Gel Nails vs Acrylics: Battle of the Manicures

Comparison

Image Product Weight Price
DeepDream UV LED Lamp DeepDream UV LED Lamp 1.6 pounds $
IBD Clear Builder Gel IBD Clear Builder Gel 3.2 ounces $
Mia Secret Professional Nail System Mia Secret Professional Nail System 10.4 ounces $
Bee Natural Cuticle Oil Bee Natural Cuticle Oil 1.8 ounces $

We have seen lots of debates on the subject of fake nails in general, but when it comes to choosing which service to get, which is better, healthier or at least less damaging, people tend to confuse things. Which is better? Acrylic or gel nails? 
We decided to solve this mystery once and for all and help you understand the difference between these systems, so the next time you go into a salon, you would know what to ask for, confidently. If you are doing your nails at home, it is just as important to understand how to use these products and how they work.

Before we discuss gels and acrylics, let us start by addressing the general concern: damaging your natural nails. Fake nails are getting bad press lately and there are lots of people that would advise you against them, as you could end up with brittle, paper-thin, and overall damaged nails. This is not entirely true, and here’s why.

The only way your natural nails could get damaged is through the improper application of the product, inadequate preparation of the natural nail, cheap or inadequate use of products, and probably the most common, excessive filing, to name just a few. It’s sad, but there are still cheap salons out there that don’t have trained nail technicians, so if you ever feel like something is wrong, it’s better to walk away than to regret it later.

If you are doing your own nails at home, always follow the instructions that you are provided with and don’t be rough on your nails when removing the product. It’s always better to have patience, even if the process lasts longer, than to risk damaging your nails. 

Filing too much and removing layers of a natural nail could lead to pain and leave you with thin and compromised nails. Some cheap products or improper application could lead to even bigger problems, like contact dermatitis or fungal infections. Don’t let the products leak onto your skin and cuticles as they can sometimes cause allergic reactions.

The bottom line is, as long as you follow the basic rules of hygiene, preparation, application and especially removal, the product itself should not cause damage at all. On the contrary, products like acrylics and gels are meant to strengthen your natural nails and prevent cracking or chipping, which means your natural nails would be protected underneath, so they can grow long and strong.

What is Gel?


When we refer to gel manicures, we are usually talking about the hard gel that comes in a pot, but there is also the soft gel or gel polish, so here’s the difference.

Hard Gel – it can be thinner, runnier or a thicker-consistency goopy gel that is already mixed and comes in a pot. It cures under LED or UV light and can become hard enough to form a nail extension. This can be achieved either over a plastic tip or with the help of a form. This hard gel is not porous or soft enough to be soaked off, so it needs to be filed off with electric drills or hand files (hand files take forever to remove the hard gel, so the salons are using e-files instead).

Soft Gel – maybe you already know, but this is basically gel polish. It cannot lengthen a nail, but it adds strength to the natural nail, applies easily, just like polish, and cures faster under LED or UV light. The advantage is that you can soak it off as opposed to filing it down. To soak it off, you need to lightly file the shiny layer (topcoat) until it becomes matte, put a cotton ball soaked in acetone on your nails and wrap them in aluminum foil. Wait 10 to 15 minutes and lightly push the gel off with a cuticle pusher.

What is Acrylic?


Acrylics are mixed on the spot by combining a liquid (monomer) with a powder (polymer). This mixture is then applied to the natural (prepped) nail, shaped and let to airdry. The drying time is slower, so you have a little bit of time on your side to mold and shape the acrylic bead into the shape that you want. Acrylics require a special technique used for mixing the liquid with the powder, and that is usually referred to as the liquid to powder ratio. This can lead to a perfect bead of acrylic, not too runny, nor too dry. Acrylic was discovered long before gel. That’s why most experienced nail technicians already know how to work with it because this was the thing back in the day when they were trained.

The bottom line is that both gels and acrylics are derived from the acrylic family, so they practically turn into a plasticky material. They are different in many ways and can serve different purposes, but in the end, they’re family. 

