The Differences Between Gel and Acrylic Nails

When it comes to artificial nail styles, there are two techniques most commonly sought after in the salon -- gel nails and acrylic nails. Although both techniques yield results that are virtually indistinguishable from one another, there are advantages and disadvantages to each that should be considered before heading to the salon. Here are the ins and outs of gel and acrylic nails -- everything you’ll need to know to select the best artificial nail technique for you.

Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails are essentially artificial nail tips that are glued in place over your natural nails to give you nails more length and strength. One of the primary advantages of acrylic nails, is that because the technique has been widely used for so long, most technicians have extensive experience working with acrylic nails. It’s important to select a properly trained technician, however, as incorrectly applied acrylic nails can look unnatural.

A disadvantage of acrylics, opposed to gel nails, is that it ultimately requires the use of a strong chemical solvent to remove the acrylics. It also doesn’t promote healthy nail growth like gel nails do.

When applying acrylic nails, the technician will first prepare your nails by cutting, filing and roughing up their surface with an emery board -- a technique that helps the acrylic adhere to the nail bed. Next, the artificial tips are glued to the tips of your natural nails and the tips are cut and shaped to the desired size. To apply the acrylic, a small brush is dipped first into a liquid monomer and then into a powder polymer. This creates a small “ball” of acrylic product that is applied to each nail bed and pressed into place.

Gel Nails

Although gel nails are not a new innovation in artificial nails, the technique only started gaining popularity in the United States within the past few years. One reason for its growing popularity is that it creates a thinner, more flexible artificial nail that looks more natural than acrylic nails. It also promotes the growth of natural nails and can be worn as a protective layer over your natural nails until your desired nail length is achieved. The application of tips is optional, and can be substituted for a full gel tip, which is created over a gel form on your real nails.

Preparing the nails for gel artificial nails is the same as preparing them for acrylic nails --the nails must be cut, filed and roughed up with an emery board. Next, the artificial tips (if being used) are glued to the tip of each nail. Alternatively, a thin layer of the gel is spread onto each nail and cured underneath a UV lamp for approximately 15 seconds. This gets the nails ready for natural nail overlays, which are done over a disposable nail form. The gel is applied in coats like nail polish and cured between coats underneath the UV light.

When done correctly, the end result is a thin, natural looking, natural feeling and lightweight nail.

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