The Difference Between Gel, Acrylic, and Gel-Acrylic Nails

When it comes to getting a manicure, there are a plethora of options to choose from. From traditional nail polish to dip powder, the possibilities can be overwhelming. However, two of the most popular options are gel and acrylic nails. In this article, we will explore the differences between these two types of manicures and what it means when people refer to “gel acrylic nails.”

Whether you’re a nail salon regular or new to the world of manicures, understanding the differences between gel and acrylic nails is important. Both options have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, and knowing which one to choose can make all the difference in achieving the perfect manicure. So, let’s dive into the world of gel vs. acrylic nails and discover which option is right for you.

Gel Nails Vs. Acrylic Nails

When it comes to choosing between gel nails and acrylic nails, there are a few key differences to consider. Gel nail polish is applied to your natural nails and cured with a UV lamp. It creates a durable, shiny finish that can last for weeks without chipping. In addition, it dries quickly, so you don’t have to worry about smudging your nails when leaving the salon.

Acrylic nails, on the other hand, are created by blending acrylic polymer powder with a liquid monomer. The resulting mixture is pressed onto your natural nails and shaped into an extension that air-dries. This creates a thick, sturdy “shell” over your nails that is less prone to breakage.

Here are some key differences between gel nails and acrylic nails:

Gel NailsAcrylic Nails
Applied to natural nailsApplied as an extension over natural nails
Cured with UV lampAir-dried
Dries quicklyTakes longer to dry
Shiny finishMatte finish (can be buffed to a shine)
Lasts up to 3 weeksLasts up to 4 weeks
Soak-off removalRequires filing or drilling to remove

Ultimately, the choice between gel nails and acrylic nails comes down to personal preference. Consider factors such as durability, drying time, and finish to determine which option is best for you.

What Are Gel-Acrylic Nails?

When people refer to “gel-acrylic nails,” they are usually talking about one of two things.

Gel Extensions

Gel extensions are a type of nail extension that uses a premixed gel instead of acrylic. The gel is applied onto the natural nail and a nail form, which allows the artist to add length. Once the length is added, the nail can be filed into different shapes and painted with any design. Gel extensions must be cured with an LED/UV light. With gel extensions, the possibilities are endless, and you can create unique and stunning designs that will last for weeks.

Layered Gel and Acrylic

If you want a hybrid approach to your nails, you can opt for the layered gel and acrylic technique. This process involves applying a gel nail first, followed by an overlay of acrylic. Once the nail is shaped and formed, traditional or gel polish can be added.

One benefit of this technique is that the acrylic never touches the nail bed, which is good news for those concerned about the damage caused by acrylics. Moreover, this approach offers the natural look of gel nails, with added strength from the thin layer of acrylic.

Here are some key points to keep in mind about the layered gel and acrylic technique:

  • A gel nail is applied first, followed by an overlay of acrylic.
  • Traditional or gel polish can be added once the nail is formed and shaped.
  • The acrylic never touches the nail bed, which is less damaging.
  • The technique offers the natural look of gel nails with added strength from the acrylic layer.

Which Type of Manicure Is Best?

When it comes to choosing the best type of manicure, it all boils down to personal preferences and individual needs. Here are some factors to consider:


Gels are a popular and affordable option for those seeking a natural-looking manicure. They create a thinner coating over the nail, giving a more subtle appearance. However, they may not be the best option for those with brittle or soft nails, as they do not provide the same level of protection as other types of manicures.


Acrylics provide a harder shell, making them a great choice for those with brittle or soft nails. They are also the preferred base for those who want to add bling to their nails with crystals, pearls, or chains. However, they may not look as natural as gels and can feel more rigid.

Hybrid Gel-Acrylics

A hybrid gel-acrylic approach can provide the best of both worlds, offering a natural-looking result with added strength. However, this option can be more expensive than traditional gels or acrylics and may feel more rigid than what you’re used to.

Remember, your manicure is temporary and nails grow quickly, so don’t be afraid to try different options until you find the one that works best for you. Consult with your nail technician to determine which type of manicure would be best suited for your individual needs.