Gel vs Acrylic Nails, Which One to Choose in 2023?

Whether you are a nail technician or a regular person who wants beautiful nails, it can be challenging having to choose from the vast sea of manicure options available.

And if you have been seeking a longer-lasting manicure over your regular nail polish, chances are that you’ve thought about gel vs acrylic nails

Deciding on the perfect manicure goes beyond choosing nail polish colors, shapes, or designs. Several other criteria like your lifestyle, the occasion for which you require a manicure, your job, your budget, and how much time you have to spend at the nail salon or at home by yourself and on your nails influence what type of nails you wear.

So which one is better? Gel or Acrylic Nails? The short answer is right below!

Gel vs Acrylic Nails – Which is better?

Gel vs. acrylic nails differs in their organic composition, finish, application, curing, lasting, flexibility and cost. Gel nails require UV light for curing and have a more glossy appearance. Acrylic nails air dry, yielding a sturdier artificial base. Gel nails tend to be more natural, blending with your natural nails, while acrylic nails are more artificial and favor those seeking more dramatic looks.

Gel vs Acrylic Nails

You can only appreciate the difference between both types of nails when you understand them separately. Therefore the following sections will compare these 2 types of popular polishes.

Nonetheless, comparing gel and acrylic nails in 2023 remains a hot topic among nail enthusiasts. In this article, we will comprehensively compare both types of manicures.

Let’s dive right in!

A Comparison Table of Gel vs. Acrylic Nails

Comparison MetricGel NailsAcrylic Nails
Nail Texture and composition 
They are composed of methacrylate polymers, and their surfaces are impenetrable and not easily stained.They are composed of acrylic monomers and polymers (liquid and powder) with easily stained and porous surfaces.
Physical appearance They appear natural and glossy. They appear less natural and thicker.
Nail Drying process They dry by a chemical process called curing, which happens solely under UV or LED light.They dry by evaporation during exposure to air.
Nail Application 
Application is by brush coating of an initial base coat, followed by nail polish, and ending with a top layer.The application is by fixing the solid mixture and coating it with regular nail polish and air drying.
Nail Flexibility They are more flexible and similar to natural nails.They are less flexible, harder, and obviously artificial.
Cost of applicationGel nails are more expensive than acrylic, costing about $25 to $60Acrylic nail costs are slightly cheaper.

What Are Gel Nails?

pre-cured gel polish on a fingernail

Gel nails are obtained by applying a base coat, the gel polish, and a top coat over your natural nails and allowing them to cure under UV or LED lights for some time to give them a glossy and smudge-free finish. They are the perfect choice for colorful light wear as gel nails flex with your natural nails. As a result, you don’t feel like you have any nail additions on. 

Due to the curing and chemical plasticization, the solid substance formed increases the nail flexibility such that it blends into and, in most cases, mimics your natural nails. However, it requires a separate process for removal involving an initial filing and soaking in acetone for 15 minutes. 

While gel nails are adorable, it is essential to know that prolonged or frequent wear can weaken and predispose your natural nails to breakage, cracks, and in severe cases, fungal infections. The reason is that you do not get sufficient time to give attention to proper nail cleaning

Manufacturing Chemicals

The chemicals for manufacturing nail polish serve as a critical index for differentiating between nail polish types.

Bio gel is a thick gel used for overlaying weak and brittle nails. However, it is a significant ingredient for making gel polish and ensuring its flexibility and long-lasting quality. A primary difference between bio gel chemicals and acrylic nails is that they are healthier and less harsh. 

Pros and Cons of Gel Nails

Even though gel nails are trending, they may not be the perfect manicure for everyone. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of having gel nails to make your decision process less stressful: 

Pros of Gel NailsCons of Gel Nails
They appear and feel more natural and glossy due to their high flexibility and plasticity.They are slightly pricier.
They are quick-drying and do not need any touch-ups.The UV light for curing is potentially hazardous to health.
They come in several options and colors. They are not ready-to-wear nails.
They are not penetrable and so do not stain easily.Removal requires soaking in acetone which is harmful to health. 
They encourage creativity as you can experiment with different styles, designs, and patterns.

What Are Acrylic Nails?

a woman doing acrylic nails

Acrylic nails are also known as artificial nails because they are “ready-to-wear” and made by combining liquid and powder monomers (methacrylate) and polymers (poly methyl methacrylate) to produce an intricate solid complex looking like fingernails which you place over your natural nails. 

You can further decorate acrylic nails by applying regular nail polish for a more glossy appearance. Also, if you don’t appreciate the nail length or thickness, you can file them down to look even more natural and give them your desired shape and length. However, they can weaken your natural nails with prolonged use and continuous wear.

Fun fact: Gel and acrylic nails can be mixed to yield a hybrid manicure with more style, gloss, and extended wear. This is achieved by first fixing the acrylic nails and then applying gel nail polish over them for a glossy finish.

Acrylic chemicals

Acrylic nails are made from acrylic monomers and polymers (liquid and powder) with easily stained and porous surfaces. As a result, they are established by fixing artificial nails made from a mixture of solute and solvent to make a paste to form a hard outer layer over your natural nails resulting from the powder and liquid mixture. 

