The differences between Gel and Acrylic nails

Posted on June 14, 2013 by Admin There have been 0 comments

The differences between Gel and Acrylic nails

A question we always get asked is which are better acrylic or gel nails? The answer isn’t a simple one and really depends on what look you’re after, your budget, your experience etc. There are also a range of products out there which all have different effects. It can be a bit overwhelming for someone just starting out with nails to know where to start. With that in mind, we will take you through the basics of gel and acrylic nails, and point out the pros and cons of each. Alongside dispelling some myths and rumours you may have heard about both.

What are Acrylic Nails?

Acrylic nails started becoming popular in the late 1970’s, and can be used to cover the whole nail or as an extension of the nail. The acrylic process begins with a mixture of acrylic powder (Polymer) and acrylic liquid (Monomer). These combine to create a polymer resin (a paste like consistency), which is applied directly onto the nail. This paste then hardens or cures when in contact with air, to create a hard plastic polymer on the nail. This hard protective layer over the tip, provides the extension with the strength and durability to withstand day to day activities. It can then be used as a canvas for a new design, allowing unique nails to be created with either glitter or coloured acrylic powder.

For years acrylic nails have long been the most popular form of treatment within the nail industry. This is due to a number of factors:

  • They can easily be fixed if they break or crack at home.
  • Can be taken off with relative ease at home when soaked in nail polish remover.
  • They are generally cheaper than gel nails.
  • They are very strong when applied correctly and can last a long time.

    There’re of course some drawbacks to having acrylic nails:

  • If applied poorly they can damage the natural nail bed. This damage can lead to a number of health problems if not addressed such as fungus and infection.
  • The chemical process of mixing the polymer and monomer involves strong chemicals and fumes.
  • The finished results can be a less natural look due to the amount of acrylic which is on the nail.
  • They require more filling and shaping than gel nails to get the right finished look.
  • Acrylic requires the nail tech to create the right mix-ratio to achieve the proper bond, using a dry mix will mean poor results.

    What are Gel Nails?

    Gel nails are created by brushing the oligomer (Gel) directly onto the nail then curing the nail under an ultra violet (UV) lamp. The UV rays in the lamp stars a chemical reaction within the gel which cures it onto the nail. Gel comes in a number of different thicknesses and colours which all have different directions for their application. The main thing to know is that gel is an oligomer chemical so you don’t mix it with any other chemical, and that it must be cured under a UV lamp for it to work.

    Gel nails are now as popular as acrylic, in recent years the development of UV gel polish from brands such as Shellac have increased the demand for gel nails.  Benefits of gel nails are:

  • They are non-toxic so can be applied to pregnant woman.
  • They have a more realistic and natural look. This is due to them being more slender on the nail.
  • They require less filling and shaping than acrylic.
  • They generally last longer than acrylic do to the chemical reaction with the UV lamp.
  • More flexible than acrylic which means they’re less likely to break.
  • As gel requires no mixing with other chemicals the gel will already be the correct viscosity to naturally seep into the micro crevices of the nail.

    They also have a number of negative points:

  • If applied poorly they can damage the natural nail bed. This damage can lead to a number of health problems if not addressed such as fungus and infection.
  • More expensive both when buying for home use and at a salon normally around 15-20%.
  • You need to have a UV Lamp to apply the nails.
  • If a gel nail breaks it can sometimes create a shatter effect rather than a clean break this means it cannot be fixed at home.
  • They often need to be filed off, although there are soak off versions available.

    Some Myths


    Acrylic Nails are stronger than Gel

    Many nail techs believe that acrylic nails are stronger than gel nails, this simply isn’t true. There are a number of different factors which may cause people to believe this:

  • Use of low quality gel- like any product if you use a sub quality product the results you get are not going to be the same as a high quality one.
  • Improper application – being a new product people may not know the best way to apply gel to a nail and therefore get sub-standard results. It is important to start with a thin lock in layer of gel and then build onto that to the correct thickness as this is where the strength is created.
  • Use of low quality UV lamps – The curing process under the UV lamp is where the chemical process takes place to create the strength of the gel. If you’re using a low quality lamp or the incorrect wattage, it may not fully cure the gel, making it weak.
  • When applied properly gel is equally as strong as acrylic and as mentioned above is more flexible so less likely to crack.

    Acrylics damage the nail and gels don’t


    You will notice in the negative points of both acrylic and gel we noted that both methods can damage the nail. However the majority of damage to the nail is caused by techs using excessive force to the nail during prep and application (nipping, pinching, drilling etc.) So to say that acrylic damages the nail and gel doesn’t isn’t correct both methods are only as good as the nail technician applying them.

    Gels nails are healthier than acrylic


    Above we did mention that the chemical process of mixing the acrylic polymer and monomer creates   unpleasant fumes.  However acrylic chemistry has been proven to be non-carcinogenic when mixed and applied to a nail bed. As long you are sat in a well-ventilated room there will be no issues. Both products are safe if used according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Clearly it is not advised to drink any of the acrylic liquid but you wouldn’t want to eat any of the gel either!



    Both acrylic nails and gel nails have their good and bad points which have been outlined above so which is best for you?

    Gels are a great way to achieve a natural look for those who don’t like the fake look of white tips. Gels are lightweight on your nails unlike acrylic which can feel heavy. Acrylics are more functional, they can be done at home and easily repaired, and they are also the most cost effective.

    With both techniques you can create stunning nails and the best way to really understand which are best for you is to give them both a go.


    This post was posted in Advice and was tagged with Acrylic Nails, Gel Nails