What is the difference between gel and acrylic nails? Ultimate Guide.

What’s the difference between gel and acrylic nails? Which one is better for you?

Today, we’re going to dive into the world of gel and acrylic nails and find out what sets them apart. 

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting to explore the world of artificial nails, this article will give you the lowdown on everything you need to know. 

So sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s get started!

What’s the difference between gel and acrylic nails?

Both options can give you the beautiful, long nails you’ve always dreamed of, but what exactly sets them apart?

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the key differences between gel and acrylic nails. 

From application and removal to the look and feel, we’ll cover all the bases so you can make an informed decision.

Here’s what you need to know:


gel nails 2 https://nailhow.com/difference-between-gel-and-acrylic-nails/

Both gel and acrylic nails can be used to do either overlays (covering the natural nail only) or extensions.

The key difference is in the application method and how the nails dry.

Gel nails are typically applied using UV light to cure the product, while acrylic nails are applied using a brush and monomer liquid that hardens as it dries.


When it’s time to say goodbye to your gorgeous gel or acrylic nails, the process can be a bit different. 

Acrylic nails need to be soaked in acetone to dissolve the product and then buffed off with a file. 

Gel nails can’t be dissolved with acetone and must be filed off completely. This is usually done with an e-file or nail drill.

Soak-off gels like builder gel are generally easier to remove than hard gels. They can be soaked off using acetone.

Tools needed: 

acrylic nails https://nailhow.com/difference-between-gel-and-acrylic-nails/

When it comes to doing your own nails, one of the biggest differences between acrylics and gel is the tools you’ll need.

Let’s break it down:

Acrylic nails:

  • Cuticle pusher
  • Nail file and buffing block
  • Nail prep/dehydrator
  • Acid-free nail primer
  • Dappen dish
  • Acrylic nail brush
  • Lint-free wipes
  • Acrylic powder
  • Acrylic liquid (monomer)
  • Top coat
  • Nail tips (optional)
  • Nail glue (optional)
  • Pure acetone 
  • Cuticle oil (optional)
  • Pinching tool (optional)

Gel nails:

  • Dehydrator and primer
  • Gel base coat
  • Gel top coat
  • UV/LED lamp
  • Nail file
  • Buffer
  • Nail clippers
  • Orange sticks or cuticle pushers
  • Gel top coat
  • Gel brush
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Files and buffers
  • Forms or tips plus glue

As you can see, both acrylic and gel nails require a few basic tools, like a nail file, buffer, and clippers. 

But there are also some key differences, like the need for a UV/LED lamp for gel nails, and the use of a dappen dish and acrylic brush for acrylic nails.

The look: 

Gel nails have a glossy, natural look, while acrylic nails are often thicker and more noticeable.

The feel: 

Gel nails feel more natural and flexible, while acrylic nails can feel heavy and less flexible.

Most people find that gel nails are more comfortable to wear.

Drying time: 

gel nails 1 https://nailhow.com/difference-between-gel-and-acrylic-nails/

When it comes to drying times, gel nails take the win.

Gel nails take a few minutes to cure under a UV or LED lamp, while acrylic nails take about 10 minutes to dry.


When it comes to durability, both gel and acrylic nails have a similar lifespan. 

On average, they can last up to 2-3 weeks before needing a touch-up or removal.

It’s important to keep in mind that the lifespan of your nails will vary depending on factors like your daily activities, the type of products you use, and how well you take care of them. 

With proper care and maintenance, both gel and acrylic nails can give you beautiful, long-lasting results.


Acrylic nails have a strong chemical odor, while gel nails have a more mild scent.


When it comes to durability, the story is a bit different between gel and acrylic nails.

I like to think of the difference between them as the difference between plastic (gel) and glass (acrylic).

Gel nails (like plastic) have a more natural, lighter finish that may not be as tough as acrylic, but their flexibility can save you from pain and breakages. 

Because gel nails are more flexible, you can wear them without fear of accidents causing damage to your nail bed.

On the other hand, acrylic nails are hard-wearing like glass, but they lack the flexibility of gel nails. 

While acrylics may provide stronger results, they’re not as forgiving in case of accidental breakage. 

The choice between gel and acrylic ultimately comes down to your preference for flexibility versus durability.

Damage to nails: 

Both gel and acrylic nails can damage your natural nails if not applied or removed properly. 

Acrylic nails are removed using acetone which can be very drying and damaging to your natural nails.

The danger with removing non-soak-off gels is that you or your nail technician will over file them, causing damage to the nail plates.

If you are using a soak-off gel, then the potential for damage is pretty even.


The cost of gel and acrylic nails can vary depending on where you live and the salon you choose. 

Hard gel nails tend to be a little more expensive, but the cost difference is not always significant.

On average gel nails cost around $50, and Acrylics cost $46.

Do Gel or acrylic nails last longer?

When it comes to the length of time either type of artificial nail lasts, it’s a bit of a toss-up! 

Both gel and acrylic nails can last for about 2-3 weeks with proper care and maintenance. 

However, the longevity of your mani really depends on a few factors like your natural nail growth, how well you care for them, and how often you use your hands for tasks that can damage your nails.

In general, acrylic nails may have a slight edge in terms of durability, but gel nails have the advantage of not causing as much damage to the natural nail bed if they break.

Is gel or acrylic better for weak nails?

