Gel vs. Gel Polish & Acrylic

I spend most of my time at the salon explaining the difference between gel enhancements and gel polish. Then, I also often have to explain to clients the difference between acrylic with gel top and true gel enhancement, and also that there is no such thing as gel powder— so, they basically got ripped off.

Now, I know I probably may have already lost some of you, so I will begin with the most basic of basic:


  • Polish is a product used for manicures and/or pedicures.
  • Polish is a product that reacts to evaporation. It dries as it comes in contact with air.It takes about 2-3 hrs for polish to completely dry– no matter what the product is being market as. Fast drying top coat and polish DO help to speed up the drying process, but it’s mostly the surface that dries quickly. Which means, if you push on it too hard, it will dent because the polish layers below are still wet.
  • Polish can be removed with both non-acetone polish remover and acetone.
  • Gel Polish

  • Gel polish can be accompanied by manicures and/or pedicures. Dry care is better for gel polish.
  • Gel Polish is a no chip polish. It lasts longer than regular polish. Usually about 7-14 days. Some will wear it longer, but it is not meant to be worn for very long.
  • Gel Polish is not gas permeable, and will suffocate the nail if worn too long.
  • Think of it as “great nail polish” — not an enhancement.
  • Gel polish dries by being cured under a UV lamp.
  • Most gel polishes are not meant to accommodate designs– such as stones, holograms, or stickers. They are too thin for these embellishments.
  • Either one color, French, or glitter gradation can be done.
  • No top coat is needed.
  • Gel polish cannot be filled.
  • Gel polish can only be removed with 100% acetone.
  • 20121114-001043.jpg
    Gelish, a brand of gel polish. **PC: My friend, Little Ninja

    Acrylic Enhancement

  • Acrylic is a powder (polymer) and liquid (monomer) form.
  • It is an enhancement and, to some extent, encouraged nail growth.
  • Acrylic is very hard and not flexible at all. Usually, it is applied fairly thick.
  • Acrylic is not gas permeable. Hence, the common occurrence of fungus due to lifting.
  • Acrylics can be worn over the natural nail, over tip extensions, or over sculpture extensions.
  • Acrylics are hardened by a chemical reaction between the monomer and polymer and air. There is no drying wait time involved.
  • Acrylics can be worn for 4-6 weeks, or even longer.
  • Acrylic always has a smell. The illegal form, MMA, has an even stronger smell.
  • Many discount salons will use MMA because it is stronger and does not lift as easily. It is very damaging to your nails. Once applied, it latches onto your nail beds, and no matter how careful the removal, layers of your natural nail will also peel off.
  • Acrylics can be filled or back-filled every 2-3 weeks.
  • Acrylics can incorporate and accommodate many designs such as: inlays, 3D, stickers, holograms, glitters, fades, and much more.
  • Acrylics are thick, hard, and inflexible. Therefore, it is important to make sure your nails do not bend back or crack, because usually the acrylic does not crack, but the nail underneath will. And, as stated previously, this can cause lifting and bc it is not gas permeable, it can promote fungus or bacteria growth.
  • Acrylics should never be peeled if lifting occurs. It can and will peel layers of your natural nail.
  • Acrylics require either a high-shine buff or a UV high gloss top coat to give a sheen.
  • Acrylics can only be removed with 100% acetone.
  • 20121114-001406.jpg Acrylic powders & monomer w/ brush.

    Gel Enhancements

  • Gel enhancements are in a sticky gel form. There is no such thing as powder gel. If a salon tells you powder gel, or starts working on you with wider and liquid but calls it gel, you are getting ripped off. That would be acrylic.
  • Not all, but some gel enhancements are gas permeable, so air and water goes through to your natural air. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about possible fungus growth due to product lifting. CalGel and Trump Gel are both gas permeable.
  • Gels are flexible so they move with your natural nail. This makes them more durable because they are much more natural/real. They are not nearly as thick or hard as acrylic, and feel much lighter. However, if you are used to the thickness and hardness of the acrylic, then you may find yourself feeling like your nails are too weak with the gels.
  • Hard gel, on the other hand, are a thicker and stronger gel– which can be used as a great transition for acrylic wearers into gel nails. Trump Gel is one of the first soak off hard gels. Most, and traditional, hard gels do not soak off; they must be filed off.
  • Gel enhancements can be worn for 4-6 weeks (or longer), and can be filled every 2-3 weeks up to 3-4 times. The design and color can be changed during fills.
  • Gels can be worn over the natural nail, tip extensions, or sculpture extensions.
  • Gels are hardened by curing under UV lamps. Different gels require different wattage. Most common is 32-watt. There’s is no drying time involved.
  • Gel enhancements can accommodate many designs: marble, peacock, holograms, glitter, stickers, 3D, and charms.
  • Gel enhancements should never be peeled off if lifting or to remove. This can cause layers of your natural nails to peel off, as well. This will most definitely harm and weaken your nails.
  • Gel enhancements can be removed with 100% acetone.
  • Some gel enhancements, like CalGel require a UV topcoat to give more shine, and to prevent yellowing caused by sun damage. Other gels, such as, Trump Gel, do not need UV top coat.
  • 20121114-002001.jpg Top L-R: Bio Sculpture Gel, Trump Gel || Bottom: CalGel, few brands of gel enhancements w/ brush.

    20121114-003209.jpg 32-Watt UV lamp (Used to cure gel enhancements & gel polishes).

    I, personally, love gel enhancements. They are long-lasting and you don’t need to wait for drying time. The design options are virtually endless. They encourage nail growth, while still feeling light-weight and natural.
    Others swear by acrylics. Some women who have been wearing them for decades, just can’t break themselves away from the acrylic. Their nails are much too thin and weak to appreciate the gel enhancements. However, acrylic nails can accommodate some nail designs that gels and polish just cannot. Such as inlays and shells, and acrylic sculptures can be extended to greater lengths than gels can be.
    Then, there are those who do not wish to have the same long-term commitments, but want something longer-lasting than regular polish. These people opt for gel polish. It stays on long enough for a specific event or amount of time, but come off quicker than gel enhancements or acrylics.
    And, of course, there are people who prefer regular polish because they like the luxury of being able to change nail colors and designs anytime you want. They like the feeling of their natural nails and are happy with their nail growth.

    I know this was a lot to read, but I hope this was a helpful lesson in nail products and mediums.
    The bottom line is: be sure you know what you are paying for if you are getting your nails done. Make sure you know what products are being used, and that they are being used properly:

  • your cuticles should never be cut– only pushed. The dead unattached skin is the only thing that can be nipped.
  • natural nails do NOT need to be filed down at all. They can be buffed to remove shine and natural oils on the nail, but never filed. There should be no use for an electric drill/file when prepping the nail for enhancements.
  • If your tech uses an electric file to file down your enhancements for removal, make sure you don’t feel any heat or pain.
  • Tip extensions and enhancements shouldn’t be pried off. They should be soaked off.
  • Ask questions– you have every right. Tell your technician if you are feeling any pain or discomfort. Let your technician know exactly what you want, and correct them if they are not giving you what you want. You may feel like a difficult or picky client, but it is better than paying for something you don’t want.

    Cosmetics are fun and great, but be sure you are educated with the products you are using.
    You don’t want to be sorry later.

    Thanks for visiting, and remember to keep your claws modish!



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