What’s The Difference Between Gel And Acrylic Nails?

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How do you make your nails look great? Your choices are no longer limited to selecting the color of the regular nail lacquer! Now, it is easier to change the shape, length, and type of nails through various nail products like gel and acrylic nails.

But what is the difference between gel and acrylic nails? Which one is better and what makes it a better choice than the other? 

Well, there are many differences between the two, from how they are applied, the curing time, scent, and even the cost.

There isn’t a clear winner between the two — it’s really all about your personal preferences. We’ve put together this article to help you choose which one would be better for your needs and style goals.


What Are Gel Nails?

Gel Nails in Kit

The first one we’ll put in the spotlight are gel nails . The most common gel nails today are the gel polishes. 

These come in a variety of colors and are applied to the nails just like regular lacquer. But the big standout here is the additional step of curing under UV or LED light.

Gel polishes help add strength to your weaker nails. 

Usually gel nails are just placed on top of your nail to strengthen them. However, nowadays, gel extensions can be used. These extensions can come in two forms: a hard gel form or a pre-formed gel nail that you attach to your natural nails like Press on nails. 

The difference between press on and gel nail extensions is that you don’t use nail glue to attach them. You use soft gels to make the formed gel nails stick to your natural nails. This will require curing under UV light. 

See also:

What Are Acrylic Nails?

Acrylic Nails in Kit

Acrylic nails can be used to extend the length of the nails. In fact, they are mostly used for that purpose. If you want to try different nail shapes and nail lengths, acrylics are more commonly used than gel nails. 

With acrylic nails , there are two components that are mixed together.

Once mixed, they are formed on top of the nail to extend the nail length and allow it to be formed into various nail shapes. 

As the acrylic mixture comes in contact with each other, it begins to harden. You don’t have to use UV light to cure acrylics!

You simply wait for them to harden.

Acrylic nails are a bit easier to DIY than gel nails, as you don’t need any additional equipment.

See also:

The Difference Between Gel And Acrylic Nails

The gel and acrylic nails have similarities in terms of strengthening the natural nail. They can make your nails look absolutely stunning for that big day or a special event, party, or if you just want to make your nails look great. 

However, there are also some notable differences between the two. These differences will help you decide which one you’d prefer on your nails.

Application to the Nail

LED Nail Lamp

One main difference between the two is the application process. Gels require UV light in order to cure while acrylics do not.

Gel polishes come in packaging that’s similar to regular nail lacquer. But in order to harden them, the nails must be exposed to UV light. Unfortunately, UV light is damaging to the skin.

If you don’t expose them to UV light, they won’t harden at all no matter how much time you let them dry out. 

If you’re planning to do gel nails at home, you’ll need to purchase and maintain an LED nail lamp (though you can try using a blacklight flashlight if you’ve got one).

The application for acrylic nails involves mixing a powder and a liquid solution. Unlike gels that are already premixed, acrylics are mixed right before the application. 

The mixing of the two ingredients initiates the chemical reaction between them. This reaction is called polymerization.

Now, all they need is time for them to completely cure. 

Before the acrylics harden, you should be able to roughly shape it into the shape you want. You can further change the shape or fine-tune it by filing it off.

Acrylic nails usually involve a lot of filing and buffing. Usually, electric nail files are used to speed up the process.

However, manual filing and buffing can be done to shape the nail. 

Sometimes, the acrylic nails might look like they are not hardening.

It can be due to a variety of things but the most common cause would be the improper proportion of the acrylic powder and liquid monomer.

Appearance of the Nail

Gel nails will usually appear more natural than acrylic nails. Usually, they have a glossy finish. That’s what most people expect in freshly-manicured nails. 

Acrylic nails on the other hand could look more unnatural than gel nails. When they are applied incorrectly, it becomes more obvious that the nails are fake. 

However, some really go for the extravagant appearance that acrylic nails can provide.

Although they look fake, they can be works of art on your nails. 

Drying Or Curing Time

In order for gel nails to cure, you need to expose them to UV light. The amount of time you cure them under the UV light will depend on what brand you are using. 

Usually, you need to expose the gel under the UV light for about 30 seconds to two minutes for them to completely cure.

However, you should remember that curing is done for each layer of gel polish you use.

You need to repeatedly expose your nails to UV light the more layers you apply. 

Acrylic nails, on the other hand, do not require UV to cure. But they do need time to dry. They won’t dry as fast as gel polishes. You’ll have ample time to work on them before they totally harden. 

Usually, you have to wait for about 10 minutes for the acrylic nails to completely dry up and harden. 

One of the best ways to test if the acrylic nails have already hardened is to give it a little tap. A clicking sound usually indicates that your acrylic nails are completely hardened. 


Between the gel nails and acrylic nails, it is the acrylic nails that give off a stronger chemical scent during the application.

For some people, this scent is enough to avoid using acrylic nails. 

The cause of the scent is the fumes that are produced when the acrylic powder and monomer liquid react.

The polymerization reaction is the main cause of the scent. 

Gel nails do not produce this strong scent during the application. Some consider them to be odorless, while others might smell something, but it isn’t as strong as the acrylic fumes. 

Durability And Flexibility

Both the gel nails and acrylic nails are durable. Unlike regular nail polish that chips in just a few days, gel nails and acrylic nails can last for weeks. 

The exact length of time they last will vary depending on how you take care of them and if they are properly applied. 

Acrylic nails can be considered tougher or more durable because they are harder as compared to gel nails.

However, gel nails are more flexible. Some people may prefer flexibility over durability because they can be more comfortable.

Damage To The Nails

The main reason why natural nails get damaged when either gel or acrylic nails are used is due to improper application. 