Oh man, this is a tough one!

Both gel and acrylic nails have their pros and cons when it comes to weak nails.

On one hand, gel nails are a bit lighter and have a more natural finish, so they put less pressure on your nails and are less likely to cause damage. 

However, if your nails are extremely weak, the flexible nature of gel nails may not provide enough support and they could break easily.

On the other hand, acrylic nails are stronger and more durable, so they can provide extra support and protection for weak nails. 

However, they can be more damaging to the natural nail bed if they break or are removed improperly.

So, what’s the verdict?

If you have weak nails and want a bit of extra support, acrylic nails might be a good choice for you. 

Just make sure to go to a reputable nail salon and have them applied and removed properly to minimize any damage to your natural nails.

Acrylic vs gel nails cost

How much you pay really depends on where you go to get your nails done!

The cost of gel and acrylic nails can vary greatly depending on the salon, location, and level of expertise of the nail technician. 

On average, you can expect to pay around $50 for gel nails and $46 for acrylic nails. 

However, these prices can range anywhere from $30 to $100 or more, so it’s always best to call around and compare prices before making an appointment. 

Just remember, the cheapest option isn’t always the best option – you want to make sure you find a trusted and experienced nail technician who will take care of your nails and provide a quality service.

Acrylic vs gel nails pros & cons

Okay, let’s break down the pros and cons of both acrylic and gel nails!

Pros of Acrylic Nails:

  • Durable: Acrylic nails are hard-wearing and can withstand daily wear and tear better than gel nails.
  • Customizable: Acrylics come in a variety of shapes and sizes, making them highly customizable to fit your personal style.
  • Cost-effective: On average, acrylic nails cost around $46, making them a budget-friendly option for those looking for affordable nail enhancements.

Cons of Acrylic Nails:

  • Removal process: The removal process for acrylic nails is more involved and requires soaking the nails in acetone which can dry out nails.
  • Nail damage: The hard-wearing nature of acrylic nails can cause damage to your natural nails if they’re not removed properly.
  • Smell: The application process for acrylic nails can produce a strong smell that some may find unpleasant.

Pros of Gel Nails:

  • Natural look: Gel nails have a natural finish and are lighter on the nails, making them a great option for those who want a subtle enhancement.
  • Flexibility: Gel nails are more flexible than acrylic nails, making them a great option for those who are active and want to avoid breaking their enhancements.
  • Comfortable: Gel nails are lightweight and don’t feel heavy or bulky like acrylics can.

Cons of Gel Nails:

  • Cost: Gel nails cost around $50 on average, making them slightly more expensive than acrylics.
  • Fragile: Gel nails are lighter than acrylics and may not be as durable, making them more susceptible to breaking.
  • Longer drying time: Gel nails take longer to dry and cure, making the application process longer.

Ultimately, the choice between acrylic and gel nails comes down to personal preference, budget, and lifestyle. 

Both options have their pros and cons, and the best one for you will depend on what you’re looking for.

Is it better to get acrylic or gel nails?

Well, that really depends on what you’re looking for in a set of nails! 

If you’re someone who wants a strong, durable look that lasts for a long time, or if you have thin, weak nails, then acrylic might be the way to go. 

They’re made with a hard-wearing formula that can withstand a lot of wear and tear, but they aren’t as flexible as gel nails.

If you’re someone who prioritizes comfort and flexibility, or you have hard, brittle natural nails, then gel might be a better choice for you. 

Gel nails have a natural finish that’s lighter on your nails and cause less damage to your nail bed in case of breakage. 

Plus, the flexible formula makes them more comfortable to wear without fear of pain from accidents.

Is gel more expensive than acrylic?

Yes, gel nails do tend to be more expensive than acrylics.

The cost of gel and acrylic nails can vary depending on several factors such as the salon location, the design, the length and shape of the nails, and the skill level of the nail technician. 

On average, gel nails cost around $50 and acrylics cost $46. 

However, it’s not uncommon to see prices ranging from $35 to $100 or even higher for a full set. 

So, it’s not always accurate to say that one is more expensive than the other.

Is gel more harmful than acrylic?

Well, when it comes to the harm aspect, it really depends on how the nails are applied and maintained. 

Both gel and acrylic nails can be damaging to your natural nails if they’re not applied or removed properly.

However, some people might argue that gel is less harmful because it’s lighter and more flexible than acrylic, causing less damage to your nail bed in case of breakage. 

On the other hand, acrylics are known to be stronger and more durable but they can be hard on your natural nails.

And the removal process requires soaking in acetone, which can weaken and dry out your nails.

Which dries faster gel or acrylic?

Typically, gel nails dry faster than acrylic nails. 

Acrylic nails usually need to be allowed to dry for several minutes (up to 10) before they are fully set.

While gel nails cure quickly under a UV or LED light, usually in a matter of seconds to a minute or two.

What is an acrylic full set vs a gel full set?

A full set of acrylic nails refers to the application of a complete set of artificial nails using an acrylic mixture of a polymer powder and a liquid monomer. 

A full set of gel nails involves the application of a complete set of artificial nails using a pre-mixed, thicker, and more viscous gel formula. 

Both types of full sets are typically applied by a professional nail technician and involve the creation of custom nail shapes and lengths for the individual’s desired look. 

The main difference between the two lies in the composition and application process of the artificial nails.


  • 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.