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Acrylic vs Gel Nails

Gel Nails vs Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails and gel nails are both popular types of artificial nail enhancements and are different in many ways. 

You have probably heard of them before and have likely seen or know someone who has or had nail extensions, and if you are trying to figure out the difference between gel and acrylic nails, this article is for you!

Emi School experts will answer all your questions regarding acrylic vs gel nails so you can choose the right nail application for you.

What Are Acrylic Nails?

Acrylic vs Gel nails

Acrylic nails are nail enhancements made of a material created by combining a liquid acrylic product with a powdered acrylic product.  The two products (monomer and polymer) together form a soft ball that can be fashioned into a nail shape. Once a nail technician applies this acrylic to a client’s nails, the material hardens (air dries) and becomes much stronger.  Then it can be buffed and filed to the customer’s liking. The downfall of acrylics is there are often toxic ingredients in most formulas and the smell is very strong.

Another way of getting acrylic nails is by dipping your actual nail into the acrylic powder. This acrylic will then harden and you’ll walk away with it on your nail for approximately 3 weeks before it needs to be reapplied. 

However, this version of acrylic nails will chip or peel off until there’s no more product left on your nail bed. This makes them not so great if you want to maintain an elegant appearance throughout wear.

Dip powder nails are the same as acrylic. The powder is colored and instead of liquid, special glue is used.

It is pretty popular but brings sanitary concerns because of clients dipping fingers into the same container – allergies and strong glue that often irritates the eyes are not the best combination.

What Are Gel Nails?

Gel nails vs Acrylic

Gel nails are made of premade solutions that are stored in a bottle or jar and applied using a nail brush. Once the sculpted nail has cured, the gel nail more closely resembles a natural nail. 

Gel nails do not hurt your natural nail beds and cuticles like acrylic nails can. Gel nails create a shiny, glossy finish that typically lasts for 4 to 5 weeks. 

There are a few different types of gel polish:

  • LED (Light Emitting Diode) Gel. This type is cured by an LED lamp that’s similar to the one at your local tanning salon. It emits UV light that hardens the gel after it has been applied.
  • Bottled Gel Polish. Gel polish is different from others because it comes in a nail polish bottle with an attached brush. It hardens in an LED lamp. You can remove this polish without damaging your nails after it’s ready to come off.  However, if you want to make changes to the color of your gel polish, you’ll need to return to the salon for another manicure because removing any part of the original application will damage your nails.

Acrylic VS Gel Nails: Which is Less Damaging to Natural Nails?

If applied properly by a certified nail technician, gel nail extensions do not damage the natural nail beds. Gel products (especially of high quality) exclude the harsh chemicals commonly used in acrylic systems (like acids) and are therefore more safe and healthy for natural nails. Gel nails are also lighter and have better flexibility and movement with the natural nail, decreasing the potential of breaking and damaging the nail enhancement as well as the natural nail underneath it.

Acrylic, however, will always cause damage to the natural nails on some level since the liquid used in this system is highly acidic and penetrates through the natural nail plate, and has a high probability of thinning it and wearing it down.

Although there are differences between gel and acrylic nail application processes, once adhered to the fingernail, both nail types can be worn for prolonged periods of time and stay put when properly applied.

Acrylic nails require the application of a primer solution to the natural nail first before the nail can be applied whereas gel nails can be applied with or without a primer. Many primers are made with harmful chemicals that can cause corrosion or allergic reactions if poorly applied to the nail or come into contact with the skin around the nail bed. That is why it is so important to go to a certified nail technician who is experienced in application techniques as well as trained in product knowledge and material science. 

Acrylic VS Gel Nails

The choice between acrylic and gel nails depends on what you’re looking for. Gel nails and acrylic nails are both artificial nail enhancements that provide a way of achieving longer, stronger, and more durable nails. They each have their pros and cons so it’s important to know the difference before deciding which one is best for you. Let’s take a look at our specially made chart where we compare both nail enhancements based on the application process, price, durability, and versatility.

