Acrylic vs gel



Do you have thin, weak nails that you want to prevent from breaking?  Short nails (perhaps from biting) that you want to lengthen?  The most common manicure solution for these issues is nail enhancements – otherwise known as artificial nails.  The two main types of artificial nails are acrylics and gels.  Both enhancements can be used to lengthen natural nails and have a natural look to them without polish.  Both can also be applied in a french manicure pink and white or over an artificial tip glued to the end of a natural nail.

Acrylic Nails

The traditional acrylic application process includes a rubber cement-like consistency primer being dipped into acrylic powder, quickly heated in light, and brushed over the nail.  The liquid monomer bonds with the powder polymer to create a sea-glass like texture over the nail. While acrylics dry, they feel as if they tighten on the natural nail, and end up rigid and strong.  The preparation for acrylics includes sanding the surface of the nail with an electric file to smooth its surface.  Eliminating any bumps or unevenness on the natural nail helps the acrylic to spread evenly and to adhere to the natural nail without lifting off.  To maintain acrylics when the natural nail grows out and leaves a gap at the base of the nail, filing also occurs to even the thickness of the original acrylic and new application “fill”.  This filing is harmful to natural nails and ironically can further weaken nails that wanted acrylic strengthening in the first place.  Other disadvantages are that acrylics have a strong odor when applied, and because they are thick, can look less natural.

Gel Nails

Gel nails have been increasing in popularity, and seem to be replacing acrylic nails.  Gel nails brush on similarly, but do not have an odor like their acrylic counterparts.  The application process is a bit simpler: the gel (a monomer and polymer mixture) comes in a pot, and is brushed on the nail before it is cured in a UV light.  Lightless gels are less common, but they cure with a liquid top coat or spray.  Gels are more flexible than acrylics, so they feel lighter and therefore more like a natural nail, although in appearance are a bit opaquer than acrylics.  Soak-off gels are the new trend in artificial nail enhancements because they can be soaked in acetone rather than sanded to remove, which is safer for natural nails.  The disadvantages of gel nails are they are debatably less durable and that polish doesn’t adhere to them as well as on acrylics.  In response to the latter, some companies have developed colored gels such as OPI Axxium and CND’s Brisa gel systems.


For the pictures above, my nail technician sanded in preparation for both the acrylics and gels, and because she was applying the different nail enhancements simultaneously, I did place my acrylic nails under UV light, although it was probably not needed to cure them.  My gel nails stung in the UV light, but if I removed my hand and replaced it after a couple of seconds, the stinging vanished.  Although with polish the gel nails were a little thicker than my natural nails, I think they looked more realistic than the acrylics.

Although I see the appeal of artificial nail enhancements, I still prefer my natural nails’ shape.  Of course the shaping of artificial nails can differ depending upon the technician and desire of client, but I found both the acrylic and gel ends were wider than my natural nail base, which made them look fake.

I hope this gives you the information you need to choose between natural or natural-looking artificial nail enhancements.  Check back for the removal process results – class dismissed!

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