The Great Nail Debate: Acrylic vs Gel – Which is Better?

Welcome my lovelies! Today we’re gonna talk about acrylic vs gel.

If you want to know the key differences and get the info you need to figure out which one is better for you, read on.

Alright, let’s dive into the world of acrylics and gels and figure out which one is the best for you.

We’ll take a look at the application process, how long they take, if you can do them yourself at home, the tools and equipment you’ll need, and the removal process.

We’ll also talk about which one is better for your nails, the cost, how durable they are, and how long they’ll last. And of course, we’ll touch on how comfortable they are to wear.

Sound good?

Let’s get going.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Gel vs acrylic nails

Before we start, let’s have a quick recap on gel and acrylic nails.

What are acrylic nails?

what are acrylic nails

Acrylic nails are fake nails applied using an acrylic powder and a liquid monomer.

They are very popular because they are strong and long-lasting.

There are 2 key types of acrylic nails:

  • Regular acrylic nails. These are sculpted using a nail brush.
  • Dip powder nails. Also made from acrylic. Nails are either dipped into the powder or powder is poured over the nail.

In this post, we’ll be focussing on the regular type of acrylic nails (not dip powder nails).

What are gel nails?

There are many different types of “gel nails” so it can get a bit confusing.

Basically, there are 3 main types of gel nails:

  • Hard gel. These are very durable. Polygel is an example of a hard gel.
  • Soft gel. Aka builder gel or soak-off gels. Easier to remove than hard gel.
  • Gel polish. Very thin type of nail polish. Can’t be used for extensions.

In this post, we’ll be talking about the first 2 types. Hard and soft gels.

The main difference between acrylic and gel nails is the way they dry or cure.

Gel nails need a UV or an LED lamp to cure, whereas acrylic nails don’t.

Ok, now that we’re all clear on which type of nails we’ll be using for this comparison, let’s look at the application process.

Is the application the same for acrylic and gel nails?

No. Acrylic and gel nails are applied in different ways.

The application process is one of the main differences between hard gel or soak-off gels and acrylics.

How are acrylic nails applied?

Acrylic nails are applied using an acrylic powder and a liquid monomer.

A nail brush is dipped into a small dish containing the liquid monomer.

This forms a soft bead on the end of the brush, which can then be applied to the nail.

The bead is then molded or sculpted (using the brush) into the shape you want.

After a few minutes, it dries in the air and sets.

How are gel nails applied?

Hard gels and softer soak-off gels and builder gels are normally painted on like polish.

They are painted on in layers and cured in between each one.

You can also apply the gel onto a plastic dual form and then stick that to your nails.

This is a technique you might want to try if you’re doing your own gel nails at home.

All gel nails need UV light to cure, so you’ll need to go under a nail lamp for gel overlays or extensions.

Which is better gel or acrylic?

Whether gel or acrylic is going to be better for you depends on 3 things.

The condition of your nails, your lifestyle, and the overall look you prefer.

What condition are your nails in?

First, you or your nail tech will need to consider the condition of your natural nails.

If your nails are brittle and hard, then a gel nail product will give you the flexibility you need to avoid breakages.

However, if your nails are soft and split a lot, then an acrylic product will give you some extra strength.

Will gel or acrylic suit your lifestyle better?

The second thing to think about is your lifestyle.

Acrylics are more porous than gels which makes them easier to take off.

But it also means that they are more likely to stain.

If you use hair dye, for example, this can seep into the acrylic and ruin your nails!

How do you want your nails to look?

The last thing to think about is the overall look you want.

Acrylics are thicker than gel nails, so they can appear very “fake” looking.

Some people don’t mind this, but others prefer a more natural look.

If you want really long nails, acrylics are probably going to hold up better.

Gel nails are thinner and a little more natural-looking.

Is acrylic or gel more durable?

gel vs acrylic durability

Both gel and acrylic nails are long-lasting and hardwearing.

When it comes to durability, it may help to think about acrylic nails as glass and gel nails as plastic.

Glass (acrylics) are harder than plastics. But if you drop a glass it will break.

So if you are banging your nails a lot then you might benefit from that little bit of extra flexibility that you get with gel nails.

Because they are more flexible, gel nails can absorb impacts better than acrylic nails can.

How long do acrylic nails take vs gel?

On average, acrylic nails done by a professional who works quickly should take around 45 minutes.

Of course, the times can vary a lot depending on the shape, length, and details you want.

If your acrylic nails take 2 hours or more, something probably went wrong.

Gel nails take around 45 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes.

This is dependant on whether or not you choose extensions, nail art, and on how much filing is required.

