This is a question we get asked all the time by clients. What exactly is the difference between acrylic and gel nails?
To be honest, once the products are applied they do not look very different but there are a number of traits for each system that make them different and a fully rounded professional nail technician should be able to provide you with the choice of both. Having a choice ensures that you end up with the correct product to suit your lifestyle – your work, your hobbies and how hard you are on nails.
So let’s have a little run down of each system.
Acrylic is the original nail enhancement product, discovered in a dental lab in the 1950s. The molecules present in the acrylic system are the basis for all our gel systems. They were originally known as porcelain nails.
Acrylic is a liquid and powder mix that is self-curing. Curing is the hardening process and happens when the monomer molecules form long, cross-linked chains. Although your nails will feel hard by the time you leave the salon, the full curing process can take 24-48 hours depending on the system your nail tech uses. This is why they can feel a bit tight later in the day.
Due to this slow curing process there are microscopic gaps in the acrylic that allow acetone or other enhancement removing products to penetrate the nail enhancement. This causes the bonds between the molecules to break down and the nails to revert to a jelly-like substance that can be removed easily.
They are a harder product, giving them durability and this also makes them harder to file.
You will also notice a strong odour with acrylic. This is a vapour caused by evaporation not fumes, as many incorrectly imply. Fumes are particles of gas suspended in the air and are caused by the likes of a car exhaust. The vapours from acrylic need to be kept ventilated so that they don’t build up, as this can cause headaches.
There is a huge range of colours available and the options available with acrylic from a simple extension to encapsulation to 3D work is endless.
The reason we ask what products you have on your nails if you’re coming to us for the first time is because each system is different chemically. The acrylic powder in each system is made from the monomer liquid so they are perfectly matched and will give the best results without weakening the nails or causing yellowing.
Gel nails were developed in the 1970s and are basically a partially cured pot of molecules in short chains. They need a UV or LED light to cure, and they cure very quickly. This quick cure is the flash of heat that you feel when your gel is placed inside the lamp. It is the molecules giving off a huge amount of energy in only a few seconds, compared to the slow acrylic process. The thinner the gel is applied the less you will feel the burn, though some people are lucky to feel nothing. This is why you will see a nail technician apply gels in 2-3 layers.
Gel cures compactly, with no room for acetone to penetrate so it must be filed off. There have been some soak-able gels developed but not all brands have them. It is a softer product, so it is more flexible.
Gels have come on in leaps over the last number of years with greater ranges of colours and uses. Hybrid products like gel polish have taken the industry by storm and fantastic art products like moldable 3D gels, spider gels and foil gels are now the norm in salon work.
In short, neither product is ‘better’ than the other or more ‘popular’, as some would have you believe. Most of the time it is down to the preference of the nail technician. Some clients nails are better suited to one or the other. That is why a complete nail technician can do both, in addition to offering manicures, nail art and gel polish and very often will also provide some of the newer services such as polygels and dip systems (but they are for another day’s discussion). They can offer every solution for you, to ensure you get the very best choice for your nails, that will fit in with your life.
If you are thinking of having nails done for the first time, don’t be disheartened if they don’t seem to work, there is a solution out there for you, it’s just a matter of trying them out. And nail technicians differ too, make sure you choose someone whose work you have heard of for the right reasons. You have worked hard for your money, decided to treat yourself to these enhancements, make sure the technician is qualified, insured and has a good reputation.
Our Salon Team
Our team have a wealth of experience in the beauty industry, with varied & interesting experiences in their careers that they are excited to share with you. They will provide lots of varied informational posts including skincare, nails, behind the scenes, product information, how to's, and much more.