Both methods do have their own risks. Acrylic nails have a risk of infection, or an allergic reaction is known as contact dermatitis. Similarly, gel nails may also have the same risk due to the use of the primer. 

If your nails smell bad, that’s a bad sign!

Removal Procedure

The removal procedures of acrylic nails and gel nails are different. For acrylic nails, the nails generally need to be soaked in acetone then buffed off to completely remove from the nail. See here for more information.

On the other hand, with gel nails, you first need to file off the top layer that seals the gel polish. You have to soak the nails in pure acetone for about 15 minutes. The gel polish should slide off easily.

In some cases, the gel nails are simply completely filled off. 

With either gel nails or acrylic nails, it is best to let professional nail technicians remove them. This will help prevent damaging the natural nails. 


Most salons offer acrylic nails at a cheaper price than gel nail applications. 

Which Is Better To Use, Gel or Acrylic?

Candy Lover Gel Polish

As we’ve mentioned, the use of either gel or acrylic will depend on your preference.

Beautiful or Wow?

Do you like to have more flexible and natural-looking nails? Then go for the gel nails. 

On the contrary, if you want harder acrylics that you can sculpt into various works of art on nails, go for acrylic nails. 

Your Current Nails

However, your preference shouldn’t only be your basis. Your current nail situation should also play a role in your decision-making. 

Professional nail technicians know how to assess your nails and give you what they think it needs. If you don’t have any problems or issues with your nails, then you are lucky enough to select whichever you’d like. 

Those who have brittle nails will need to add more flexibility to their nails so it doesn’t easily break. Whether they want to have nail extensions or not, gel nails are the best option. 

On the other hand, those who have nails that are prone to splitting because of their softness will need something to provide them with more strength. Acrylic nails are great for them (but you can still have problems if you’re not careful!) 

Either way, both nail procedures will create healthy and beautiful nails if the procedure is done right. 

What Lasts Longer, Gel or Acrylic?

Acrylic nails definitely last longer than gel nails, particularly if you take care of them and do regular fill-ins to keep everything looking good. Acrylic nails can last up to a few months if really well cared for!

Gel nails are also durable, but they are more on the flexible side. However, being flexible doesn’t really mean that they are weak. Some people are able to make their gel nails last longer than their acrylic nails because of how they use their nails and other factors.

Typically gel nails last for about 2-3 weeks. 

Is Gel or Acrylic More Expensive?

The price of getting acrylic nails vs gel nails will vary from one salon to another. However, assuming a simple design with no nail stamping, nail art, etc., acrylic nails are usually more affordable than gel nails.

Some people might argue that getting acrylic nails is more expensive because of how long it takes to create a design. However, creating a design with gel nails will also affect the price. 

Although acrylic nails can be durable and less expensive, there are still people who prefer gel nails instead of it due to the odor that it produces upon application. 

Is Gel Stronger Than Acrylic?

Both gel and acrylic are strong or durable artificial nail products that don’t chip easily. However, acrylic nails are harder than gel nails. 

Harder acrylic nails are stronger and they are better to use if you want to greatly extend the length of your nails. Although acrylic nails are strong, you still should know how to properly use them because they can break if they are not used properly.

That could lead to acrylic nails lifting or damaging your natural nails.

On the other hand, flexible gel nails are preferred by some people, even if they aren’t as strong as acrylic, because they are more comfortable. Some people are simply not used to hard acrylic nails that are on top of their nails. 

The Hybrid Formula: Polygel Nails

Polygel Nails

Most of us may already be confused between gel nails and acrylic nails. The information above helps shed light on what those two exactly are. 

However, we are here to introduce another alternative to nail enhancement. That is the polygel  nail.

Polygel combines the durability of acrylic nails with the flexibility of gel nails. 

Polygels are usually sold in tubes. There is no need to mix anything to use them. They are already premixed in the tube.

The ingredients are acrylic powder and a clear gel. 

To apply polygels, you first need to use a dehydrator for the natural nails. Then a primer or gel base coat is used. It will be cured under UV or LED light depending on the brand used. 

Once it is cured, the polygel is added to the nail plate and shaped using a brush that’s dipped on a solution.

Once the desired shape is achieved, it will be cured under the light again. 

Similar to acrylic nails, the polygel can be filed or buffed into shape.

A gel topcoat is then added then allowed to cure under the light. 

Polygels, like acrylic nails, can be used to extend the length of the nail. A nail form can be attached to the nail to serve as a guide and support as to how long you plan the nails to be. 

It could also be used to fill in the nails after about 3-4 weeks. Like the acrylic nails, polygels don’t really need to be completely removed during each manicure session. Maintenance involves filling in the nails as your nails grow. 

Air-Dry Gel Nail Alternative

Sepcial top coat

Do you like the glossy finish that gel nails provide but are worried about the UV exposure? The great news is that there are gel nail alternatives that don’t require UV exposure for them to cure.

There are lots of brands that promise gel quality manicure by simply air drying it. The truth is, they aren’t technically gel polishes. They are just regular nail polishes with a thicker consistency that feels like a gel. 

Non-UV or air dry gel polishes  don’t require a base coat.

All you need to do is apply the gel polish in two coats then add a special top coat  to finish. 

Just remember that before you apply the next coats, you have to keep them completely dry.  

As they are similar to regular polishes, you also have to wait longer for them to completely dry. Additionally, they may not be as durable as your gel polishes that require UV or LED light. 

Most promise days of great-looking glossy nails without chipping. Gel polishes on the other hand could last for weeks. It could be a great alternative if you’d only need a fresh-looking manicure for a couple of days. 

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).