Now that you know the basics about both systems, let’s go ahead and discuss the difference between them, what you can expect, how to choose and which one suits you best.

Acrylic vs. Gel nails


Let’s start with gel nails. 

Gel nails are flexible


Flexibility is essential, as this is also the property of your natural nails. You want your nails to be flexible when you bump them against a hard surface because they can absorb the shock better and won’t break or damage your natural nails underneath. The chances of breaking a gel nail are much lower than if you were wearing acrylic nails. And let’s be honest, if you wear long nails, accidents happen all the time.

Application


You can apply gel in many ways, but the most important thing to remember is that the thicker is the layer, the harder the light would penetrate it and the longer the curing time would be. You need a brush to apply it, and the application consists of barely making contact between the brush and the gel, almost floating it and slowly moving it where you want it to go. It’s not too difficult to learn, but it’s better to start with thinner to medium viscosity gels that have a self-leveling property because they are easier to use.

Gel cures under LED/UV light


For gel nails you need an LED/UV lamp to cure them. Gel gives you all the time in the world to play with it, as it doesn’t cure until you put it under the light. If you are new to gels, this could give you a great advantage and a better final result. In other words, you could nail it the first time you try. If you feel like you made a mistake, you can take it off and start all over again, as opposed to acrylic, which cures when it’s exposed to air. The curing time differs depending on the type of lamp you have and its power. The more powerful the lamp, the faster the curing time, so if you don’t like to sit and wait all day for your nails to cure, get a powerful LED lamp that would cut your time in half.

Gel removal


Gel nails are filed-down, they cannot be soaked-off like gel polish. This is the part where you must be cautious, as over-filing is a serious thing. If it’s done correctly, you shouldn’t get any damage to your natural nails. Usually, the filing is done with e-files and special drills.

The variety of products


When it comes to gels, you can expect a wide variety in texture and material. There are gels that cover the whole viscosity spectrum, from the thinnest to the thickest. Some of them are best for overlays, while others are especially made for extensions. Some are formulated to self-level and they can come in all sorts of colors and textures as well.

Gel pricing


Gels are usually more expensive than acrylic (both the service done in a salon and the products). When it was first introduced, it was marketed as “safer” and overall “better” than acrylic. Salons were able to charge more based on consumers’ perception of this system. At least now we know that is not true.

Now, let’s move on to acrylic.

 Acrylic is harder and more robust


Acrylic is much harder and stiffer than gel. This can either be an advantage or a disadvantage. On the one hand, if you have brittle nails, you want something hard on top so your natural nails would be protected, but if you wear a long set of acrylic nails and you bump into something hard, you might risk breaking a nail or two.

Application


The bead of product is formed by combining the liquid with the powder and applying it with a brush onto the nail. As opposed to gel application, the acrylic needs to be pressed into the shape with the brush. Similar to the gel, it is better to apply it in smaller beads than in one large bead until you can master the technique. The better and even the final result is, the less you would have to file it to create the shape that you want and an overall smooth surface.

Acrylic doesn’t need a lamp to cure


It’s simple. Acrylic airdries, so you don’t need a light to cure it, you just need time. It cures relatively fast, so you better master that technique because once it’s cured, you can’t do much to change its shape. That’s why, it is better to work with smaller beads rather than trying to form a nail with one large bead.

Acrylic removal


Acrylic is a much more porous material, so it can be removed by soaking it off. For speed purposes, in the salon it’s usually removed with an e-file, but if you want to do it yourself at home, you can soak it off using pure acetone and a metal cuticle pusher. This is the point where you can damage your nails by scraping too hard in the effort of removing the remaining product. Don’t do that. If you feel like the acrylic is not yet ready to come off, soak it again until it becomes loose enough to gently buff it off.

Acrylic pricing


Acrylic products, as well as salon services are cheaper than gels. Why? Simply because acrylic systems have been here for a long time and because they got a lot of bad press. Even though today we can find better quality products, some people still believe acrylic is the main reason for damaged nails, although it’s not true at all.



