Gel Nails vs Acrylic Nails: What’s the Difference [2021 Review]

Gel nails have been quickly gaining popularity lately. And given that acrylic nails aren’t exactly perfect, it’s understandable why people would want something new.

Are gel nails really better than acrylic nails though? Well, let’s find out!

What Are Gel Nails?

Gel nails are an alternative to traditional nails made from acrylic. At a somewhat higher price than acrylic nails, gel nails offer a few good benefits over the acrylic type, more on which later.

Gel nails are made of a monomer gel and pre-mixed polymer. Typically, two-three layers of gel are applied to the nail. Each layer is treated with UV light, which activates the photoinitiators present in the gel to cure it. 

The process ends with the application of a moisturizer or cuticle oil to ensure nourishment to the nail cuticle.

Nail gel can be activated without the use of UV light – you may use special gel activators for the curing instead. However, UV curing is typically used since it does the job nearly instantly.

Gel Nails vs Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails typically cost $35-$45 on average per application, whereas gel nails could cost $35-$100. The prices do vary depending on the nail salon and the service quality, but gel nails tend to cost more.

Well, why would you even want to go for gel nails when you have cheaper acrylic nails? The answer is that gel nails have a number of benefits that make them much better than acrylic nails.

 If you’ve ever had acrylic nails, then you probably know that they:

  • Emit a foul odor since chemicals are involved in the application. The odor is not only unpleasant but also is a giveaway that you are using fake nails.
  • Are very difficult to remove without damaging the nail bed. Due to this, acrylic nails are either refilled or are left there until grown out by natural nails.
  • Are strong and durable but quite brittle.
  • Tend to yellow quickly.

Gel nails are designed to address these downsides. Namely:

  • Gel nails are odorless.
  • Gel nails are easy and safe to remove if primed correctly.
  • Gel nails are flexible and do not chip, crack, or peel easily.
  • Gel nails take longer to yellow.

And while gel nails do introduce a couple of new things to keep in mind, we think that the downsides of gel nails do not outweigh the benefits. 

Available Types of Gel Nails

There are two main types of gel nails available at nail salons – soft and hard gel nails. There also are gel polishes which have a bit different purpose.

Hard gel is more lightweight and is usually used when developing nail extensions – the hardness of such gel helps the extension retain its shape. The tighter molecular structure of hard gel, on the other hand, doesn’t allow acetone to penetrate into the gel. Due to this, hard gel can only be removed by filing off.

Hard nail gel usually lasts 3-4 weeks before it needs to be refilled or removed.

Soft gels are heavier and thicker than hard gels. In contrast with hard gels, they are used to add strength to weaker nails, as well as add polish to them. Soft gels aren’t used in nail extensions, but they may be used on top of a hard gel. 

Unlike hard gel, soft gel can be soaked with acetone for removal. Aside from that, soft gels are available in a much wider color variety than hard gels – the latter are usually colored pink or white.

Typically, soft gels last for 2-4 weeks, with normal wear on free edges.

Finally, there is gel polish, the weakest of the nail gel formulations out there. Gel polish doesn’t add strength to the nail but is the most flexible nail gel type out there. The purpose of gel polish is aimed more towards looks than nail reinforcement.

Gel polish may be applied on soft or hard gels, as well as natural nails and acrylic nails. This kind of polish typically lasts for up to 2 weeks.

Benefits of Gel Nails

We’ve talked about the benefits of gel nails a little earlier, but there are a few other things that you should know about:

  • Gel nails can be used by people allergic to nail resin or acrylic.
  • Gel nail coloring does not fade away like regular nail paint.
  • Gel nail coloring retains its shine for a long time.
  • Gel nails have a more natural look than acrylic nails.
  • The curing time under UV is a mere 5-10 seconds.

And, of course, the four advantages we mentioned above:

  • Gel nails don’t have a chemical odor.
  • Gel nails can be easily removed without damage to the nail bed.
  • Gel nails are flexible and don’t easily chip, crack, or peel.
  • Gel nails don’t yellow as quickly as acrylic nails.

Overall, if you have the budget, the gel nails may be the best option for you in the long term thanks to the better durability, quality, appearance, and safety compared to acrylic nails.

Things to Keep in Mind About Gel Nails

With many upsides also come a few downsides.

First of all, gel nails are difficult to apply at home since they require UV curing, and you probably don’t have a UV light box at home. Not only that, excessive exposure to UV light may be harmful, though the quickness of the procedure should safeguard you from any complications.

Secondly, many more nail technicians are skilled in acrylic nail application than gel nail application, so finding a good nail salon doing gel nails may be more difficult.

Gel nails also aren’t always easy to remove. The softer the gel, the easier it is to remove. If the gel isn’t hard, then it can be removed by 100% acetone. The removal should be safe for the nail bed if the gel has been primed properly and if the nail is hydrated during the process.

With hard gel, you may need to address a nail salon to have the gel removed by filing.

And finally, expect to pay more for gel nails than for acrylic nails.

With that being said, the long-term benefits of gel nails, in our opinion, outweigh the downsides. If you’ve been dissatisfied with acrylic nails for quite some time, then maybe you should opt for gel nails instead.

Acrylic VS Gel Nails

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