Differences Between Acrylic & Gel Nails

Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images

One of the first things someone notices about a person is their hands. A well-manicured set of nails can provide the finishing touch to a woman’s beauty regimen. Several different kinds of fake nails are available, but the two favorite types are gel and acrylic nails. With fake nails, women can have long and beautiful nails that look natural and will not break. When deciding between the gel or acrylic nail, there are a few things every woman should consider.

By Definition

Acrylic nails are sculpted nails that use a monomer (liquid acrylic) and polymer (powdered acrylic) to give the nails their hard and finished look. Gel nails are created using a gel-form of acrylic.


The application process is different between the two types of nails. Acrylic nails are first started off by adding a plastic tip to the real nail plate to give a longer and well-shaped look to the natural nail. After that, a powdered acrylic is mixed with a liquid acrylic and applied to the natural nail using a specialized brush. Acrylic nails must be applied by a trained professional. Gel nails are applied to the natural nail rather than using a fake tip. The acrylic gel is placed over the natural nail and then cured under an ultraviolet light.


All fake nails require some form of maintenance. With acrylic nails, women will need to have their nails refilled every two to three weeks or as the natural nail grows out. Gel nails do not require as many fills as acrylic nails due to the fact that the gel coating is not as thick as the acrylic coating and therefore is not as obvious when it grows out.

Overall Look

Since acrylic nails are applied with a coating of acrylic powder over a fake nail tip, an acrylic coating must be applied thicker than a gel coating. Gel coatings appear more natural while an acrylic coating looks thicker. An acrylic nail, though thick, will provide a better shaped nail than gel nails.


Durability should be a factor when considering fake nails. Gel nails are not as durable in comparison to acrylic nails. Since acrylic nails have a thicker top coat, they are more durable to breaks and cracks for everyday use.

Removal and Damage

The removal process for both types of nails does vary. Acrylic nails are easily removed by soaking the nails in a special solution and simply popping the nails off. Gel nails, on the other hand, must either grow out or be physically filed off of the fingernail and cannot be soaked off. By filing down the nail, a person with gel nails will have thinner nail plates and more breakage after removing a nail than an individual with acrylic nails since the nail plate is left intact.


Acrylic nails have been around for longer than gel nails. Since acrylics have been on the market longer, there are more nail salons and nail professionals that are trained and able to apply acrylic versus gel nails.