How easy is it to do gel vs acrylic at home?

Gel nails are easier than acrylics to do at home.

Most people are already familiar with how to use a nail polish brush, and using a gel nail lamp is really easy.

To master acrylic nails, you need a good brush technique and you need to get the powder to liquid ratios right.

You also need to learn how to sculpt a nail correctly.

What tools are needed to do gel vs acrylic?

what equipment do you need for gel vs acrylic

Let’s compare what equipment and tools are needed to do gel vs acrylic nails.

These are the bare essential items needed to do both nail types.

Here’s what you’ll need for doing DIY hard gel nails.

Sure thing! Here’s a short and sweet list of tools you’ll need for a gel manicure:

  1. UV lamp
  2. Gel or polygel
  3. Slip solution
  4. Spatula/brush tool
  5. Isopropyl alcohol
  6. Lint-free wipes
  7. Buffer
  8. Nail file
  9. Base coat
  10. Cuticle pusher
  11. Topcoat

Most of these tools will come in a basic kit. Take a look at our best polygel nail kits article here.

To do acrylic nails at home you will need:

  • Nail file
  • Nail dehydrator
  • Nail primer
  • Monomer
  • Dappen dish
  • Acrylic powder
  • Acrylic nail brush
  • Brush cleaner
  • Acetone (for removal)

What’s the difference between the removal process?

gel nails removal steps

Remember how we talked about acrylic nails being porous?

Well, the fact that they are porous means that they are also easier to remove than some harder gels like polygel.

It used to be that everyone thought that you could only remove hard gels by filing them off manually.

However, builder gels and other soak-off gels can be removed just as easily as acrylics.

The process is basically the same.

You cut the nails down, file off as much product as you can then soak them in acetone.

Then you use an orangewood stick or cuticle pusher to gently scrape off any product.

Is acrylic or gel better for your nails?

Gel nail extensions tend to be less damaging than acrylics.

This is because you don’t need to file them as rigorously.

However, this does depend on how well they are applied and how often you have them done.

If you get your acrylics or gels done professionally, the nail technician will take care to not damage your natural nails.

They will also make sure that the product is not too thick and that it is properly cured so that it doesn’t damage your nails.

The most damage is caused during the removal process.

If the product is not removed correctly, it can damage your nails.

Acetone can also dry out your natural nails and skin.

So if damage is a concern for you, you may want to look into acetone-free ways to remove your gel or acrylic nails.

Do acrylic or gel nails last longer?

They both last about the same time.

3 to 4 weeks.

Some people do find that their acrylic nails last slightly longer than gel.

But it depends on how well you look after your nails.

Properly applied and cared for gel or acrylic nails could last you up to 4 weeks.

Acrylic vs gel nails cost

Acrylic nails are usually cheaper and more widely available than gel nails.

The average price in the US for a full set of acrylics is $46.01.

Of course, this varies depending on where you live and what type of salon you visit.

The average price for a full set of gel nails is $51.29.

That means you can expect to pay around 11% more for hard gel nails.

Is gel or acrylic more comfortable to wear?

This is really a matter of personal preference.

Some people find that gel nails are more comfortable to wear because they are thinner and lighter than acrylics.

But if you are used to wearing acrylic nails, then gel nails might feel strange at first.

Final thoughts:

To sum up, here are the main points to consider when deciding between gel and acrylic nails:

-How easy they are to apply: Gel nails are usually easier to apply than acrylics.

-The length of time they take: Acrylics usually take longer to apply than gels.

-How easy it is to do them yourself at home: Both gel and acrylic nails can be done at home, but gels are usually easier.

-The tools and equipment needed for both types of nails: You will need a few basic items to do either gel or acrylic nails at home.

-The removal process: Acrylics are generally easier to remove than gels, but both can be removed fairly easily.

-Which one is better for your nails: Gel nails are generally less damaging than acrylics.

-How much they cost: Acrylic nails are usually cheaper than gel nails.

-How durable they are: Both gel and acrylic nails are quite durable.

-The length of time your nails will last: Both gel and acrylic nails can last up to 4 weeks.

-How comfortable they are to wear: This is a matter of personal preference. Some people find gel nails more comfortable to wear because they are thinner and lighter than acrylics.

That’s it!

I hope you found this article helpful in deciding whether gel or acrylic nails are right for you.

Thank you for reading!


  • Phoebe Meadows

    Phoebe Meadows is a self-proclaimed nail addict, always on the lookout for the latest trends and techniques. When she's not creating stunning nail designs, you can find her researching the latest nail care products or experimenting with new techniques.