Pros and Cons of Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails are not for everyone, especially considering how dramatic they can be. So, now that you understand what acrylic nails are, and the steps involved in wearing them, it is time to consider their advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of Acrylic NailsCons of Acrylic Nails
They are super durable and long-lasting due to their chemical composition.They are highly artificial and may not satisfy a person opting for a more natural look.
The hard layer of the manicure could serve as a means of protection for your natural nails when correctly done.They take significant time to dry. 
They are readily available and cheaper to afford. They are harder and not as flexible due to the absence of plasticization.
They dry fast due to rapid evaporation.They require significant skill and know-how to fix or apply them. 
They are easier to remove because of their porous nature. They can damage your natural nail beds with constant or prolonged wear. 
You can create a hybrid out of it by painting it with any color and type of nail polish of your choice (putting gel over acrylic nails or using regular nail polish). Removal requires soaking in acetone which is not health-friendly. 

Even though gel and acrylic nails yield similar results, they are somewhat different. Below are other indices for differentiating gel nails from acrylic nails besides their definition, pros and cons. 

Gel vs Acrylic – A Head-to-Head Comparison

Even though gel and acrylic nails yield similar results, they are somewhat different. Below are other indices for differentiating gel nails from acrylic nails besides their definition, pros and cons.

1. Nail Curing

putting a bio gel set next to a uv lamp

Curing refers to the solidification or drying of nail polish through the effect of UV or LED light. The action of these curing lights chemically enhances the process of the photoinitiator component of the nail polish to make it dry. 

Bio gel curing process

Gel nail polish is formed from the chemical combination of methacrylate compounds and some photoinitiators like benzoyl peroxide to adhere to your natural nails with the help of UV or LED light.

Acrylic curing process

Acrylic nails are universal when you describe their curing process. Generally, acrylic nails air dry, but if you coat it with a gel polish, you will require a UV or LED lamp to cure it.

2. Nail Lasting Time

Nail lasting, known as nail polish duration, refers to how long your freshly done manicure lasts before chipping or lifting.

Gel Nail Lasting

If you’re wondering how gel nails last for up to two weeks, retaining their gloss and shine without chipping, the answer is all in its constituents. The molecules of gel nail polish are closely bound together by a blend of electrovalent and covalent bonds so that when cured under UV light, it solidifies into a hard shiny finish.

In addition, the photo-enhanced or facilitated curing process and flexibility contribute to its long wear. If you want to maximize the durability of your gel polish, make sure to check out my other article about how to keep gel polish from chipping.

Acrylic Nail Lasting

Acrylic nails last a bit longer than gel nails because of their rock-solid base (a mixture of acrylic powder and liquid to form a paste). It is akin to wearing backed clay on your nails, only harder and more durable. Acrylic nails last for about six weeks or more with proper care and regular refill sessions.

If you are wondering what lasts longer between gel and acrylic, refer to my comparison which compares their lasting time more in depth.

3. Application

The methods of applying both nails differ according to their constituents. Gel nails are much easier to use and follow the same process as applying regular nail polish while crylic nails requires a little extra effort.

Gel Nail Application

Gel manicure has the same application process as regular nail polish, except that it is an improved version of it. It follows a three-step systematic process of a base coat, double coats of gel polish and a top coat as a finish before curing under UV light for about 30 to 60 seconds. It is fast and worth your time since it lasts for two weeks. 

Acrylic Nail Application

Applying acrylic nails could be pretty time-consuming, but the durability is worth the wait. Most people prefer acrylic nails when they have sufficient time to spare at the beauty salon. After preparing your natural nails, your nail technician lays the acrylic paste over your nails, puts on a top coat for shine and allows it to air dry. Technically, it is the air drying that extends how long you spend at the salon to have your nails done.

4. Removal

The removal process also sets these two types of nail manicures apart.

Gel Nail Removal

Gel manicures are easier to remove because they are softer and gentle regardless of their durability. Another advantage of the removal process is that you can easily take off your gel nails by yourself at home. It takes about 15 minutes of soaking in acetone and filing off the excess to remove it. 

Acrylic Nail Removal

Acrylic nails are more difficult to remove because they are harder. Most nail experts advise against attempting to remove acrylic nails by yourself to avoid getting injured or damaging your natural nails. Instead, you should have your acrylic nails removed by a nail technician for better and faster results.

5. Refill

Both types of nail polishes are considered easier to refill compared to dip powder. Acrylic nails and gel nails require regular refill sessions, usually every two weeks.

The reason is that while you have your acrylic nails on, your natural nails continue to grow underneath. As a result, the new growth can be messy without any refills.

Therefore if you are going to wear your acrylic nails for three weeks, you should get a refill to make them last longer and look neat all the time.

Keep in mind that you should not wait for longer than 3 weeks, because your nail polish may chip before getting retouched

Final Thoughts 

Even though gel and acrylic nails share some similarities, their differences are pretty obvious.

However, deciding which is better comes down to a game of personal preference, but you can only know for sure when you try both nail types. It is best to do your research before wearing each nail type.

Hopefully, the information in this piece gives you a head start!