properly is less likely to cause lasting damage or problems. However, those with very thin, weak nails may still experience some excessive breakage over time.  

Cost Considerations

Budget and cost are always factors when choosing beauty services. Acrylic and gel services vary quite a bit when it comes to cost:

Acrylic Nails

A full set of acrylic nails ranges from $40 to $150 depending on the salon. Intricate nail art and embellishments increase costs. Follow up fill appointments typically cost between $25 and $65 depending on length and services added. The ongoing maintenance makes acrylics a more costly option over time. However, due to extended wear, some find the investment pays off for convenience.

Gel Nails

The application of gel polish costs less ranging from $25 to $50 for an initial set. Since gel polish grows out faster, more frequent fills are required every two to three weeks. Gel fill-in appointments typically cost $18 to $35 for fresh color and shaping. While acrylics may seem more affordable month to month, gels often cost less per year.

Lifestyle Factors to Consider

Before deciding between acrylics or gels, consider lifestyle factors to determine which enhancement best aligns with your needs:

Good Candidate for Acrylics

Those with the following traits tend to prefer acrylic nails:

  • Enjoy experimenting with creative nail shapes and designs
  • Looking for extremely lengthy nail extensions  
  • Seek extreme durability and long wear between appointments
  • Don’t mind committing to professional removal processes  
  • Willing to properly care for enhancements daily
  • Have budget for higher monthly maintenance  

Good Candidate for Gels

Those who identify with aspects below often lean towards gel polish services:

  • Prefer a polished yet natural look  
  • DesireVIE quicker application and removal
  • Want to remove polish at home between fills
  • Seek budget friendly options with lower ongoing costs
  • Cannot commit to biweekly or triweekly fill schedules
  • Gel polish causes less damage or thinning to natural nails

The key is choosing the nail enhancement service that best fits your lifestyle needs and budget while also properly maintaining the finish for healthiest nail possible.

The Takeaway

When it comes to beautiful nails that turn heads, both acrylic and gel options certainly deliver. However, major differences exist between the two nail services.

Acrylic nails provide endless design versatility with supreme durability; yet, require meticulous upkeep and maintenance for reduced damage risks. Gel polish is quicker to apply, less harsh on nails and generally more budget friendly. The compromise is needing more frequent touch ups for flawless appearance.

Ultimately, selecting acrylic verses gel depends on desired look, convenience and expense factors. Visit Nail Capital USA to shop our wide selection of salon-quality acrylic and gel nail products. We carry top brands and kits for both home and professional use. Achieve stunning enhancements with our nail powders, gels, tools and more!

Sample Block Quote

Nam tempus turpis at metus scelerisque placerat nulla deumantos sollicitudin delos felis. Pellentesque diam dolor an elementum et lobortis at mollis ut risus. Curabitur semper sagittis mino de condimentum.

Sample Paragraph Text

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Morbi ut blandit risus. Donec mollis nec tellus et rutrum. Orci varius natoque de penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Ut consequat quam a purus faucibus scelerisque. Mauris ac dui ante. Pellentesque congue porttitor tempus. Donec sodales dapibus urna sed dictum.

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing
You have successfully subscribed!