Gel VS Acrylic



Acrylic nails are made at the time of application by mixing an acrylic solid monomer with a liquid polymer to create a paste-like substance. The dough-like nail solution is made in front of the client at the time of application and applied to the nail using a brush.

Gel nail solution is a premixed gelatin form that is stored in a bottle or jar and is applied to the nail with a brush.



To keep up with the growth of your actual nails, an acrylic overlay extending past the tip of your finger should be added every three to four weeks. In order for it to last longer, you need to get refills done about once a month.

Gel nails will need to be refilled or maintained every 2 to 4 weeks, depending on your natural nail growth.

Application Process

Application Process

Before applying acrylic you need to use a primer. A nail primer (often highly acidic) is a very sticky solution that is applied to clean, prepped natural nails after removing unwanted debris or grease that might interfere with the adhesion of the artificial nail.

When this step has been completed, the acrylic powder and liquid are combined to create a mixture to create a mold to glue onto your nails.

Hard gels need a protein bonder (non-acidic in most cases) and base coat applied before application in order for them to stick well to your natural nail when curing under UV lights.

Next comes the builder gel which builds up artificial layers by adding hard (or soak-off) gel on top while keeping everything properly aligned; lastly, a clear topcoat gives extra protection and a shiny (or matte) finish.

Removal Process

Removal Process

Acrylic nails can be removed using an e-file machine or soaked off in acetone (highly damaging to the natural nail and the skin around the nail) for about 20 minutes and then gently taken off. In order to keep your nail beds as safe as possible, this procedure should be performed by a licensed technician.

Hard gel nails can not be removed by soaking. They need to be filed off carefully. To reduce the risk of damaging the natural nail beds and cuticles. We strongly recommend using an e-file machine for removal or using a soak-off solution that is not acetone for soak-off gels (can also be removed using an e-file). Removal needs to be performed by a professional nail technician.

Curing Process

Curing Process

Acrylic compounds are made right before they are applied to the natural nail, so air-hardening time is pretty quick. This means you don’t have a lot of time to correct your work while the pasta is still mouldable.

Once applied to the nail, gel nails are cured under a UV light. It takes two minutes to cure gel nails under a UV light. Since that gel does not air dry, you have MORE time to move it around, fixing any mistakes or redirecting the gel around the nail to create the perfect sculpted nails. Most Emi sculpting gels are self-leveling, so the procedure is quick and, with the right training, you can sculpt a nail so perfectly that you won’t need to file it after! These nail applications are a more expensive formula.



Acrylic nails are generally cheaper than gel nail application. Depending on the style, length, and design, they can vary between $35 and $75.

Gel nails are more expensive to apply than acrylic nails. The premade gel solution creates a more natural looking nail while also affecting the cost. On average, gel nail applications cost $50 to $100. Most of the time, a complicated design comes at an additional price. Don’t forget- quality costs.



Acrylic nails are harder and thicker, they tend to be more uncomfortable than gel nails. When bumped or pushed, the hard attachment can harm the soft natural cuticle tissue around the nail bed and the natural nail.

Gel nails are less rigid and more flexible so they do not cause as much discomfort to the natural nail or cuticles. They are also thinner and lighter, making gel extensions more comfortable than acrylic ones.

Your Nails, Your Choice!

Thanks to the advances in acrylic and gel nail applications, anyone can have beautifully long and shapely nails. Both gel and acrylic nails provide similar results when it comes to providing more strength to your fingernails.
The differences listed above should be considered before making your decision on which one would work best for you.

Become Professional Nail Technician

At Emi School, we offer a variety of gel nail application products and training courses on proper nail care. Not only will you learn the difference between acrylic and gel nail systems, but how to apply and care for gel nail extensions properly.

Contact us today at Emi School to find out more about our available products and online or in-person training courses

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