What are overlay nails? Everything you need to know.

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?

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.

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?

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.

Is gel overlay the same as gel polish?

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.

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.