What are Overlay Nails? Everything You Need to Know

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Confused about overlays? Looking for a simple breakdown? In this post, we’re going to demystify overlay nails and offer a clear explanation. So let’s jump right in and answer the question “what are overlay nails?”.

In a hurry?

Here’s the short, fast, easy-to-understand answer to “what are overlay nails?”

Overlay nails are natural nails with a thin layer of hard gel or acrylic applied. Overlay nails do not include extensions, so they won’t make your nails longer, but they are more hard-wearing and last longer than gel nail polish. You need regular salon appointments to maintain overlay nails.

I’m guessing you probably still have questions, right? So, now you have the basic answer, let’s go a little deeper and explore some of the most commonly asked questions about overlay nails.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Reasons to get overlays

What is a nail overlay? And why do people get them?

A nail overlay is anything that goes over your natural nail without adding to the length. So you can have silk overlays (that don’t go past the free edge) or gel overlays for example.

Even a layer of basecoat counts as a nail overlay!

-The overlay nail process is faster than extensions, so they’re a great option if you want to save some time and money

-They last significantly longer than regular gel polish, so you won’t have to worry about them chipping or fading

-They can be buffed and shaped to fit your natural nails perfectly, so they look completely seamless

-They’re a great option if you have weak or brittle nails, as the overlay will help to protect them and make them stronger

-They can be customized in any color or design you want, so you can have whatever style you desire!

What are acrylic overlays?

This is a great question!

Acrylic overlays are acrylic that goes on your natural nails without extending the length.

People often get confused between acrylic “nails” and acrylic overlays.

They are actually very similar.

Both acrylic nails and acrylic overlays are applied in the same way (an acrylic nail brush dipped in monomer and then acrylic powder).

The only difference is that overlays cover just the natural nail, whereas acrylic nails are usually extended with either nail forms or plastic tips.

What are gel overlays?

This can get a bit confusing. So let’s break it down.

Technically, a layer of gel nail polish is an overlay, because a nail overlay is any layer of nail product applied to the natural nail without extending.

But, if you ask a nail technician, they will tell you that to them, gel overlays are natural nails covered in a HARD setting gel, like poly gel.

The important thing to remember is that with gel overlays, whether it’s polish or hard gel, the length of the nail is NOT extended.

If you ask for gel nails, just make sure you clarify whether you want gel nail polish or poly gel application and you’ll be fine!

Is overlay good for your nails?

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Yes and no.

If your nails are brittle, short, or if you bite them, then overlays can help you to grow your natural nails.

Gel polish, hard gel, and acrylic overlays will all strengthen your nails and make them last longer.

However, like all nail products, they do contain potentially harmful substances, and the removal process can cause damage to the natural nail.

To minimize the risk, you should always get your overlay nails removed by a professional.

Is acrylic overlay good for your nails?

Acrylic overlays are good for anyone who has weak or short nails that are in good condition.

Applying a layer of acrylic over the natural nail can approve the appearance and strength of your nails.

As long as your natural nails are in good overall condition and you remove them carefully, you shouldn’t have any issues.

But it’s always best to get acrylic overlays taken off professionally to avoid potential damage.

Is gel overlay good for your nails?

In my personal experience, gel polish and hard gel overlays are slightly better for your nails than acrylics.

Gel overlay is good for your nails if you want to make them look nicer and feel a little stronger.

However, I do notice that my nails get weaker, softer, and split more often after using gel polish compared to normal polish.

Hard gel overlays, if removed correctly, shouldn’t cause any damage to your natural nails.

Is overlay bad for your nails?

In some circumstances, overlay can be bad for your nails.

You should avoid having any kind of overlay including gel and acrylic if your nails are extremely weak for example.

If you have a lot of splitting, or white spots on your nails, you should definitely not have overlays.

Instead, use a nail-strengthening product and give your nails a break from other nail products for a while.

Is gel overlay bad for your nails?

Generally speaking, gel overlay is not bad for your nails.

It can actually help to strengthen them.

But improper removal, such as too much filing or the overuse of acetone can cause damage.

Keep soaking to a minimum or use an e-file and a smoothing sanding band to avoid any issues.

Is acrylic overlay bad for your nails?

Acrylic overlay is not bad for your nails, but the removal process can ruin your nails if done wrong.

Here’s what you need to be aware of if you are worried about acrylic overlay being bad for your nails.

To remove an acrylic overlay you need to either soak your fingers in acetone or use an e-file to file them off.

Both of these methods can cause damage to your natural nails.

Acetone is very drying and can weaken your natural nails if used excessively.

Using an e-file to remove overlays is better for your natural nails, but you’ll need to be very careful not to file too close too far down.

As we’ve already mentioned, acrylics contain substances that can be potentially harmful, especially when breathing them in, so you may want to wear a mask or get a dust collector for safer removal.

