Gel nails or acrylic nails? Is one better than the other? Are they safe?
Acrylic enhancements have been around far longer than gel nails. But gel is gaining in popularity because of it’s ease of removal.
I’ll discuss the difference to help you make a more informed decision.
“Ana, I was wondering which are better gel nails or acrylic nails? I have had acrylics put on three times now and they
always lift within days. What should I do?” ~Tammy
Both are good but only if your nail tech is phenomenal, which usually means around $50 or more per manicure.
This is because they work hard to stay up to date and educated on the newest techniques and product technology. They care more about filling their calendar with clients they care about than getting clients in and out the door as quickly as possible.
Damage to the nails is never because of the amazing products available to us today. Damage always comes from the nail tech.
If acrylics lift for you in days, it’s possibly from improper application combined with water absorption from the underside of your nails.
What’s The Difference?
“All artificial nail enhancements are based on ingredients from the acrylic family. Of course, just because these products are based on the acrylic family doesn’t mean they are all the same. That’s like saying all Americans or all Australians are the same.
Liquid/powder systems are based on one branch of the acrylic family called the methacrylates. Wraps, no-light gels, and tip adhesives are based on another directly related branch, the cyanoacrylates.
UV gel products until recently were based strictly on ingredients from a third branch called the acrylates, but newer, more advanced products based on methacrylates have become available.
Each category has advantages and disadvantages. There are no perfect product types.” ~Doug Schoon, Nail Structure and Product Chemistry
Acrylic nail enhancements are always a liquid monomer mixed with a polymer powder. The nail professional has spent dozens—if not hundreds—of hours practicing to get that perfect, consistent chemical blend, or mix ratio. Not to wet and not too dry.
Gel is always that—thick, goopy gel. It can come in a bottle or a pot, but it’s never mixed on the spot like acrylic. It is usually cured with a UV or LED lamp.
Don’t ever let a nail tech try to convince you that a liquid and a powder are gel. They’re lying.
Gel Nails are Flexible
Soak-off-gels are easier to remove but your nail plate can still be damaged if the gel is scraped off before it’s completely dissolved.
I personally prefer gel nails when compared to acrylic because it is a flexible monomer. Acrylic is much harder. We want our nails to bend when whacked against something hard. Gel provides that flexibility. My experience is that the gel takes the brunt of the force and cracks, but my nail won’t break.
I also like that gel nails can be done at home. It is far easier to do your own nails since you use the product as-is right from the bottle. No mixing is required.
When the manufacturer’s directions are followed precisely, you can give yourself the perfect nail treatment and create your own beautiful gel nails.
It’s a wonderful product to help your own nails grow longer if they tend to break a lot.
What to Expect and Demand
If you choose to go with gel, make sure that your nail surface is lightly buffed with a very fine, high grit file—400 and up. Your nail professional should only be removing the shine of the nail plate.
Today’s technological product improvements do NOT require a roughed up nail surface for proper adhesion for gel nails.
Doug and I advise that you don’t let a nail professional touch your natural nails with an electric file.
When you return for a fill, if you are going to get the same color, the nail professional should file down the gel until it’s thin and reapply the basecoat gel, 2 gel color coats and gel topcoat.
If you are going to choose a new color, all of the gel needs to be dissolved off. This is done with a foil wrap method. They should lightly file the gel surface to break the shiny surface so the acetone can penetrate quicker.
Ask your nail professional to put oil on your skin BEFORE the wrap. (They’ll think you’re crazy, but trust me…your skin will thank you).
The gel is ready to be removed 10-30 minutes later. Yep, up to 30 minutes later! The dissolved gel should slide off your nail with firm pressure against the cotton pad.
If there are bits of gel bonded to your nail, they must be soaked off with more acetone and another wrap. They should NOT be sanded or scraped off. You can see the microscopic damage results from scraping in Doug Schoon’s article.
The most critical decision is to find a really good nail professional. Ask around. If you see someone’s nails that you like, ask who they go to.
Interview the nail tech—how many years have they been working? Ask to sit in and watch their process with another client.
If you choose to do your own gel nails, do your research to find the best line that you want to purchase.
Your nails are a very important part of your body. And today’s enhancement materials are safe when used correctly. Think carefully and choose wisely.
Update 3/3/15: Since writing this article, I have discovered that almost all soak-off-gel manufacturers advise to use an orange wood stick to push the gel off after it’s soaked the designated time. When I sent this evidence to Doug Schoon, he suggested that I call the companies to inform them to make changes.
What? Little ‘ol me? HA!
I responded that he might have a little bit more clout as a respected scientist of over 30 years, who helps several nail companies with their product development. He said, “They won’t listen. Which is why I work to help educate the product educators who go out and teach the nail professionals.”
I don’t envy his mission. He’s slowly making a dent in the universe, but it’s not an easy path.
Seeing the microscopic damage that an orange wood stick can wield to the natural nail plate, it’s important to completely soak off all bits of the gel. Doug has recently said that it can take up to 40 minutes.
Don’t be tempted to save time with scraping. You’ll regret it for the next 4 to 6 months.