Whether you use gel polish or a builder gel (hard gel), you need a good quality lamp to cure it. There is certainly a wide variety of lamps out there, but we like this one because it’s affordable, easy to use and it is packing 54W of power that can cure any type of gel on the market. What else?

You have four timing modes, displayed on the LCD: 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 60 seconds and a low heat mode of 99 seconds, so you can set it and forget it. This UV LED lamp is large enough for you to fit in both hands at the same time, so you don’t have to worry about bumping into the sides and ruining your manicure. It also has a detachable bottom part so you can easily clean it. 

When you need a flash cure, you just have to put your hand inside, and it turns on and shuts-off on its own due to the smart sensors. 

This goes to show that you don’t need the most expensive, trendy or hyped tools on the market, you just need the most efficient ones. If you love doing your own nails at home, we are sure you would end up loving and using this lamp for a long time.

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When it comes to builder gels, we like the ones that are easy to use even if you are a first-time user. This one is perfect for beginners because it’s not too thick, it’s easy to work with and it has a self-leveling formula that would spare you the trouble of trying to get that perfect shape. This self-leveling property would drastically cut your filing time because the better you can get it to look when it comes out of the lamp, the less filing and shaping you would have to do afterward. 

Another cool property of the hard gel, especially the clear one, is its super glossy finish. This builder gel is great for building a nail from scratch, but you can also use it as an overlay to strengthen and protect your natural nails. After you’re done building, you can leave it like it is or you can put any color on top using a gel polish or a regular nail polish, whatever you fancy.

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If you want to try the acrylic nails, give them a shot with this nail system that includes both the powder and the liquid monomer. All you need is a good brush and you can start practicing your liquid to powder ratio.

We like that this set is clear, so even if you mess up a little bit, it won’t stain your skin or cuticles. You can also find lots of options in terms of colors, but we think it would be best to start with a clear one like this and get used to it before diving further into the world of acrylics. 
It’s an affordable duo, so it’s perfect for beginners. Just keep in mind, if it’s your first time using this system, that the monomer has a strong smell, so it’s best to pour a little bit of liquid into a container rather than keeping the big bottle open while you do your manicure. 

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Regardless of the products you use, or if you use any at all, a perfectly healthy and glowy manicure always ends with cuticle oil! Nourishing and hydrating your cuticles and hands is definitely the best thing you can do to pamper yourself and keep your manicure looking flawless even if you don’t wear any other products. 

This cuticle oil is truly a lifesaver. It’s formulated with tea tree oil, which is a natural antiseptic and sanitizer, lavender, as well as vitamin E. This cuticle oil repairs and softens the cuticles, as well as nourishing them and the skin around them. You can use it all over your hands after you’re done with your manicure, then throw it in your purse and treat yourself as many times as you want throughout the day. It smells incredibly good, it’s a treat for your skin and it can contribute to your overall wellbeing. 

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What can you take away from all this talk about nails? 


Fake nails, enhancements, acrylic or gel nail extensions…it all comes down to personal preference. They are all meant to beautify your manicure, strengthen your nails and protect them from the environment. It is not a matter of what is better or less damaging, as neither of them can truly damage your natural nails as long as you are careful and follow the right steps.

That being said, if you are doing your nails at home, there are some essential products and tools that you can use to ensure the best results regardless of what you decide to wear (gel or acrylic). 

Table of Contents

How to choose the Gel Nails vs Acrylics: Battle of the Manicures of the market?

Products

1. DeepDream UV LED Lamp
2. IBD Clear Builder Gel
3. Mia Secret Professional Nail System
4. Bee Natural Cuticle Oil

Final words about the Gel Nails vs Acrylics: Battle of the Manicures

Review Author

The author of this review is Zoe Carter, an experienced Nail Technician.

Zoey Carter

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1DeepDream UV LED Lamp
DeepDream UV LED Lamp
2IBD Clear Builder Gel
IBD Clear Builder Gel
3Mia Secret Professional Nail System
Mia Secret Professional Nail System