What is the best overlay for natural nails?

You have a lot of choices when it comes to overlays for natural nails.

The best one for you will depend on price, durability, ease of application and removal, and your own personal preference.

Let’s take a look at some options.

Regular nail polish overlay

You could use regular nail polish, which is the safest but the least durable type of overlay.

Regular nail polish takes a long time to dry, so application time is a major factor.

The benefits of a regular nail polish overlay are that it’s easy to remove and is least likely to damage your natural nails.

Gel nail polish overlay

Or you could do a gel nail polish overlay, which lasts longer than regular nail polish but needs to be cured under a lamp and soaked off.

The benefits of gel polish are that it’s much quicker to apply, has a shinier finish, and lasts almost twice as long as normal nail polish.

The downside with gel is that you have to use acetone to remove it which can weaken and dry out your natural nails.

Hard gel overlay

Another option is a hard gel overlay, with something like poly gel.

This type of overlay is fairly easy to apply, has a flexible finish, and will last for around 3 weeks.

It will also add a lot of strength to your nails.

Hard gel overlays are much more difficult to remove than either gel polish or regular polish overlays.

They need to be soaked in acetone or filed off.

Acrylic overlay

Acrylic overlays are super strong and long-lasting.

They tend to be more prone to cracks than gel because they are more like glass.

In contrast, hard gel is similar to plastic, which is why it’s more flexible and shock-absorbant.

How long do overlays last?

Overlay nails last for 2 to 3 weeks.

It doesn’t matter whether you have gel overlays or acrylic, both should last for around 2 to 3 weeks.

How long your overlay nails last depends on 2 things:

1. How fast your nails grow.

Everyone’s nail growth rate is different, but the average is 3.4 mm per month.

This means that you should get 2 to 3 weeks before your regrowth starts to show.

  1. How well you look after your nails.

If you are doing a lot of hard work or chores, or if you’re using your nails as tools, they will be more likely to chip or crack.

Is overlay better than acrylic?

This is a tough question to answer.

I’m going to assume that you mean “is an acrylic overlay better than a full set of acrylic extensions?.”

It depends on what you want.

If you want longer nails, then an overlay is not the best choice.

But if you’re happy with the length of your natural nails, then overlays are better because they cost less and may take less time to do.

Is overlay cheaper than acrylic?

Is overlay cheaper than acrylic https://nailhow.com/what-are-overlay-nails/

Yes, overlay nails are usually a little cheaper than acrylic nails.

Here are a few reasons why.

Overlays don’t use tips or forms.

Also, less monomer and acrylic powder are needed, especially if your natural nails are short.

This all cuts down on the time it takes. Overlays take less time than acrylic extensions, so they cost less.

Does acrylic overlay strengthen nails?

Yes, if you have brittle, soft natural nails then acrylic overlays will help to strengthen them.

This means that your manicures will last a lot longer.

If you apply gel nail polish onto nails coated with an acrylic overlay, the gel polish will also be less likely to chip and peel.

Does gel overlay strengthen nails?

Yes, just like acrylic overlays, gel overlays will make your nails stronger.

But how much stronger depends on the type of gel.

As we’ve learned, gel nail polish is considered an overlay.

This will strengthen your nails, but not very much.

Gel overlays done with a hard setting gel, like poly gel, are similar to acrylic overlays and will harden and strengthen your nails.

Much more than if you just use regular gel nail polish.

Does gel overlay help grow nails?

Gel overlay isn’t a miracle growth formula for your nails.

But if you bite your nails or they are super weak and break a lot, gel overlays can help.

A gel overlay can add strength and can therefore help you to grow your own natural nails.

Just be sure to remove them with care to avoid causing damage.

Is gel overlay the same as gel polish?

Is gel overlay the same as gel polish https://nailhow.com/what-are-overlay-nails/

There is some confusion around this, so let’s try to clear that up right now.

Yes, gel overlays can be the same as gel polish.

But not always.

You see, there are 2 types of gel overlay.

A gel overlay is just a layer of gel product on a natural nail.

That gel product could be either a soft gel (i.e gel nail polish) or a hard gel (i.e Polygel).

Most customers at the nail salon, ask for “gel nails”.

What they want is usually overlays done with gel polish.

But to a nail tech, “gel nails” can also mean poly gel nails, done with or without extensions.

It’s always best to clarify exactly what the customer wants.

So if you ask for “gel overlays” your nail tech may ask you if you want gel nail polish or poly gel application.

They will then ask if you want extensions or not.

If you want hard setting gel overlays that only cover your natural nails then you can ask for “poly gel overlays”.

How long does acrylic overlay take?

A full set of acrylic overlays should take around an hour and a half.

1 hour and 30 minutes is a good rule of thumb, but more experienced nail techs could be quicker.

