Gel Polish Vs Gel Overlay: Which Is Better In 2023?

Getting your nails done is one of the best treatments at a salon. But there are so many nail treatments that it becomes confusing to know which one to choose. Gel overlay and gel polish are standard options, but what’s the difference, and which is better for 2023?

Gel Polish Vs Gel Overlay

Gel Polish is also known as a gel manicure. It uses gel-based polish, often with tips, and requires a UV or LED lamp to cure. Gel overlay is gel polish applied directly over natural nails with a base coat, builder gel, and top coat. It can be used with nail forms and requires UV light to cure.

When deciding which nail treatment to do, understanding the difference between the two, their purpose, and how they work can help you figure out which one will better suit you.

What Is Gel Polish? 

a builder gel layer

Gel polish is like regular nail polish but gel based. While you get clear gel polish, color polish is often the reference and is applied between a base coat and a top coat. Gel polish is cured under a UV or LED lamp to dry. 

Gel manicures are often done with artificial tips to create extensions for the nails. That requires the fake tip to be glued to the natural nail, clipped, buffed, and shaped. The gel polish gets applied over, which unifies the natural nail with the artificial. 

Gel polish requires proper nail plate prep, including pushing back the cuticles, buffing the nails, and using a primer and a base coat. This helps gel manicures to last longer and prevent peeling, cracking, chipping, and damage. 

What Is Gel Overlay?

putting colored gel polish coat on polygel

A gel overlay may sound like it should be the same as gel polish. However, the treatment uses a builder gel over natural nails, which is considered much better for your nails and also the last longest. Builder gel is often referred to as a base coat, but it actually requires a base coat for better, long-lasting results. 

Gel overlays are done purely over the natural nail. The builder gel is used with nail forms even if you require nail extensions. That means there are no artificial tips and no glue, and the builder gel provides a layer of strength to your nails. 

Builder gel requires nail prep, including dehydrator, primer, and base coat. It also needs a top coat, and each layer needs curing with UV light. All these steps help the builder gel to look professional and last as long as possible without peeling. 

The great thing about gel overlays is that it looks and feels natural. Since it is applied directly on your nail plate, it doesn’t feel heavy and rigid. It helps the natural nail to grow at a natural pace. Builder gel also smoothens your nails by filling in cracks and ridges without causing sensitivities. 

An additional factor available in gel overlays is applying colored gel polish over the builder gel. This allows you to get a similar effect as gel manicures but by doing an easier, healthier treatment. 

How Long Does Gel Polish Take?  

Gel polish or gel manicures take around 90 minutes to two hours. A gel manicure’s treatment time varies if you plan to apply for artificial extensions or want nail art. It also depends on how many layers of gel polish you require to get the desired thickness and effect. 

Two hours is a long time for getting your nails done. This is the kind of time many people don’t have these days. Life is moving fast, everyone is busy, and people are always looking for easier, quicker options. 

Gel manicures require exact nail prep. If the cuticles are not cleaned well, the nail plate is not smoothened, the nail has residue, or the primer was not used, the gel polish can fall off, start to peel, and show signs of damage like cracking and chipping quickly. 

This becomes a hassle because after spending so much time doing the nail treatment, you have to fix and fill it. 

How Long Does Gel Overlay Take? 

Gel overlays take more time than gel polish manicures. It takes around 5-15 minutes more, depending on how many layers you need and whether you will apply color polish. It also depends if you choose to do nail form extensions or not.

Since gel overlays are done on natural nails and do not require applying or prepping artificial tips, it goes relatively quickly. It also requires proper nail plate prep to avoid peeling and falling out, but the process goes faster than the gel manicure. 

Builder gel often requires only one layer unless your nails are weaker, which means two to three layers will be needed. Each layer needs about two minutes under the UV light, and the treatment does not take too long, even if you are an amateur and doing it yourself at home. 

How Long Does It Take To Remove Gel Polish and Overlays? 

Removal takes 10-15 minutes to soak both gel polish, and builder gel overlays in acetone. Both treatments take around the same time to remove, so one is not saving you more time than the other. However, there are factors to consider: 

Due to the possibility of glued tips from gel manicures, your nails may require some additional soaking, filing, buffing, etc., to remove residue, which can cause sensitive, weak, and brittle nails. When doing nail treatments, you want to avoid this to retain the health of your nails and cuticles. 

Gel overlays come out more easily. Any residue left from the builder gel can be pushed out with a cuticle pusher and cleaned with some cotton and acetone. That means your nail goes through less stress causing less damage to the nail bed and plate and preventing sensitivities. 

Price Of Gel Overlays Vs. Gel Manicure 

Concluding price differences of the treatments is entirely dependent on various factors such as: 

  • Experience of the technician 
  • Status of the salon 
  • Salon professionalism 
  • Location of the salon 
  • Quality of the products 
  • Type of treatment 

A gel manicure typically costs more because it is a longer treatment requiring more products and tools. The artificial tips, number and color of polishes, cutters, clippers, filers, design, art, time, and effort are all factored into the price. The treatment can cost anything between $50 to $100. 

A gel overlay requires more time, product, and effort while still being a highly professional, quality, and long-lasting nail treatment that costs around $60 to $120. When you consider what you get from the treatment, how the overlay feel compared to polish, and the health of your nails, it is worth it. 


This 2023 everyone is trying to save time and money while finding quality treatments and ensuring health comes first. And gel overlays is the answer. You get the gel polish effect, add color if you like, and even achieve long extensions using nail forms with the builder gel.

I hope this article has helped you choose one option of gel polish vs gel overlays for your next salon visit!