If your nail tech doesn’t have a lot of experience, or if you are doing your own nails, you should allow more time to perfect the technique.

What’s the difference between acrylic overlay and extensions?

An acrylic overlay only covers your natural nails. So you can not add to the length.

Acrylic extensions allow you to add length to your nails.

If you have long nails, or you are happy with the length of your real nails, then you should get an acrylic overlay.

If you want your nails longer, you’ll need to get acrylic extensions.

What’s the difference between gel nails and gel overlay?

The main difference between gel nails and gel overlays is whether or not any length is added.

The same substance is used (a hard gel) in both gel nails and gel overlays.

But gel nails make your nails longer – by adding extensions.

Whereas gel overlays only cover the natural nail and don’t add any length.

If you want extra length, you should go for gel nails.

If you just want to improve the strength and appearance of your own natural nails, then go for an overlay.

How much do overlay nails cost?

Overlay nails typically cost between $30 and $48.

Regal nails, which is the salon in Walmart, charges $30 for a full set of acrylic overlay nails.

The price you pay will depend on the type of overlay you want. Gel is a little more expensive than acrylic for example.

The area that you live in, and the level of salon you go to will also affect the price greatly.

It’s always best to do a price comparison with 3 local places and take it from there.

How do I get overlay off my nails?

The best removal method for your overlay nails depends on what type of overlay you have.

Here are the best removal methods for each type of overlay:

How to remove a regular nail polish overlay

The fastest and most effective way to remove a regular nail polish overlay is to use an acetone-based nail polish remover.

Simply soak a cotton ball or pad in the remover and place it on the nail for 10 seconds before wiping the polish off.

Acetone is very drying and can be damaging to your natural nails.

If you have the patience, use an acetone-free nail polish remover.

It does take a little longer but it’s worth it to protect your nails.

How to remove a gel nail polish overlay

Regular nail polish remover does not work on gel nail polish.

The best way to remove gel polish overlays is to use a nail polish remover that is specifically for gel nail polish.

These are usually acetone-based, though there are some companies, like Green Flash that make more natural formulas.

Soak a cotton ball or pad in the remover and hold it down on the nail for 25 seconds.

Then swipe in an upward motion applying pressure to remove the polish.

Here’s a great guide for how to remove gel polish without acetone.

How to remove a hard gel overlay

There are 2 ways to remove a hard gel overlay.

You can soak your nails in acetone for 30 minutes and use an orange wood stick or cuticle pusher to gently scrape the gel off.

Or you can use an e-file (recommended) or a manual file to file off the hard gel until you get to your natural nail.

E-files speed up the removal process a lot and you don’t have to expose yourself to harsh chemicals like acetone, so I’d definitely recommend using an e-file if you have one or a willing to buy one.

Here’s a full guide with step by step instructions for removing polygel nails.

How to remove an Acrylic overlay

The removal methods for acrylic overlays are the same as for hard gel overlays.

You can either soak your nails in acetone or file them off using a manual file or an e-file (aka nail drill).

I recommend the latter as it’s much quicker and kinder to your natural nails.

How to remove a dip powder overlay

The best way to remove a dip powder overlay is to use a nail drill or an e-file.

Another option is to use acetone to soak the acrylic off, though this is damaging to your natural nails.

Here’s a useful guide for removing dip powder nails without using acetone.

You will also find steps for the e-file removal method here.

Final thoughts:

Now you know that overlays are a thin layer of acrylic or gel applied to the natural nail without altering its length. They can be done with either soft gels (gel nail polishes) or hard gels (poly gel), and last longer than regular gel polish manicures. Acrylic overlays make nails stronger, while poly gel overlays will really harden and strengthen them too.

Check out our best polygel nail kits article here.

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What does overlay do to your nails?

An overlay covers the whole of your natural nail but does not extend the length.

It adds strength and improves the overall appearance of your nails.

Overlays can serve as an excellent base for gel nail polish and can also help you to grow your natural nails.

Can you put acrylic overlay on natural nails?

Yes, you can.

Adding an acrylic overlay on your natural nails will increase the strength (but not the length) of your nails.

Can you get overlay on short nails?

Yes, you can get an overlay on short nails. Both acrylic and gel overlays work great for those with short nails.

If you want to strengthen your short nails or just make them look better, overlays are a great way to do that.

What is a polygel overlay?

A poly gel overlay is when a layer of poly gel (a type of hard gel) is applied to the natural nail only.

Polygel overlays do not add any length to your nails. But they do add strength and improve the overall look of your nails.

What are dip overlay nails?

Dip overlays are acrylic dip powder nails that cover just the natural nails.

They are dipped in the acrylic powder several times to strengthen the nails and or add color.

Dip overlays do not extend the length of your 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.